More than 25,000 documents have been secretly removed from the shelves of the National Archives and Records Administration for reclassification since 1995 at the request of government agencies, and in at least a third of those cases, the removals were unwarranted, according to an internal audit released by the archives on Wednesday.
"A stunning, large percentage of the documents examined were wrongly reclassified," Allen Weinstein, who has been the archives' director since last year, said at a news conference here. The audit found that 24 percent of the removals were "clearly inappropriate" and that 12 percent more were questionable.
Researchers were stunned by the scope of the removals, since they had previously been told by archives' officials that only about 9,500 documents were removed....
As a result of the findings, the National Archives and several other government agencies have agreed, in principle, to create a National Declassification Initiative to "address policies, procedures, structure, and resources needed to create a more reliable executive-branch-wide declassification program," according to a report on the audit. In the meantime, the archives issued "interim guidelines for re-review of previously classified records" that seek to add transparency and accountability to the process.
According to the audit, a variety of federal organizations have removed documents from public access in the past decade, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Air Force. Documents have also been removed from public access at the Bush, Eisenhower, and Kennedy Presidential Libraries.
The involvement of presidential libraries, which are themselves operated by the National Archives, was also news to some academic researchers....
In at least one instance, CIA agents had removed completely innocuous documents simply to mask which information the agency actually sought to pull back.
The strategy drew the particular ire of archives' officials. "That practice, which undermined the National Archives' basic mission to preserve the authenticity of files under our stewardship, must never be repeated," Mr. Weinstein said.