Blaming Sequestration, CIA Closes Historical Document Declassification Office
from the nice-going,-everyone-involved-[finger-pointed-at-Congress] dept
The forced cuts of the sequester are hitting everywhere, apparently even at agencies with black budgets. With the budgets not open for public inspection, whatever’s cut by those agencies will take on the appearance of being “discretionary.” The latest cut by the CIA certainly looks to be a cut of convenience, rather than one of necessity.
The budget ax has fallen on a CIA office that focused on declassifying historical materials, a move scholars say will mean fewer public disclosures about long-buried intelligence secrets and scandals.
The Historical Collections Division, which has declassified documents on top Soviet spies, a secret CIA airline in the Vietnam War, the Cuban missile crisis and other major operations, has been disbanded. The office that handles Freedom of Information Act requests will take over the work.
While most of the documents are mainly of historical interest, the fact is that there’s a lot in the CIA’s past that should be opened up to the public. It’s not as if the agency has run a tight, clean program for the past several decades. Even if its past misdeeds (and that term really understates some of its actions) have little bearing on its current work, they still provide some insight into the mindset of the agency.
Dumping this onto the FOIA department just adds more work to a part of the agency that already uses every excuse it can to avoid complying with requests.
“This move is a true loss to the public,” said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who frequently litigates against the CIA. He said the CIA office that handles Freedom of Information Act requests “is the most obstructionist and unfriendly of those I have dealt with during the last two decades.”
The agency’s spokesman says this move will “create efficiencies,” which is both untrue and a buzzword-ish mistreatment of English. All it does is push a likely unwanted task (does the CIA really care whether or not the public’s interest is served?) to a part of the agency that wants it even less. With this move, the CIA’s history is allowed to slink back into the shadows while its present continues to be kept out of the sunlight by an antagonist FOIA department.
The off-the-record budget keeps anyone from stating definitively whether this cut was mandatory or simply convenient, but considering its lack of direct benefit to the agency (and its agenda), it’s not a surprise to see it swiftly placed on the chopping block.