Senators Hoping To Keep CIA From Destroying Most Of Its Employees' Emails
from the agency-replacing-'delete'-buttons-faster-than-ever dept
The CIA and Senate have found more to fight about. With the “Torture Report” mostly in the hands of the White House at this point, the two are now battling over the CIA’s planned alterations to its email retention policies.
Key senators are pushing back against a CIA plan to destroy older emails of “non-senior” agency officials.
The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday sent a letter opposing the proposal, under which only the highest ranking CIA workers would have their email correspondence permanently saved.
The plan “could allow the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities that is essential for Congress, the public and the courts to know,” Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) wrote to the National Archives…
The senators are asking the National Archives to step up and somehow prevent this from happening — most likely by declaring “non-senior” emails to be retainable records that must be turned over rather than destroyed. The CIA would prefer to destroy the emails of all but the top 22 employees three years after they leave, or when “no longer needed, whichever is sooner.” Unfortunately for the senators making this request, the National Archive has already signaled its agreement with the CIA’s proposed retention schedule changes.
In tentatively approving the request, the National Archives noted that the emailed information “is unlikely” to exist in other forms that will be marked for permanent storage.
Any information not found in those other files likely “has little or no research value,” it added.
Senators Feinstein and Chambliss — in rare agreement with transparency and government accountability activists — disagree with the National Archives’ assessment.
“In our experience, email messages are essential to finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records at the CIA,” Feinstein and Chambliss wrote.
Longer retention is needed, especially for an agency as secretive as the CIA. The standard wait period for sensitive document declassification is 25 years. Correspondence related to declassified documents will be long gone by that point.
Even in terms of normal FOIA requests, three years is cutting things close. Rarely does an FOIA-worthy event come to light within days or weeks of its occurrence. It’s generally weeks, months or years down the road. By the time documents are requested, ignored by the CIA’s FOIA staff and finally pried free by a federal lawsuit*, responsive documents may already have been destroyed. Without a doubt, the CIA knows this is a distinct possibility and any trimming of retention periods only makes it more likely that relevant communications will be permanently removed from circulation.