On August 21, 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) posted to its OpenNet system the multi-volume history of the Manhattan Project, titled The Manhattan District History. Commissioned in 1944 by General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Engineer District, the thirty-six volume history was “intended to describe, in simple terms, easily understood by the average reader, just what the Manhattan District did, and how, when, and where” according to general editor Gavin Hadden, a longtime civil employee of the Army Corps of Engineers.
The volumes detail the Manhattan Project’s activities and achievements in research, design, construction, operation, and administration, as well as contain extensive annotations, statistical tables, charts, engineering drawings, maps, photographs, and derailed indices.
The PIDB congratulates the Office of Classification, the Office of History and Heritage Resources, and the DOE’s Office of Science and Technical information for completing all declassification reviews on these important histories. In particular, we are gratified that the DOE prioritized these histories for declassification. This effort illustrates the government’s ability to declassify no-longer-sensitive information related to our nation’s nuclear history, a recommendation made by the PIDB’s 2012 Report, Transforming the Security Classification System, and adopted in the President’s Second Open Government National Action Plan. The PIDB is also pleased that these records received a line-by-line declassification review, rather than being subjected to simple pass/fail determinations. We will continue to follow and give encouragement to agencies as they work to implement the President’s Plan.
On July 7, 2014, the President signed into law S. 1681, “Fiscal 2014 Intelligence Authorization.” The Senate passed the bill on June 11, 2014 and the House of Representatives passed it by voice vote on June 24, 2014. The legislation included a section that amended Section 710(b) of the Public Interest Declassification Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-567; 50 U.S.C. 3161 note) by striking “2014.” and inserting “2018.” This extension will allow our Members to continue our work advocating for reform of the classification system. We believe modernization is essential to foster more effective national security policies and practices and improve democratic discourse.
We thank the Congress for including this language in the legislation and the President for signing it. We would also like to thank Representative Mike Rogers who first introduced H.R. 4681, “Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015,” Senators Jeanne Shaheen and James Risch and Representative Darrell Issa and their staff members for their support of the PIDB’s work and for their efforts to see the PIDB reauthorized.
On Friday, June 20, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) held a congressional briefing on the Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System, which offered fourteen key recommendations on how to reform the security classification system to better reflect the digital age. The need for increased transparency and improved public access to declassified information is greater than ever, and we would like to thank Senators Jim Risch and Jeanne Shaheen for sponsoring the event as well as all congressional staff who attended. Our visit to the Hill underscores the unique partnership between the PIDB and Congress, and we look forward to closer collaboration in the future.
After an overview of the history and work of the PIDB by our Executive Secretary John Fitzpatrick, our board members outlined the reasons for fundamental framework reform. Our 70-year-old classification and declassification systems are antiquated and unsuited to processing large quantities of electronic information; in addition, present policies are heavily skewed toward classification – while classification system costs have nearly tripled since 2000, there is relatively little funding for declassification. These practices highlight the government’s tendency to over-classify and reinforce the public’s lack of confidence in the existing systems to adequately protect their right to information. President Obama recently committed to implementing many of the Board’s proposals through his Second Open Government National Action Plan.
The PIDB thanks Congress for its continued backing of the PIDB’s work and appreciates the bipartisan bills aiming for reauthorization of the PIDB. Vice Chair Congressman David Skaggs in particular highlighted Congress’s role and stake in furthering the mission of the PIDB – congressional oversight, he noted, is crucial to upholding government accountability, and the declassification of Executive Branch records considerably aids Congress’s ability to provide checks and balances. Congressman Skaggs also discussed the possibility of subjecting congressional committee records for formal declassification review; these collections are invaluable in providing insight to Congress’s oversight and legislative contributions. In closing, we would like to emphasize that the PIDB – a hybrid of Presidential and congressional appointees – is fundamentally nonpartisan in nature; its purpose is to serve the public interest and our democracy. Having just celebrated the 238th anniversary of America’s birth, it is vital that we bear in mind the core principle upon which our nation was founded- a government instituted by the people, for the people. We at the PIDB remain committed to working with Congress and the Executive Branch to uphold this vision.
