from the I'M-HELPING dept
The National Archives obviously can’t be expected to store every piece of paper generated by the federal government. But it does have an obligation to preserve copies of historically-significant documents. Unfortunately, it’s allowing agencies to make these decisions. While it’s true some agencies may have a better grasp on a document’s significance, other agencies aren’t as interested in archiving historically significant documents — especially ones that might make them look bad.
The CIA is scheduled to begin destroying old records related to leaks of classified information in August unless critics convince the National Archives to scuttle the plan.
The National Archives and Records Administration tentatively approved a CIA proposal to get rid of several types of records after 30 years. Along with leak-tied files, the record types include medical records, behavioral conduct files, security clearance information, personality files with counterintelligence interests, workers-compensation reports for employees posted overseas, and declassification and referral files.
Leak-related files currently have to be saved permanently, but under this proposal they can be destroyed 30 years after a case is closed.
This is the CIA’s response to the Archives’ question: what documents should we not worry about keeping? This is the CIA stating none of the documents listed above have historical value. Nate Jones of the nonprofit National Security Archive points out why the CIA shouldn’t be allowed to make this determination.
Jones warns that NARA and the CIA should err on the side of preservation, even if they believe the files at issue are backed up elsewhere. “History has shown that they are too eager to destroy their records,” he said of CIA officials. “The CIA does not have a lot of good will for preserving historically relevant documents.”
There’s history the CIA likes — the sort of thing that’s enshrined in its public areas and featured prominently on its website. Then there’s everything else. The CIA tends to move forward with document destruction without bothering to confirm backups still exist just in case.
[J]ust last month, it came to light that the spy agency chucked records about this country’s secret role in the 1953 Iran coup during an office move, when it believed copies existed someplace else.
An avoidable accident, but nothing about it suggests it was an accident or that the CIA had any interest in avoiding it. History may be written by the winners, but history can be erased by even the clumsiest losers. Not only are those files gone but any record of their destruction is missing as well.
“There is no written record confirming the destruction of the 1953 microfilmed cables” because “records of such routine destruction were themselves temporary and scheduled to be destroyed.”
The CIA, meanwhile, is complaining its ample budget simply can’t cover the cost of digitizing everything related to leaks or personnel issues. If this is even remotely true, it exposes a serious flaw in agency priorities. The government apparently has plenty of money available for watching others, but very little set aside for being watched by the public.
Matthew Aid, an ex-intelligence officer and historian, puzzled over the rationale behind the National Security Agency storing “several hundred times the volume of the Library of Congress every single day as part of its global eavesdropping operations,” while “the CIA can’t afford to scan its records.”
Regrettably, the NARA is pretty much powerless. It can make recommendations and ask for proposals, but it’s all held together by toothless laws which have zero deterrent effect on agencies hoping to carve holes in their sketchy history with scheduled document destruction.