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SECRECY AND DISCLOSURE: THE DECLASSIFICATION PROGRAM
OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS SERVICE
JAMES E. O'NEILL
Early in 1971, well before the appearance of the "Pentagon Papers," officials of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the National Archives joined together to plan the declassification of World War II documents that are still classified. No one was at all sure of how many such documents there were, of what problems would have to be faced, or of how to go about such a massive undertaking within a reasonable period of time and at reasonable cost. There was general agreement, however, that most of the twenty-fiveand thirty-year-old material-probably 90 percent or more-could be declassified. There was also general agreement that the National Archives, as custodian of the great bulk of the World War II documents, was the appropriate agency to carry out the declassification program, though it would require a great deal of assistance from the agencies that had created the material.
National Archives staff members made a preliminary survey of the records and developed a detailed plan for a declassification program. The value of the program in making material available and the desirability of beginning the task at once seemed to warrant an immediate request for funds. In August 1971 the president requested that Congress provide a supplemental appropriation for that fiscal year so that work could begin. Although this request for immediate funding was turned down, the money was incorporated in the budget for the following year and was appropriated by Congress in June 1972. In the few months since then the plan has become a program, and the program has already produced significant results.
It was estimated in 1971 that some 160,000,000 pages of World War II documents in the custody of the National Archives and Records Service were still classified. Most of these, of course, were in one or another division of the National Archives in Washington. A smaller, but quite important, number were located in three of the presidential libraries: the Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower Libraries. In its original form, the National Archives plan estimated that the task of leveling such a mountain of secrecy would require 114 people working for five years at a total cost of $6,300,000.
In the spring of 1972, however, an important new element was added to the picture. On March 8 the president signed Executive Order 11652, providing a new approach to security classification and introducing a new emphasis on declassification and access. For the first time the archivist of the United States was written into the classification system and was assigned a primary role in effecting the declassification of documents.
Three parts of the new executive order are of particular importance to the National Archives and to its program. Section 3 (E) gives to the archivist of the United States, for the first time, the authority to declassify material accessioned into the National Archives. He is to use this authority only "in accordance with this order, directives of the President issued through the National Security Council and pertinent regulations of the Departments." While the archivist's authority is, thus, limited, this provision eliminates the need for specific delegations of authority from each agency and will sharply reduce the time and paper previously expended in routing individual documents to the agencies for declassification action.
Section 11 grants a comparable, but broader, authority over a particularly important category of classified material, namely that classified "by a President, his White House Staff or special committee or commission appointed by him and which the Archivist has in his custody at any archival depository, including a Presidential Library.” Again, the authority has
certain limitations, since it is to be exercised only in accord with "the terms of the donor's deed of gift,” only after "consultation with the Departments having a primary subjectmatter interest" in the material, and, of course, only in accord with the other pertinent provisions of the executive order itself. This section too will save time and trouble in declassification. But, more importantly, it makes explicit provision for declassifying older presidential and White House material. Previously, no one had clear authority to declassify such documents, with the result that they existed in a limbo of indefinite, and possibly perpetual, classification.
The third part of Executive Order 11652 that affects the work of the National Archives is Section 5 (E), which introduces, for the first time, the principle of automatic declassification after thirty years. For such older material classified prior to the new executive order the archivist has been given the responsibility of review for declassification, and he is to "separate and keep protected only such information as is specifically identified by the Head of the Department,” who is also to "specify the period of continued classification.” Such continued classification can be made only when protection of the material "is essential to the national security or disclosure would place a person in immediate jeopardy."
The new executive order, and the thirtyyear rule in particular, enlarged and at the same time eased the declassification task of the National Archives and Records Service. What began as a limited five-year program to declassify the Second World War documents has now become an ongoing program to review documents as they reach their thirtieth year. As a result, the World War II material must all be dealt with by the end of 1975, rather than 1977 as the original five-year program intended. By 1976 the National Archives staff will begin working on the postwar material. At the same time, the executive order and the implementing directive of the National Security Council have enabled the National Archives and Records Service to cut the cost of declassifying the Second World War documents by nearly 40 percent.
