Watchdog says CIA mishandling declassification duties, wasting resources
The CIA is wasting resources devoted to declassifying decades-old intelligence documents by reviewing the same documents several times and trying to re-classify information that has already been released to the public, an open-government watchdog charges.
"I believe that CIA has been improperly withholding declassified information as if it were classified," Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, wrote Thursday in a letter to the director of the CIA's Information Security Oversight Office.
Aftergood points to two different versions of a declassified CIA history of "The Berlin Tunnel Operation, 1952-1956." The CIA recently released one version of a report on the operation -- which aimed to tap Soviet phone lines by tunneling into Berlin -- that was declassified in July; however, a version of the same report already was released in February.
"Astonishingly, much of the text that was released in February is marked as classified in the July version!" Aftergood writes on the project's Secrecy News blog.
The July report, for example, did not even include the code-name of the operation -- PBJOINTLY, which was published in the February version. Furthermore, July's version heavily redacted two previously declassified appendices to the report totaling 21 pages.
Another report, "Record of Paramilitary Action Against the Castro Government of Cuba" from 1961, also was posted online by the CIA after it was subjected to declassification review this year. However, as Aftergood notes, the same report was reviewed a decade ago, and a version containing no less information was released in 1998.
"In other words," Aftergood writes at Secrecy News, "despite the CIA's expenditure of scarce declassification resources to process the document twice, no value was added by doing so."
The CIA made news with its zealous classification earlier this year when outed-spy Valerie Plame Wilson sued the agency claiming it was interfering with her memoir by refusing to allow her to write how long she was with the CIA.
That information already existed in the public sphere, however, because it is contained in an unclassified letter from the CIA to Wilson that has been published in the Congressional Record. (To avoid what she saw as the CIA's obstructionism, Plame included in her memoir an afterword by American Prospect reporter Laura Rozen, who filled in censored dates and places from published sources.)
For Aftergood and the Project on Government Secrecy, the CIA's shortfalls aren't about settling a personal matter, as much as about ensuring historians have access to as much of the agency's records as possible.
"For the CIA to represent the material that was newly redacted in July 2007 as classified when in fact it has been declassified and published by the CIA itself is, I believe, a violation of the executive order," Aftergood wrote in his letter to the agency. "It generates confusion and suggests poor quality control, if not something worse."