August 22, 2013
The Historical Collections Division is the office that catalogs the record of our nation's clandestine service and decides how much of it the American public gets to see -- and they all just lost their jobs because of the sequester. The Los Angeles Times reports that the mandated budget cuts have forced the CIA to disband the division and fold its duties into the same super efficient and speedy office that handles Freedom of Information Acts requests from the public.
The people who handle historical records like Cold War spy reports and Iranian coup plans are probably considered non-essential worker by an agency focused on present day threats, but the loss will put a big damper on the work of historians and other academics hoping to study the CIA's past. Unlike the Pentagon, which forced many of its employees into temporary furloughs after the government-wide sequester kicked in, the CIA mostly eliminated contractors, many of whom pore over the boxes and boxes of decades-old documents to determine what is safe to be declassified. Like the fact that CIA once overthrew the Prime Minister of Iran. We only had to wait 60 years to find out about that.
The closure doesn't mean that no more records will be ever be declassified, since a lot of the declassification is required by law to take place after a set number years. That those duties will now be handled by the FOIA office is not encouraging, however. One lawyer who often does battle with the CIA in courts told the Times that the unit "is the most obstructionist and unfriendly of those I have dealt with during the last two decades." When you're dealing with people whose job is to keep secrets, obviously giving out more information is not high on their priority list.
August 22, 2013