On behalf of the members of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), I want to thank all those who attended and participated in our public meeting on June 19, 2014. We wish to thank the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, and his staff for hosting the meeting at the National Archives and Records Administration. We also thank the Archivist for opening the event and for his remarks reaffirming the National Archives’ commitment to Open Government by improving access to government information, strengthening public and employee engagement and supporting electronic records modernization. He acknowledged the hard work of dedicated declassification professionals across agencies and how that collaboration continues to build upon the success of the National Declassification Center.
The public meeting was an opportunity for the PIDB and senior leaders in Government to engage with the public and make progress on a long-standing issue of critical importance to transformation: the design of a systematic process to review Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) information for declassification. Following the Archivist’s remarks, three distinguished Government panelists delivered a presentation on the Formerly Restricted Data Declassification Working Group (FRD-DWG) at the Department of Defense. We would like to thank Mr. Timothy A. Davis from the Department of Defense, Mr. John F. Hackett from the Department of State, and Dr. Andrew Weston-Dawkes from the Department of Energy for their time and their insight into this important topic. Their presentation highlighted Government efforts to respond to one of our recommendations to the President in our Transforming the Security Classification System report and a key commitment in the President’s Second Open Government National Action Plan (NAP). These three agencies are working at length to meet the President’s commitment to developing a systematic declassification process for no-longer sensitive FRD information. We are particularly grateful for the commendable work of our three panelists and their agencies as they work towards developing such a process to be able to declassify no-longer sensitive nuclear information that will shed important light on our Cold War and nuclear weapons history. Their work has been complex and challenging, as illuminated by their presentation, but we are extremely pleased by the massive efforts they have undertaken so far and look forward to seeing even greater results in the future.
The panelists’ presentation offered encouraging prospects for the declassification of no-longer sensitive FRD declassification, and we were pleased to learn the Department of Defense made this specific project its flagship Open Government initiative for the entire Department. From the presentations, we learned that the FRD-DWG intends to declassify no-longer sensitive information and will publicize its results on a dedicated webpage (more information can be found on DoD’s Open Government webpage). We already are seeing real results from efforts of the FRD-DWG. As the departments develop a systematic process to meet this commitment, we are gratified that the Government is actively responding to the Open Government NAP with enthusiasm and is making this issue a high priority for transformation. Declassification of no longer sensitive FRD is clearly a topic of interest to historians and the public as well, illustrated by the fact that more than 90 attendees filled the meeting room. As at our past meetings, we welcome and encourage public participation as we work to assist the Government in its efforts at transformation. We especially encourage the public to use the Department of Energy addresses below to submit declassification proposals for consideration.
The meeting was also an opportunity for us to recognize the outstanding work of Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, who recently completed her third and final term as a member of the PIDB. Elizabeth was an inaugural member of the PIDB, and she actively participated in framing the recommendations of both our 2009 Improving Declassification report and our 2012 Transforming the Security Classification System report. We thank Elizabeth for her passion and advocacy on behalf of the public.
Finally, we would like to thank you, the public, for attending this meeting and for remaining engaged on this very important topic. As I have stated in the past, the members of the PIDB understand and take our responsibility of representing the public very seriously as we complete our work and respond to the requests made by the President. We know we would be unable to affect meaningful change without public participation and a willing spirit from the agencies to work collaboratively for the greater good of the people. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on all issues concerning the transformation of the security classification system, including the declassification of no-longer sensitive FRD, and assisting the President in meeting his Open Government commitments.
