I think this fits in the "Not Good For Anybody" Department of government policies and procedures:
AP: 1M Archived Pages Removed Post-9/11
By Frank Bass and Randy Herschaft, Associated Press
More than 1 million pages of historical
government documents — a stack taller than the U.S. Capitol — have been
removed from public view since the September 2001 terror attacks,
according to records obtained by the Associated Press. Some of the
papers are more than a century old.
In some cases, entire file boxes were removed
without significant review because the government’s central
record-keeping agency, the National Archives and Records
Administration, did not have time for a more thorough audit.
swapContent(‘firstHeader’,’applyHeNone of this is to say of course that one should be able to, for example, look up a complete plan for the culturing, weaponization, and delivery system of smallpox plasma, for example. It is to say that too much of anything, even secrecy (perhaps especially secrecy when we speak of government) is not necessarily, well, necessary.
The rest of the story is behind the cut. Enjoy (well–yeah, just read it.)
"We just felt we couldn’t take the time and
didn’t always have the expertise," said Steve Tilley, who oversaw the
program. Archives officials are still screening records, but the number
of files pulled recently has declined dramatically, he said.
records administration began removing materials under its "records of
concern" program, launched in November 2001 after the Justice
Department instructed agencies to be more guarded in releasing
government papers. The agency has removed about 1.1 million pages,
according to partially redacted monthly progress reports reviewed by
the AP. The reports were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
pulled records include the presumably dangerous, such as nearly half an
enormous database from the Federal Emergency Management Agency with
information about all federal facilities. But they also include the
presumably useless, such as part of a collection about the Lower
Colorado River Authority that includes 114-year-old papers.
80 cubic feet of naval facility plans and blueprints — on microfilm,
about 200,000 pages — were withdrawn since the agency said it didn’t
have time to go through each individual document.
all, archivists identified as many as 625 million pages that could have
been affected under the security program. In their haste to remove
potentially harmful documents from view, archives officials
acknowledged many records were withdrawn that should be available.
public can still request to see parts of withdrawn documents under the
Freedom of Information Act and may in some cases be allowed to see
whole files that were removed.
program comes less than one year after the records administration came
under fire for allowing public documents to be reclassified as secret
under a separate program.
After the September
2001 attacks, the records administration signed a secret deal with the
Pentagon and CIA to review and permit the removal of tens of thousands
of pages from public view that intelligence officials believed had been
declassified too hastily.
In the aftermath of
disclosures about that program, archives officials promised they would
not ente into any more secret agreements with federal agencies, would
publicize withdrawals and would establish procedures for reclassifying
documents. A subsequent audit of the disputed program found one of
every three sampled documents should not have been reclassified.
newer program, however, has been operated wholly by archives officials,
and its scope apparently dwarfs the removal of CIA and Pentagon
records. In a memo to employees, then-Archivist of the United States
John Carlin said the records of concern program would "reduce the risk
of providing access to materials that might support terrorists."
later memo explained that "relatively current, accurate and detailed
information on a structure, organization or facility that is crucial to
protecting national defense, the country’s infrastructure, symbolic
monuments and personal identity are records of concern."
archives initially targeted six categories of documents for review, but
the list was expanded to include 10 categories in early 2002:
• Plans, photos or maps of government facilities or other sensitive infrastructure
• Emergency action, civil defense and continuity of government information
• Nuclear technology materials
• Weapons technology information, including biological and chemical agents
• Presidential protection records
• Materials relating to intelligence gathering and studies
• Studies on terrorism and counterterrorism
• Information on natural resources, such as oil, uranium and water
• Material that could be potentially useful to terrorists
• Materials relating to the Middle East with information on potentially current topics
director of an online coalition for freedom of information issues,
Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, urged officials to create a
public registry of withdrawn documents. She said officials should work
toward releasing more than 400 million pages of backlogged files rather than removing smaller numbers of papers.
"This is a questionable use of tax dollars," McDermott said.
researchers said the project, while well-intentioned, reinforces a
culture of secrecy that became more pronounced after the September 2001
"You want government to be
vigilant when it comes to security, but you also want them to behave responsibly," said Steven Aftergood, who runs the government secrecy
project for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists.
"You can’t have a situation where secrecy becomes the default mode."
of the removed records might be useful to terrorists, according to the
AP’s review. Archivists removed records from the U.S. Surgeon General’s
Preventive Medicine Division, which studied biological weapons created
between 1941 and 1947.
withdrawn don’t appear to be useful to terrorists. Archivists removed
information from a 1960 Bureau of Indian Affairs report on enrollments
in the Alaska’s Tlingit and Haida tribes because it included Social
Security numbers, which could be used for identity theft.
1960 map of the Melton Hill Reservoir in east Tennessee — now perhaps
best-known as a spring training site for collegiate rowing teams around
the eastern United States — was removed from view, as were 1967
architectural drawings for the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library
in Austin, Texas.
In e-mails and memos
obtained by the AP, archives employees made it clear they were trying
to minimize the number and scope of removals. In an internal e-mail,
the No. 2 Archives official expressed satisfaction at finding fewer and
fewer papers that should be removed. "All quiet on records of concern
front," wrote Lewis Bellardo. "Just the way we like it."
officials generally have received passing marks from secrecy experts
who have been aware of the program, said Tom Blanton, director of the
National Security Archive, a George Washington University-based
research institute. But Blanton also said the effort appears to be a
case of misplaced priorities.
"Government’s first instinct is to hide vulnerabilities, not to fix them," said Blanton. "And that doesn’t make us safer."