Declassifiers Behind Schedule

Declassifiers Behind Schedule

"Armies of reviewers" would be needed to declassify secret documents that the government has accumulated over the years, officials told the Senate Government Affairs committee Wednesday, according to an Associated Press report.

In the past two years, federal agencies have declassified more than 400 million pages of documents, but still will fall short of the goal of reviewing all 25-year-old classified records by 2000, experts said.

Edmund Cohen, director of information management at the CIA, estimated that by 2000 the agency will have finished looking at only about 13 million of its 40 million pages of classified material. The Pentagon will review less than half of its billion pages of classified documents, according to Bill Leonard, a Defense Department classification expert.

In April 1995, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12958, prescribing a uniform system for handling national security information. He instructed agencies to review and declassify all information 25 years or older.

"Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government," Clinton said. "Also, our nation's progress depends on the free flow of information."

Cohen said it takes $2 to $3 per page in labor costs for the CIA to declassify documents, because it is trying to black out only the information on each page that could compromise a source or policy rather than keep an entire page classified because of one sensitive word.

The Pentagon, on the other hand, spends about $1 a page, because it uses an all-or-nothing method of declassifying documents.

The hearing also focused on legislation that would require agency officials to weigh the benefits and costs of withholding information from the public, set a 10-year limit on most classified information and set up a national declassification center to coordinate work among agencies.

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