Open secrets: classification overkill.

Author:Sullum, Jacob
Position:United States. National Archives and Records Administration

LAST DECEMBER an intelligence historian named Matthew Aid was doing research at the National Archives when he noticed that documents he had copied years before, including State Department reports from the Korean War era, had mysteriously vanished. Other historians had observed the same phenomenon: Innocuous material they had in their own files had been reclassified and withdrawn from public access.

In response to complaints from Aid and others, the National Archives conducted an audit of more than 25,000 publicly available documents that had been reclassified since 1995 by agencies such as the CIA, the Air Force, and the Energy Department. According to the resulting report, released in late April, 24 percent of the reclassification decisions were "clearly inappropriate," while another 12 percent were "questionable."

The reclassified documents identified by historians included material that had been published by the State Department as part of an official history of foreign relations; a 1962 telegram in which the U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia passed along an English translation of a Belgrade newspaper story; and the...

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