Access to Archival Materials in the Context of Concern about Terrorism
What is NARA doing differently regarding access to archival materials?
In light of the terrorist events of September 11, we are re-evaluating access
to some previously open archival materials and reinforcing established practices
on screening materials not yet open for research. By identifying records of
concern and measures that must be taken to prevent inappropriate disclosure,
NARA seeks to reduce the risk of providing access to materials that might support
What is the authority for these actions?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, as amended, lists exemptions
to the release of information that apply to records of concern. In addition,
the Department of Justice recently instructed agencies that it is appropriate
to protect information that could enable someone to succeed in causing harm
to the Federal Government of the United States under exemption (b)(2). Other
authorities are restrictions contained in deeds of gift, the Presidential Recordings
and Materials Preservation Act, the Presidential Records Act, and Executive
What specific concerns are we addressing?
We want to minimize the risk that NARA-held archival materials might aid terrorists
or their supporters with:
Stealing a person's identity through access to names with social security
Targeting or planning a terrorist attack on a public site;
Exploiting information about security, evacuation, and other emergency planning
to maximize damage following an attack; and
Obtaining information about potential weapons for purposes of destruction.
How might concern about terrorism change the way we have been providing
access to records?
Many archival materials of concern have been restricted in some way continuously
since their transfer to NARA and have required screening before releasing for
research. Others may have been open in the absence of an awareness that certain
records relating to protection against terrorist attack and records providing
detailed information about potential targets of terrorism may be used by terrorists
or their supporters. To the extent possible, NARA is consulting with representatives
of the agencies of origin and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
to determine whether current circumstances warrant a change in access provisions
for specific records of concern. These consultations with Government officials
may result in screening records that have previously been open without screening.
Additional measures, such as withdrawing a file from public access, may be required
in rare cases.