Magazine article American Libraries

Ruling Favors Whistle-Blower: Truman Library to Appeal

Magazine article American Libraries

Ruling Favors Whistle-Blower: Truman Library to Appeal

Article excerpt

Officials at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) say they will appeal an administrative law judge's ruling that the library erred when it transferred and denied a promotion to Carol Briley, an archivist at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. The judgment concludes that library administrators took the action to punish Briley for blowing the whistle on the library's mishandling of classified documents.

Some 150,000 pages of documents from the Truman years - related largely to the atomic bomb and spy operations - are still deemed too sensitive to release and are stored in a vault at the library. Assigned to the vault in 1986, Briley began accumulating evidence of security breaches and running up against administrators' resistance to correcting them. She then began reporting violations to the NARA Inspector General in Washington, D.C.

By 1989, Briley had reported a series of incidents of sloppy handling of classified documents, security breaches, and erroneous declassification. She also learned that in 1986 the library had discovered that a 158-page report from the president's National Security Council - describing, among other things, the circumstances under which Saudi Arabia's oil fields should be destroyed - had been erroneously declassified. By the time the error was discovered, the report had been published by Research Publications, and, although the document is still officially classified, copies exist in the public domain.

NARA's worst leaks

According to a detailed report on the library's security problems in the Nov. 19, 1995, Kansas City Star, NARA considered the library's leaks the most serious in the agency's history. The newspaper reported one official's unconfirmed comments that discussions took place questioning whether presidential libraries should hold classified documents at all.

But it was not until 1994 that Dennis Bilger, the archivist responsible for some of the mishandling, had his security clearance terminated - only months after library managers put him to work in the vault in order to push Briley out.

Bilger is held in high regard by library users (including Truman biographer David McCullough) and by Briley herself, who said she had no quarrel with him personally but did criticize his lack of attention to details. …

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