To carry out the National Archives and Records Service's declassification program a new Records Declassification Division has been established under Edwin Alan Thompson, a former Eisenhower Library staff member who was brought back to Washington in April 1971 to plan the declassification of the World War II documents. Other experienced staff members have been transferred to the new division, and new staff members have been employed. At the same time the other major agencies of the government involved in the classified document area, including the intelligence community, the National Security Council, and the State Department, have provided substantial support and cooperation. The Department of the Army has been particularly responsive, assigning to the task more than two hundred reserve intelligence officers, employing experienced civilian experts in military records, and
The year 1972 was a particularly busy and
a important one for the National Archives and Records Service. A major new responsibility was added, programs looking to future events were begun or expanded, and older programs and activities continued to develop and grow.
The major new responsibility was supplied by President Nixon when he signed Executive Order 11652. The National Archives and Records Service has been given a primary role in declassification. Elsewhere in this issue are detailed descriptions of the attempt to curb excessive classification and to declassify the large backlog of security classified documents. In addition, staff members of the Office of Records Management have worked closely with the staff of the new Interagency Classification Review Committee to develop a government-wide reporting system for classified documents and declassification.
pressure hoses on the statuary outside the National Archives Building, cleaning the granite figures and pedestals. It was an outward manifestation of the extensive renovation in progress inside the classical structure built in the early 1930s. Other workers modernized the air-conditioning system, installed up-to-date lighting and smoke detectors and water sprinklers in the stack areas, improved laboratory facilities and equipment to meet growing demands for microfilm and other reproductions of historical materials, cleaned and painted public corridors, and replaced exhibit cases. At the year's end, the exhibition hall was temporarily closed to visitors so that the seventy-five-foot-high ceiling and the walls, marble, and other stonework could be thoroughly cleaned.
Other bicentennial preparations were being made. The International Council on Archives at its seventh quadrennial congress in Moscow in 1972 accepted an invitation to hold its 1976 congress in Washington when the United States will celebrate its twohundredth anniversary. The National Archives and Records Service and the Society of American Archivists are making the arrangements.
The Center for the Documentary Study of the American Revolution in the National Archives proceeded with projects to
The Bicentennial: A Time for Renewal
While the archival staff concentrated on declassification, workmen turned high
THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
AND RECORDS SERVICE IN 1972
JAMES B. RHOADS Archivist of the United States
assist researchers whose themes involve the formation of the Union. An indexed bibliography of published works on the American Revolution was compiled, a singlevolume guide to prefederal and related records in the National Archives was under way with publication due in 1974, and computer-assisted indexes to the papers of the Continental Congress were being prepared for publication in 1976. A special bicentennial research room was being readied for scholars and other researchers interested in the 1774-89 period.
An Americana project was begun. The National Archives will accept for display gifts and loans of fine furniture and other examples of craftsmanship from the nation's early years.
ment, is roughly equivalent to twenty-five hundred pages; a reference service is the furnishing of one item of information or one reproduction in answer to a request.)
The National Archives and Records Service also sponsored scholarly conferences on subjects of mutual interest to archivists and users of archives. Conferences on historical geography in the fall of 1971 and on the history of Indian-white relations in the spring of 1972 were held in the National Archives Building; a conference on the use of audiovisual archives as source materials was held at the University of Delaware in the fall of 1972. Scholarly and educational use of the audiovisual holdings of the National Archives was promoted by film festivals and two thirteen-week film series, one on American social history, the other a survey of award-winning government films.
Ties between the National Archives and the academic community were strengthened by two exchange projects which stemmed from recommendations of the Archives Advisory Council. Staff archivist Robert Wolfe taught a short course in “The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials” at Wesleyan University in Connecticut during the 1972 spring semester and then brought some of the students to the National Archives for further research in the trial records. Professor
One basic purpose of, the National Archives and Records Service is to preserve records and make them available for use. At the end of the 1972 fiscal year-the period for which statistics are kept-the agency had custody of nearly thirteen million cubic feet of records in various depositories. The staff performed eleven million reference services during the year. (A cubic foot, a common form of archival measure