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Proposed legislation would affect declassification efforts

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Nov 8, 1999    

Proposed legislation would affect declassification efforts

  • Act would create board of experts to analyze declassification requests and advise the National Archives regarding those requests.

Both houses of Congress are considering bipartisan legislation introduced in late October designed to speed up the declassification of governmental documents.

The “Public Interest Declassification Act” would create a nine-member board that would identify and prioritize declassification requests. The board — which would be made up of nongovernment experts from various fields — would recommend declassification goals to the National Archives, which would need to notify Congress if it rejected the recommendation.

The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and in the House of Representatives by Porter Goss (R-Fla.). Moynihan, who has announced his retirement from the Senate at the conclusion of his term in 2000, has volunteered to lead the newly-created board, according to the Associated Press. He has been a frequent critic of declassification and, according to The Washington Post, once called for the abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency. Goss is a former CIA agent who worked on Latin American, European and Caribbean operations during the 1960s, according to AP.

Moynihan stated on the Senate floor that the bill “seeks to add to our citizens’ knowledge of how and why our country made many of its key national security decisions since the end of World War II.” He noted that more than 1.5 billion documents that are older than 25 years old remain classified. “[H]ow much needs to be regulated after having aged 25 years or more?” Moynihan asked. He added that “greater openness makes it more possible for the government to explain itself and to defend its actions. . . . The classified materials withheld from the Warren Commission, several of our actions in Vietnam and Watergate have only added to the American people’s distrust of the Federal government.”

The Washington Post quoted Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, as stating that the legislation was “woefully misconceived” in part because it would divert funds from broad declassification and toward special initiatives and did not contain enforcement provisions. “Senator Moynihan has made openness and secrecy a cause in the way no one else has,” Aftergood said in the Post. “And it pains me in not being able to endorse this legislation, because this is his last shot.”

(Public Interest Declassification Act of 1999)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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