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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Writing to NARA to Stop CIA Destruction of Records

Following a story at Unredacted, the blog for The National Security Archive, regarding the potential changes in the rules allowing destruction of historical CIA documents, I wrote the following letter. Today is the deadline to submit comments to I strongly recommend readers mail their comments in ASAP!
Margaret Hawkins
Acting Director, Records and Management Services
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

Dear Ms. Hawkins:

I was alarmed to read that the National Archives had tentatively approved a CIA request to destroy a number of potentially important documents that are 30 years old or older, 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.”

This action would amount to a destruction of history itself, as there is no guarantee that the government operations covered by these records exist anywhere else, even if the CIA maintains that it does. Historians have too often seen documents destroyed. It was as recent as the late 1990s that historian Sheldon Harris complained of government officials (in this case, Department of Defense officials) destroying government records on U.S. collaboration with Unit 731 Japanese war criminals after he and other historians and journalists had expressed interest in such documents. See his letter republished in the November 19, 1999 issue of Congressional Record (pp. S14542-S14543).

I've had my own experience with disappearing records. In 2012, I filed a FOIA on investigative files from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on a Guantanamo detainee who died in custody in June 2009. I subsequently received notice that crucial computer records from the day the detainee had died (and the day after) had gone "missing" and were irretrievable as a result. While I cannot say with assurance they were deliberately destroyed, it was a very suspicious disappearance.

In this brief review, I'd note that the CIA itself has a history of destroying important documentation, from the bulk of the files pertaining to the MKULTRA program of the 1950s and 1960s, to the November 2005 destruction of videotapes of the interrogation and torture of detainees, which a court had ordered preserved.

This is an urgent matter, and the proposal to destroy historical records is contrary to the functioning of a democratic government and a strong civil society. I strongly request that NARA 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.

In this matter, I am in accord with The National Security Archive, OpenTheGovernment, and other organizations, who ask that NARA pause the approval of CIA N1-263-13-1 until NARA is able to verify beyond a reasonable doubt to the public that: 1) the records set for destruction are in fact not historically valuable, as the CIA’s claims, and 2) The records and information that the CIA claims are captured elsewhere are in fact preserved. I also request that "Item 30-3a: Declassification Referral Files" be re-designated for preservation. We strongly believe that these files do have significant research value, as they provide an invaluable tool and a roadmap for researchers to identify documents that were once designated as too secret to disclose to the public, but will be subject to release at some point in the future. Executive Order 13526 states, “No information may remain classified indefinitely;” NARA must ensure safeguards so that no previously secret, historically valuable, information is improperly destroyed.


Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.

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