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Tomorrow is Deadline to Submit Comments to Stop CIA Plan to Destroy Important Files

July 18, 2017
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The CIA is positioned to begin destroying a large number of potentially important documents, including classified information related to the Agency’s official actions abroad, investigative files from the offices of the Inspector General, Security, and Counterintelligence, and files relating to CIA assets (spies) that the CIA itself does not deem “significant.”

As reported in the Daily Beast, the National Archives has tentatively approved a CIA records retention schedule to destroy information that is more than 30 years old. In addition to the files listed above, the Agency is also attempting to destroy files related to CIA investigations into alleged unauthorized releases of classified information (which the Agency is attempting  to change from a permanent to temporary designation). This is is a departure from current guidelines, which mandate that leak-related files must be saved permanently.

The public can submit comments to the National Archives (request.schedule@nara.gov) urging it to reconsider its pending approval of the CIA records schedule until tomorrow, July 19.

Nate Jones, the National Security Archive’s FOIA project director, told the Daily Beast’s Aliya Sternstein that the CIA’s plan was of serious concern because history has shown that the CIA is “too eager to destroy their records.

Malcolm Byrne, the Archive’s Iran Project Director, pointed to recent reports that the Agency destroyed records on its involvement in the 1953 coup when it moved offices on the incorrect belief that there were copies of the records elsewhere. Byrne argues, if “CIA disinterest in some quarters about preserving records, human fallibility, and similar horror stories are a guide, then logic dictates there are plenty of grounds for concern – or at a minimum meaningful oversight, which is always a concern in these days of slashed budgets.”

The solution is for NARA and the CIA to err on the side of preservation.

The CIA could have given a bit more justification to make its case.

The National Security Archive, with OpenTheGovernment, Defending Rights & Dissent, and Demand Progress submitted comments to NARA acting director of records appraisal and agency assistant, Margaret Hawkens, requesting her agency do just that, and “reconsider its pending approval of the CIA’s proposed schedule, N1- 263-13-1, until NARA can better assure the public that records of permanent historic value will not be allowed to be destroyed by the CIA.”

The groups argued there are concerns that the CIA could use the records schedule “to allow the destruction of crucial documentary evidence of the CIA’s activities.” The groups also called it unwise to allow the designation of CIA declassification referral files as “temporary” after 30 years. “FOIA and Mandatory Declassification Review requests to NARA (sometimes of CIA records) occasionally take longer than 20 years to be completed.  Declassification referral ‘paper trails’ also do have research value to find and request re-reviews of documents, even if they are no longer needed for CIA business purposes.”

With the destruction of the Iran Coup documents in mind, the signatories also request NARA “take a closer examination of the CIA’s request to destroy some records based on the assertion that the information is ‘[c]aptured elsewhere in permanent records’ in order to assure that this is in fact the case.'”

The CIA files in question likely have significant research value. The current order on declassification states that “No information may remain classified indefinitely.” NARA must guard that no previously secret, historically valuable information is improperly destroyed before the public can view it.

Submit your own comments to request.schedule@nara.gov.

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