The New York Times disclosed last week that some Saddam regime documents had been declassified that should not have been. The article then proceeded to knock everybody who advocated the release of these documents and implied they had given nuclear secrets to Iran, a ridiculous conclusion that doesn't even deserve a considered refutation. One of the co—writers was New York Times reporter Scott Shane.
Something in the back of my mind thought this sounded like a familiar story for the Times. Had I read this or something like it before?
Here from February 2006 is a similar article, only this time, the Bush administration was in the wrong because it reclassified documents that Bill Clinton had declassified in 1995.
"The stuff they pulled should never have been removed," he said. "Some of it is mundane, and some of it is outright ridiculous."
After Mr. Aid and other historians complained, the archives' Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees government classification, began an audit of the reclassification program, said J. William Leonard, director of the office.
Mr. Leonard said he ordered the audit after reviewing 16 withdrawn documents and concluding that none should be secret.
"If those sample records were removed because somebody thought they were classified, I'm shocked and disappointed," Mr. Leonard said in an interview. "It just boggles the mind."
If Mr. Leonard finds that documents are being wrongly reclassified, his office could not unilaterally release them. But as the chief adviser to the White House on classification, he could urge a reversal or a revision of the reclassification program.
A group of historians, including representatives of the National Coalition for History and the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations, wrote to Mr. Leonard on Friday to express concern about the reclassification program, which they believe has blocked access to some material at the presidential libraries as well as at the archives.
Among the 50 withdrawn documents that Mr. Aid found in his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.
Another historian, William Burr, found a dozen documents he had copied years ago whose reclassification he considers "silly," including a 1962 telegram from George F. Kennan, then ambassador to Yugoslavia, containing an English translation of a Belgrade newspaper article on China's nuclear weapons program.
Under existing guidelines, government documents are supposed to be declassified after 25 years unless there is particular reason to keep them secret. While some of the choices made by the security reviewers at the archives are baffling, others seem guided by an old bureaucratic reflex: to cover up embarrassments, even if they occurred a half—century ago.
One reclassified document in Mr. Aid's files, for instance, gives the C.I.A.'s assessment on Oct. 12, 1950, that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was "not probable in 1950." Just two weeks later, on Oct. 27, some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into Korea.
Mr. Aid said he believed that because of the reclassification program, some of the contents of his 22 file cabinets might technically place him in violation of the Espionage Act, a circumstance that could be shared by scores of other historians. But no effort has been made to retrieve copies of reclassified documents, and it is not clear how they all could even be located.
So according to Shane's interviews, reclassifying these documents is not only "silly" but it puts historians at risk of having classified information. Yet in the recent article, the Bush Administration and Republicans were incompetent because they advocated the release of classified information. The same newspaper and the same reporter with very different spins, both at odds with the Bush Administration policy.
It almost looks like the New York Times just wants to bash the administration no matter what side of an issue it has to take to do it.
While I am at it, what else does Scott Shane have to say about declassifying documents? In another article (again from this year), Mr. Shane asks:
Why do bureaucrats insist on spending the taxpayers' money to keep aging government paperwork from the taxpayers?
It was an Alice in Wonderland moment, as one congressman put it, that epitomized government agencies' reflexive urge to keep things secret.
On the one hand the administration wants to declassify documents that aren't even keeping US secrets (those having been triaged out long ago) and the Times twists it to make Republicans look incompetent because some analyst made a mistake. On the other hand, when the administration wants to apply stricter standards to keep actual American documents secret, the Times hands out another bashing. Apparently to the Times it is more important to keep Saddam's secret than our own.
Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Ray Robison is the proprietor of Ray Robison: Pointing Out the Obvious to the Oblivious, and an occasional contributor to American Thinker.