You can find more information about the Department of Defense’s Open Government Initiatives related to FRD declassification at:
You can submit proposals for declassification of RD or FRD information to:
Associate Under Secretary for Environment, Health, Safety and Security
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20585
You can submit proposals for systematic document reviews of given collections or subject areas to:
Office of Classification
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20585
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) will host a public meeting to discuss the recommendations included in its Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System, and its recommendation to re-examine the classification status of obsolete and historical Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) information. The meeting will focus on new processes to support the President’s commitment to implement a systematic review process for the declassification of this information. In his Second Open Government National Action Plan, he directed the Classification Review Committee to work with Executive branch agencies to design a review process that allows the public to help identify priorities. The Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero will offer opening remarks, and senior officials from Executive branch agencies will discuss the process and progress of the newly created “Formerly Restricted Data Declassification Working Group.”
This meeting is open to the public. However, due to space limitations and access procedures, we require individuals planning to attend the meeting to register on Eventbrite.
WHEN: Thursday, June 19, 2014, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: National Archives and Records Administration, Room 105 – Archivist’s Reception Room, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20408
Speakers will include:
The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public meeting the morning of Thursday, June 19, 2014.
We will include more details about the agenda, location and time of the meeting, as well as information about how to register to attend in a future blog post.
Please visit the PIDB’s website, http://www.archives.gov/declassification/pidb/, and continue to follow the PIDB’s blog, Transforming Classification, for more information about the PIDB’s activities.
The Boston Globe published an article yesterday titled, “U.S. lags in airing its old secrets.” It discusses the challenges facing the National Declassification Center (NDC) and the effect current declassification policies and practices have on providing timely access to historical records at the National Archives and Records Administration. In the article, journalist Bryan Bender quotes PIDB Chair, Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, as she offers insight into the challenges facing the system: “The current system is simply not capable of addressing the vast volume of information… It requires agencies to be willing to take a small additional risk for much more benefit.” The PIDB made several recommendations to improve declassification policies and processes in its 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. The PIDB recommended new policies that, if adopted, will facilitate greater public access records that are historically relevant and significant and do it sooner. Current declassification review policies are ill-suited for the looming challenges of Big Data. Among other recommendations, the PIDB wrote of the need for new policies that allow for risk-based reviews and the use of technology to make declassification more efficient and effective. The article discusses other obstacles the NDC faces while trying to provide public access to the records, including the divergent quality of reviews, the previously poor treatment many records received from agencies and the frequent assertion by agencies that whole categories of records cannot be released to the public using the NDC’s sampling process, which mitigates risk to increase the release rate of records by the agencies. Despite these challenges, the PIDB believes the NDC remains committed to working with agencies to push for greater reforms and modernization. However, it must adopt new policies and have sufficient resources and tools – including technology – to fulfill its mission in the digital age. The PIDB believes greater reform is needed to modernize a 70-year old system into one that is capable of handling petabytes of government information.
For more insight into the challenges facing the NDC and the larger declassification system, you can read the Boston Globe article here.
We are pleased to announce that two bills were introduced this week that, if enacted, will extend the term of the PIDB.
On May 19, 2014, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced H.R. 4671, “To extend the Public Interest Declassification Act of 2000,” and on May 21, 2014, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform marked up the bill. The bill passed by voice vote and was ordered to be reported to the full House of Representatives.
H. R. 4671, as amended, will extend the PIDB until December 31, 2017, and also gives the PIDB an opportunity to report on its work to the Congress during the next three years, beginning 180 days after enactment with a report to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Additionally, there are provisions in the bill that direct expedited declassification review under priorities set by the National Declassification Center (NDC) and that promote the sharing of declassification guidance between the NDC and agencies. These measures were previously included in a bill introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and James Risch (R-ID) to aid further transformative recommendations made by the PIDB in our 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System.
On May 20, 2014, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced H.R. 4681, “Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015,” which was reported out of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on May 22, 2014. H.R. 4681 will extend the PIDB until December 31, 2018 and allow the PIDB to continue advocating for changes to modernize the security classification system.
The PIDB welcomes the opportunity to share its findings with the Congress and the administration and thanks the Congress for supporting its work.
