NARA and Declassification

Statement of Steven Aftergood

PIDB Public Meeting for the Public Interest Declassification Board July 22, 2010

The George Washington University
Gelman Library, Suite
2130 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Phone: 202/994-7000
Fax: 202/994-7005

4 August 2010

Mr. Martin Faga
Chairman, Public Interest Declassification Board
c/o National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, D.C. 20408

Dear Mr. Faga,

We wanted to thank you and the Public Interest Declassification Board for taking the initiative to examine the challenges posed by the Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) classification category, and for including our views in the conversation.

We also wanted to respond to the views of the government witnesses at the July 22 hearing who seemed to argue, in effect, that the RD/FRD classification system is working well enough and that no further action is needed or desirable.

We do not think the system is working well enough. We strongly believe that change is necessary and appropriate.

We understand, as Dr. Weston-Dawkes of DOE and Mr. Henry of DOD said, that FRD includes information related to nuclear weapons design and the production of fissile material that is proliferation sensitive. FRD also includes information that has no proliferation significance. It is also likely to be true, as they indicated, that there would be financial and other costs associated with the elimination of the FRD category, including the costs of remarking records.

But what the government witnesses did not acknowledge is that there are significant long-term costs associated with preserving the status quo. These include the costs of maintaining a tripartite classification system and training the next generation of classifiers and declassifiers in the strange arcana of FRD, the costs of withholding innocuous information unnecessarily, and the costs of reducing the productivity and credibility of the declassification process.

The government witnesses are commendably dedicated to making the best of the policy guidance that they have been given. But if their "no change" policy is followed, the government will still be wrestling with the problems created by FRD in five, ten and twenty years from now.

We do not think that the national security classification policy of the 21st century should be dictated by a questionable choice of wording that was made in 1946 when the Atomic Energy Act was first drafted.

Instead, we hope that the Board will help to chart a way forward that takes into account the government's legitimate concerns but that does not accept the status quo as an unalterable given. We, of course, stand ready to assist in any way we can.

Steven Aftergood
Federation of American Scientists

William Burr
National Security Archive

Robert S. Norris
Natural Resources Defense Council.

An independent non-governmental research institute and library located at the George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Publication royalties and tax-deductible contributions through The National Security Archive Fund, Inc. underwrite the Archive's budget