Magazine article Insight on the News

Clinton Policy Declassified Nuclear Secrets. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Clinton Policy Declassified Nuclear Secrets. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently declassified its fifth report to Congress on "inadvertent" disclosures of classified nuclear-weapons information. For the last three years, classification experts have been scouring millions of pages of supposedly declassified government documents dumped into the public domain under the Clinton administration's misguided openness policy. They have uncovered a gold mine of nuclear-warhead secrets that, according to a DOE assessment, "would aid an adversary in obtaining a weapon of mass destruction."

In 1993, citing the end of the Cold War and the "rapidly changing world situation," President Bill Clinton proposed significant changes in security-classification policies that were intended to promote greater openness and trust in government. By executive order, he mandated automatic declassification of government documents that were more than 25 years old.

The White House was in such a rush to get these materials out to the public that it eliminated the requirement of careful, page-by-page review. Instead, it permitted agencies to use a "bulk-declassification" policy. Documents 25 years old or older would not be reviewed unless risk assessments warranted a more thorough review. The risk assessment was mostly a "judgment" as to whether a box of old documents might contain nuclear-weapons information. There were to be some restrictions on automatic declassification, such as information that could aid in the development of a nuclear weapon, but many agencies simply ignored these.

All the defense agencies were affected by this order, including the CIA. The costs were significant, but the White House expected each agency to use existing resources to meet declassification requirements. Not surprisingly, given the potential costs and the impact on other operations, many agencies "judged" that the documents didn't contain such data and simply pushed the boxes out the door.

The documents were sent to the National Archives and Records Administration for storage. By 1997, however, it was clear that the openness policy had run amok. DOE security officers discovered that bulk declassification was exposing many of the nation's nuclear secrets. They ran a test case and found that anyone with a valid driver's license could access these files at the National Archives in College Park, Md., regardless of nationality. …

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