CIA shuts down office that declassifies historical materials

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
The division of the United States Central Intelligence Agency that is responsible for weeding through and declassifying historical materials from the Agency’s archives is to close due to the sequester budget cuts. The CIA’s Historical Collections Division has been at the source of some of the most sensational declassification of American intelligence material in recent years, spanning several decades of postwar history. But it has now been disbanded due to budget cuts associated with so-called sequester. The widespread cuts were automatically imposed after the two political parties in Congress failed to compromise last year on the Federal budget. The sequester is an across-the-board budget reduction that affects every single agency or office operating under the US government. It is believed that the CIA dealt with the cuts by terminating an unknown number of agreements with outside contractors, some of whom were responsible for the declassification of historical documents. The Los Angeles Times, which reported on the story, quoted CIA spokesman Edward Price, who told journalists last week that the Historical Collections Division had been “moved into a larger unit” within the Agency in order to “create efficiencies”. He identified that unit as the CIA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, whose Information Management Services handle all Freedom of Information Act requests from the public. Price assured reporters that the CIA remained faithful to declassifying historical material, which it described as part of its “public interest mission”. But The Times quoted several scholars who said that the disbandment of the CIA’s Historical Collections Division will almost certainly result in a reduced number of public disclosures. They include Professor Robert Jervis of Columbia University, who advises the CIA on declassification in his capacity as chair of the CIA’s Historical Review Panel. He told the paper that the Division’s disbandment will mean “fewer releases. We shouldn’t fool ourselves”. Mark Zaid, a lawyer who frequently seeks material from the CIA’s archives, told The Times that he dreaded the move of declassification mechanisms to the Office of the Information Officer. He said the Office had been consistently “the most obstructionist and unfriendly of those I have dealt with during the last two decades” inside the CIA. Ironically, because the CIA’s budget is classified, those outside the Agency cannot estimate the extent of the reduction of its budget, nor how much was saved by the disbandment of the Historical Review Panel.

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