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Obama moves to open up Cold War secrets

By Anne Flaherty
Associated Press / December 30, 2009

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WASHINGTON - President Obama yesterday ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.

Among the changes is a requirement that every record be released eventually and that federal agencies review how and why they mark documents classified or deny the release of historical records. A National Declassification Center at the National Archives will be established to assist them and help clear a backlog of the Cold War records by 2014.

Obama also reversed a decision by President George W. Bush that had allowed the intelligence community to block the release of a specific document, even if an interagency panel decided the information wouldn’t harm national security.

Advocates for a more open government are cautiously cheering the move.

“Everything will depend on implementation,’’ said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. But the order “has tremendous potential to reduce the level of secrecy throughout the government.’’

The Cold War records would provide a wealth of data on US-Soviet relations, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin Wall, diplomacy, and espionage.

Obama had instructed federal agencies to be more responsive to requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, and he overturned an order by Bush that would have enabled former presidents and vice presidents to block release of sensitive records of their time in the White House.

The government spent more than $8.21 billion last year to create and safeguard classified information, and $43 million to declassify it, according to the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the government’s security classification.