Making Government Operations More Open

Opening our past, cutting secrecy at the source

Only a few pieces of recent legislation have had any impact on the efforts to release the growing classified archives that mark the theft of our own history by the national security state. The Nazi War Crimes Records Act and the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act have released over 15 million pages of classified documents relating to key pieces of our history, and have far outstripped the ineffective Freedom of Information Act by creating an independent board to make decisions about release, by creating a presumption of release, and by narrowing the categories that allow postponement of release. I would therefore suggest the following steps to begin to make our history our own and our government's role and response in the more recent period visible and transparent:

1 - Change the rules on classification of documents and records drastically to strangle the huge bureaucracy of secrecy and machinery of classification that is feeding over 15 million records (not pages, records) into literally buried history at the agencies and archives that control them. Without stopping this huge flow, efforts to release them later can barely make a dent.

2 - Never again allow a process or ability of the executive branch to reclassify previously released records at the archives or elsewhere, which led to over a million records being buried during the last administration.

3 - Renew the executive order by President Clinton to review for release all classified records 25 years or older, at a minimum. More recent would be even better. John Dean estimated that had this order been implemented over 1 billion records from our hidden past would have been released. In this executive order, create a review board under Congress through the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives and on the Senate side as well. This will use the balance of powers to allow independent reviews by the executive branch and agencies alone.

4 - Establish a procedure for all federal, state, local, court and international records related to any major historical event of public interest since the establishment of classified records to be reviewed by a new and independent review board of historians, archivists, and impacted individuals or groups with a presumption of release, a rigorous search procedure, power of subpoena for documents and testimony, civilian advisory input, narrow standards for any postponement relating to actual direct harm to current operations or living agents or informants, and a date certain for full release of all discovered files, even if they are found in the future, under these standards.

5 - Create a standard procedure for all files released by any government agency to an archive or to the public through FOIA or any other review process, that a Record Information File be created with a summary of key information to make the collection searchable, and that full text search and access to all records be available online and at several repositories.

6 - Stengthen the FOIA by narrowing the categories of what can be withheld, by speeding the process of review making release the outcome resulting from any delay of review, not withholding, and by creating a separate, independent appeals board for documents denied to requesters, with its own timelines. Require that searches for documents not located be referred to any other agencies that might have been sent a copy of the documents sought.

7 - Regular Congressional oversight and hearings should be required at least annually regarding all aspects of transparency, openness and adherence to these laws. Congressional inquiries in these matters should be referred to the above mentioned historical review and FOIA appeal boards for action or decision.

8 - Establish a presumption of release for any records that are related to historical matters of great public interest within a reasonable period of time after the event, and disallow both executive and Congressional privilege to conceal and bury documents and investigations for periods of decades (50 to 75 years), so that no record remains classified for over 15 years in the future and that records so classified must be reviewed regularly to be sure the situation has not changed that was used to suggest they could harm anyone living or any current operation, if so requiring immediate release.

9 - Restore the intent of the founding fathers that a people exercising democracy must be well-informed and that secrecy is inimical to that process. Information flow and knowledge are central to any democratic decision, and democracy without that was considered a farce. Jefferson, Madison and the others knew that information was more central to democratic government than the machinery that was being used to make it function. We cannot be uneducated and free. Stealing our history, both past and recent, makes us a conquered people. Unlock the secrets.



79 votes
Idea No. 762