On behalf of the members of the Public Interest Declassification Board, I would like to thank Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker for her dedicated service to the PIDB and acknowledge her extensive contributions. Elizabeth concluded her third term as a member of the PIDB and we are lucky to have had her knowledge and expertise during her tenure. It has been a pleasure working with her and we have certainly treasured her company these past eight years. She was an inaugural member of the PIDB and was present at its first meeting on Saturday, February 25, 2006. Her passion and advocacy for transparency and responsible declassification have guided our work, benefiting the public and advancing needed conversations about balancing national security imperatives and the principles inherent to our democracy. Elizabeth possesses a unique understanding of how secrecy affects the functioning of our legal system, including insights as to how the growing body of “secret law” and the issues surrounding precedence affect public access to government information. Among her many accomplishments as a member of the PIDB, Elizabeth played a vital role in writing both of the PIDB’s Reports to the President, Improving Declassification and Transforming the Security Classification System. We have valued her thoughtful insights, wit and wisdom and hope she will continue to engage with the PIDB in her new emerti status. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your kindness, dedication, and professionalism. We will greatly miss you and we wish you the best both personally and professionally.
The members and staff of the Public Interest Declassification Board attended and participated in many events last week to commemorate Sunshine Week. We thank the public and representatives from civil society and open government advocacy groups, Government agencies, the Congress and all attendees who participated in Sunshine Week activities. The Board wishes to thank the Washington College of Law’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy for hosting its Seventh Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration at the American University. Board Member Ken Wainstein participated in a panel addressing current national security classification developments, as did John Fitzpatrick, the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office and Executive Secretary of the Board. In case you missed it, you can view the forum here. The large number of participants at this event and at other events reinforces our belief that citizens are interested in actively engaging with Government. Sunshine Week highlights citizen interest in participating in policy discussions and in holding Government accountable for its decisions. We will continue to advocate for national security classification and declassification reform and advocate for policies to improve Government transparency. We heard of the need for appropriate and effective oversight of our Government’s activities, particularly those involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the monitoring of intelligence activities by the Congress. At the American University, panelists discussed the implications of FOIA-related legislation, as well as observations and recommendations regarding the policies surrounding the Government’s use of surveillance activity. Ken Wainstein and John Fitzpatrick discussed the challenges of over-classification, recent Government efforts to reduce the scope of classification, and noted the difficulty in changing a long-standing culture of secrecy ingrained in system users.
Robert S. Litt, General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, provided a lunchtime address that largely reinforced many of the recommendations we seek in our Transforming the Security Classification System report. Mr. Litt affirmed the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) commitment to improving the transparency of the Intelligence Community. He acknowledged the need for the all intelligence agencies to reassess their view on secrecy and strike a better balance between transparency and secrecy so the American people have a clearer understanding of how the work of these agencies keep us safe. He noted the need for sufficient transparency for informed debate and a discussion on the limits of intelligence policies and practices. Most importantly though, Mr. Litt discussed the causes and prevalence of over-classification, noting that in his view, FOIA case officers should ask not only if they can classify and redact information, but whether or not they should when conducting reviews. Although a risk adverse culture persists, Mr. Litt iterated the leadership commitment of the DNI and of senior leaders at intelligence agencies to change this culture to one more open and transparent.
The issue of cultural change discussed during Sunshine Week reinforces the importance of the work of the President’s Security Classification Reform Committee (SCRC). We are pleased that the President adopted our primary recommendation and established this committee. We are also pleased that the President included several of our recommendations as specific action items in his Second National Action Plan for Open Government. As the SCRC begins its work, we will continue to advocate for our recommendations and believe, if adopted, they will improve our nation’s security and improve Government transparency. We look forward to seeing the results of the SCRC and having the Government act on our recommendations.
At the conclusion of Sunshine Week, we reaffirm our commitment to more an open and transparent government. We invite you to continue the discussion about open government and freedom of information by commenting on our recommendations on our blog.