Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR)
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Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) is a means by which any individual or entity can request any Federal agency to review classified information for declassification, regardless of its age or origin, subject to certain limitations. MDR is another route to the declassification and release of classified agency records under the terms of E.O. 13526. All information classified under the Order or predecessor orders by the originating agency (i.e. DoD, CIA, FBI); Congressional records classified by the executive branch; and information from past Presidential administrations is subject to MDR.
An MDR request must be submitted in writing to the applicable agency. Information on where to send MDR requests at each agency can be found on ISOO’s web site at http://www.archives.gov/isoo/contact/mdr-contact.html.
The request must describe the document or material containing the information with sufficient specificity to enable the agency to locate it with a reasonable amount of effort.
The following limitations apply:
- The information is not exempted from search and review under certain sections of the National Security Act of 1947 (CIA operations file exemption); the information is not the subject of pending litigation; and the information has not been reviewed for declassification within the past 2 years.
- The same person may not file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the same information concurrently with an MDR request.
To draft an MDR request include the following:
- “This is a request for a mandatory declassification review (MDR), under the terms of section 3.5 of E.O. 13526 of the following...”
- Specifically describe the document(s) being requested.
- When possible, include a title, date, and document number.
- Ask that the agency release “all reasonably segregable material”
- Limit the request as much as possible to increase the chances of receiving a timely decision. Include contact information, including mailing address, in case agency staff have questions or difficulties locating the document.
Federal Agency Responsibility
- E.O. 13526, Section 3.5(e) requires agency heads develop procedures to process requests for MDRs.
- Agencies are required to promptly process MDR requests, notify requesters of results, and provide the means for appeals within the agency and to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). Agencies may establish and publish fee schedules as part of their MDR procedures.
- Agencies are expected to conduct a line by line review of the requested record(s) and declassify information that no longer meets the standards for classification under the Order.
- Agencies are expected to release the requested record(s) in full or in redacted form unless withholding is otherwise authorized and warranted under applicable law.
- Upon receipt of the MDR request, the agency will review it to ensure that the request meets the requirements detailed in 32 CFR 2001.33 and verifies that the request contains sufficient specificity to allow agency personnel to locate the records sought with a reasonable amount of effort.
- In accordance with 32 CFR 2001.33(a)(2), requests for broad types of information, entire file series of records, or similar non-specific requests may be denied by the agency for processing.
- As soon as possible after receiving the MDR request, the agency should send a letter to the requester acknowledging receipt of the request; The acknowledgement letter should contain a request tracking number and an agency point of contact.
- If the agency has reviewed the information for declassification within the last two years, inform the appellant of the results of the previous decision and of the right to appeal.
- If the records cannot be located, the agency will generate a letter to the requester, outlining the search criteria used for the search and informing the requester that no records were recovered.
- An agency may refuse to confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of requested records whenever the fact of their existence is itself classified under this order or predecessor orders (Glomar response).
- All denials—including “no records found” and “Glomar” responses—are subject to appeal, first at the agency appellate level and ultimately to the ISCAP.
Agency Review Process
The receiving agency will identify other agency equities for referral. The agency that received the request is responsible for handling the coordination of review of the classified equity of other agencies. See 32 CFR 2001.33(a)(ii). Agencies will also identify classified national security information, and non-national security information for withholding.
Research previous decisions by the ISCAP. Decisions since 2012 are searchable at: https://www.archives.gov/declassification/iscap/decision-table
- Redact the document unless the overall meaning of the record would be distorted by the redaction.
- Identify all redacted portions using Section 1.4 of E.O. 13526 for Classified National Security Information (CNSI) in records younger than 25 years, Section 3.3 of E.O. 13526 for CNSI in records older than 25 years, or use the name of the specific statute for information protected from disclosure under statute.
Agencies are required to establish a process for the appeal of initial decisions provided to requesters, and inform the requesters of this process. If a response is appealed, the agency appellate authority should review the original decision and, if applicable, coordinate any necessary other agency equity with that agency’s appellate authority.
The final decision sent to the requester at the conclusion of the agency appellate review must include notification of the right to appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) within 60 days of the date of the final agency decision.
- Requesters can appeal an MDR request directly to the ISCAP if an agency fails to provide a decision to the initial request after one year. Requesters can also appeal an MDR request directly to the ISCAP if an agency fails to provide an appellate decision after 180 days.
- Appellants must pay careful attention to their calendars: they only have a 60-day window after the expiration of those deadlines to appeal to the ISCAP.
- Agencies must continue to process MDR requests that have been appealed to the ISCAP due to the expiration of a deadline. They must also provide releasable materials to the requester and to the ISCAP staff.
- If appealing to the ISCAP, requests must be in writing and sent via U.S. mail, email, or fax. Include copies of all correspondence and relevant supporting materials, and provide personal contact information, including mailing address and telephone number.
- Appellants are encouraged to be realistic in their appeals to ISCAP and to limit the number of appeals they bring to the ISCAP.
The Involvement of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP)
The ISCAP provides users of the classification system and the public with a forum for further review of classification decisions. The Panel decides on appeals for MDRs, appeals for classification challenges, exemptions from automatic declassification, agency declassification guides, and file series exemptions. There is no set timeframe for the Panel to review or make a determination on appeals.
Information that is not subject to MDR
Information originated by the incumbent President or Vice President or their White House staff; committees, commissions, or boards appointed by the incumbent President; other entities within the Executive Office of the President that solely advise and assist the incumbent President; or information classified under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data).