FOI requesters learn FBI won ‘bye’ from declassification order
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The key provision of President Clinton’s three- year-old executive order requiring declassification, which requires automatic declassification of most old records by the year 2000, does not apply to the FBI’s Central Records System, Washington, D.C., attorney James Lesar learned in June while litigating a Freedom of Information Act case against the FBI.
The Washington Post then filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the previously undisclosed exemption and received a copy of it in mid-July.
An October 1995 memorandum from Attorney General Janet Reno to the President concludes that disclosure of the centralized records or of the Electronic Surveillance Indices would “almost always” violate the Privacy Act of 1974 and so would be exempt from “automatic release.” The memorandum does not distinguish “automatic release” from “automatic declassification” and uses both terms.
The actual exemption is outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding between the Information Security Oversight Office and the Director of the FBI issued in July 1995.
Lesar was first alerted to the exception for FBI records in litigation on behalf of Professor Jacqueline Hall of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who has been denied FBI records on three women active in leftist movements in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. While pursuing the case, he was given a copy of the October 1995 memorandum from Reno to the President.