Proactively Posting Documents Makes Everyone’s Job Easier
Updated 10/29 to clarify OSC access
On December 31, 2013, the CIA will quit providing the public access to its World News Connection, “an extremely valuable research tool” provided by the Open Source Center (OSC) and hosted through the the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). For the past 60 years the OSC has provided the public, for a fee, the wealth of unclassified, open source material collected by U.S. intelligence online via the World News Connection, and it’s been an invaluable tool for researchers and the public. Steven Aftergood has a lengthier blog on the reasons behind the termination of public access to the unclassified news source, which namely appears to be that negotiating the “numerous contracts with media source providers to offer their products” became a hassle, but whatever the reasons behind the closure, the cessation of the OSC’s public feed is symptomatic of a larger, but fixable, problem.
The CIA is by no means obligated to maintain the OSC, but its existence has been a bright spot in the relationship between the intelligence community, journalists, and academics. Not only has it been a helpful tool for many, but the decision to cease its services is particularly untimely in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, and the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on leakers and the journalists who publish their stories. These events have caused public trust in the intelligence community to fall worryingly low, and it is programs like OSC that have the potential to reaffirm the public’s faith that our intelligence agencies are not actively working against the free flow of information, and, moreover, that people won’t be prosecuted for working towards it.
A simple, albeit partial, solution to the dwindling faith in our intelligence services is also one that would help ease the burden on FOIA professionals government-wide. It is, quite simply, for agencies to proactively provide much more unclassified and declassified material to the public. Not only does the posting of unsolicited material provide a valuable service for academics, researchers, and the public at large, it lightens the load of agency FOIA officers (and the program offices they must obtain the requested information from) across the board, and would do much to advance Obama’s commitment to oversee the most transparent administration in history – a commitment that is currently being unfulfilled.