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The Record - September 1998

Federal Panel Orders Declassification of Selected Cold War Era Documents

Editors note: The following is a statement issued by the White House Office of the Press Secretary, August 26, 1998.

An interagency panel established by President Clinton has reversed agency decisions and declassified Cold War records more than 80 percent of the time, a new report shows. In the two years since it was created, the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP)—which resolves appeals from Executive Branch classification decisions—declassified information in full or in part in 81 out of the 96 documents presented to it. Agency classification actions were upheld by ISCAP in the case of 15 documents.

ISCAP was established on April 17, 1995, when President Clinton signed Executive Order 12958, the first effort since the end of the Cold War to reassess the balance between open government and the need to maintain secrets vital to national security. The order requires automatic declassification of information after 25 years, subject to very narrow exceptions.

Until the 1995 order, information could be classified indefinitely if it had originated with and been classified by a foreign government. Now, information twenty-five years or older can remain classified for diplomatic reasons only if disclosure would "seriously and demonstrably impair relations" with a foreign government or "seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities." Twenty-five year old information pertaining to the identity of an intelligence source can only remain classified under the new Order if disclosure "would clearly and demonstrably damage" national security.

ISCAP is chaired by the Justice Department representative, Roslyn A. Mazer, who was appointed chair by President Clinton in January 1996. Other representatives to the Panel were appointed by the Secretaries of State and Defense, the National Security Adviser, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Archivist of the United States.

"ISCAP's record to date demonstrates both the wisdom and practicality of the new Executive Order," Mazer said in releasing the two-year report. "The balance the President struck in the Order shows that government classifiers can achieve maximum responsible disclosure." In applying the new standards, "reflexive use of the old classification categories has been replaced by healthy skepticism," she said. "In our new, infinitely more complex security environment, ISCAP's actions will continue to protect our vital national security secrets but will make more information available to our citizens, scientists, and historians so that we can learn from the past and fashion a more secure future," Mazer said.

Since its inception, ISCAP has decided appeals seeking the declassification of 96 documents that remained fully or partially classified upon the completion of agency review. In the case of 81 documents, or 84.5% of the total, ISCAP declassified significant information in whole (59 documents) or in part (22 documents) . ISCAP has affirmed agency classification actions fully for 15 of the 96 documents (15.5%).

Examples of ISCAP declassifications include:

• Declassification in large part of documents from the Kennedy, Eisenhower and Johnson Administrations regarding the deployment and potential use of nuclear weapons in Europe, including information on command and control, targeting, authorization for expenditures in emergency situations, and consultations with allied governments.

• Declassification in full of two State Department communications with embassies overseas during the 1967 Arab-Israeli "Six Day War" discussing Israeli nuclear weapons capabilities and intentions. ISCAP kept two other messages classified in full and declassified parts of two others, where disclosure would have seriously and demonstrably undermined ongoing diplomatic activities in the Middle East or, in one instance, would have revealed an intelligence source requiring continued protection.

• Declassification in full of a September 1967 memorandum to President Johnson from National Security Adviser Walt Rostow speculating about military options then available to the North Vietnamese army. Portions of the memorandum had been classified to protect foreign relations and intelligence sources or methods.

• Declassification in full of two 1962 letters from Indian Prime Minister Nehru to President Kennedy that pertain to Indian concerns during the border conflict between India and the Peoples' Republic of China.

• For information less than twenty-five years old, declassification of fourteen Ford administration documents (four in their entirety and significant portions of ten others) pertaining to diplomatic initiatives concerning the potential development of nuclear weapons, materials and processing by the Republic of Korea. Some information continues to he classified because it reveals the identity of a confidential source or an intelligence source, or because its release could result in serious and demonstrable harm to U.S. relations with a foreign government.

Documents declassified by ISCAP are usually made available through the organization that has permanent custody of them (in many cases, Presidential libraries). The database of decisions rendered by ISCAP is available from the Information Security oversight Office (ISOO, which provides staff support to ISCAP). ISCAP's chair Roslyn A. Mazer can be reached at (202) 514-1013, or by e-mail at rmazer@usdoj.gov. The ISCAP can be reached by e-mail at iscap@archl.nara.gov, or through its Executive Secretary.

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