Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) Confirmed to Speak at the November 21st Public Meeting

The Public Interest Declassification Board is very pleased to announce that Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will participate as keynote speaker at the next public meeting of the PIDB.  Senator Shaheen introduced the “Preserving American Access to Information Act” on August 1, 2013, which directly addresses many of the Board’s recommendations found in its 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. The Bill promotes transparency and efficiency by reducing unnecessary classification and addressing the growing backlog of records awaiting declassification.

The PIDB will host this open meeting on Thursday, November 21, 2013 to discuss its recommendations and focus more specifically on declassification prioritization.  To register and attend, please visit Eventbrite.

Be sure to stay connected to the Board’s activities and look for more information about the Board on our blog, Transforming Classification, and on the PIDB website.

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NEW ANNOUNCEMENT: The Public Interest Declassification Board Announces its November 21, 2013 Public Meeting

The Public Interest Declassification Board will host an open meeting on Thursday, November 21, 2013 to discuss its recommendations to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System.  The meeting will focus more specifically on declassification prioritization.  Press and media are welcome to attend.

When: November 21, 2013 from 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Doors Open: 9:15 a.m.

Where: The Archivist’s Reception Room, Room 105 in the National Archives Building

Address: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

(Note:  Attendees must enter through the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance.)

Space is limited.  You must confirm via Eventbrite in order to attend.   Please note we require one form of Government-issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s license) to gain admittance.

In anticipation of the public meeting, the Board will re-engage its followers through its blog, Transforming Classification, where it will post its ideas of some of the most important topics for prioritized declassification review and requests members of the public join in the conversation online.  Be sure to stay connected to the Board’s activities and look for more information about the Board on its website:

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Save-the-Date: Public Meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board

The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public meeting the morning of Thursday, November 21, 2013.

We will include more details about the agenda, location and time of the meeting, as well as information about how to register to attend in a future blog post.

Please visit the PIDB’s website,, and continue to follow the PIDB’s blog, Transforming Classification, for more information about the PIDB’s activities.


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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Appoints Kenneth L. Wainstein to the PIDB

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed Kenneth L. Wainstein to serve a three-year term as a member of the Public Interest Declassification Board.  You can find a link to the Congressional Record announcing the appointment here.  The members of the PIDB look forward to working with Mr. Wainstein as they continue their efforts to support a transformation of the security classification system.

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Supporting Records and Information Management: Invitation to Industry at the National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration will host a “Grand Challenge to Industry” in an effort to support all Government agencies as they meet the requirements of the Managing Government Records Directive, particularly directive Goal A3.1.  The goal of the industry day is for agency officials and industry leaders to collaborate in laying the “groundwork for a future of superior information management for agency and public access.”

The one-day workshop is an opportunity for vendors to “better understand the Federal information management vision, requirements, priorities, and business opportunities.”  Senior Government leaders are asking industry leaders to create affordable automated solutions for managing government information.   There will be information about a forthcoming Request For Information (RFI) and an opportunity for industry to ask questions.

The PIDB supports the National Archives’ efforts to engage industry and all Government agencies in seeking technological solutions that support the goals set by the President in his Memorandum on Managing Government Records.  In our 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System, we recommended agencies improve records management overall by supporting and advancing the government-wide information management practices found in the President’s Memorandum and its Directive.  Adopting modernized business practices and piloting and implementing new technological solutions will support the President’s goal to “improve performance and promote openness and accountability” through reformed records and information management policies and practices.  Improving records and information management is critical to the Government’s ability to identify and provide meaningful, long-term access to historically valuable records.  Moreover, it is imperative that agencies understand their information in order to apply appropriate risk management strategies to complete timely and accurate declassification of their permanent records prior to their transfer to the National Archives.  Agencies continue to use information technology systems to store their information and defining and identifying permanently valuable records in these systems becomes more complex.  We believe collaboration with industry through opportunities like this “Grand Challenge” is increasingly imperative. We appreciate the recognition of this challenge by Government leaders and encourage industry to participate.

You can find more information about the “Grand Challenge to Industry” at



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PIDB Recommendations Included in Bi-Partisan Legislation Designed to Transform Classification

Today, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jim Risch (R-ID) introduced new legislation, the “Preserving American Access to Information Act,” aimed at reforming the security classification system.  The bipartisan bill focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the system while increasing transparency for users of the system and the public.  In introducing the bill, Senator Shaheen said “Right now we are classifying too much information and keeping it for too long at the expense of taxpayers and transparency.”  Senator Risch added that “the outdated classification system being used by our government is long overdue for reform.” 

The PIDB is pleased that its 2012 study and subsequent Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System served to highlight the challenges facing the sustainability of the system.  The bill noted the imperative for reforming the system so that it is able to adequately deal with the ever-increasing volumes of digital data that the Government creates.  Several of the Board’s recommendations are included in the new legislation, including reforms to the operations of the National Declassification Center.  The legislation also requires agencies to report to Congress on the feasibility for condensing the classification system to only two levels, for using “Short-term” classification designations for tactical and purely operational matters, and for removing “Formerly Restricted Data” restrictions on obsolete nuclear weapons information.  We feel that these measures, if enacted and implemented, will reduce over-classification, improve declassification practices across Government, and allow for greater public access to Government records.

Senator Risch said “This bill is a reasonable first step towards a more transparent and effective classification system for our country.”  We thank Senator Shaheen and Senator Risch for their interest in our report and for introducing the “Preserving American Access to Information Act.”  More information about the bill can be found at:

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PIDB Congratulates NATO for Declassifying Cold War historical retrospectives of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE)

The Public Interest Declassification Board congratulates the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its member nations for its work in declassifying the Cold War historical retrospectives of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and posting them on its website.  The histories detail the origins of SHAPE and document its activities and decisions as a consolidated command structure opposing the Communist alliance forming during the Cold War.  Under the orders of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1951, historians in SHAPE began to research and draft these classified histories, drawing on the wide range of Top Secret and Secret documents that had been collected and preserved by the SHAPE Historical Office and SHAPE Central Records Office.

These histories also shed important new light on the origins, development, and implementation of NATO’s nuclear weapons policies.  While NATO has taken important steps to declassify its nuclear weapons history, the U.S. effort lags behind.  U.S. nuclear weapons information, including storage locations, is classified as “Formerly Restricted Data” (FRD) by the Atomic Energy Act.  Under the 1954 Act and its implementing regulations, this information is not subject to automatic declassification and, once classified as FRD, remains classified until such time as the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DoD) agree to declassify the information.  Although the Cold War ended over a decade ago, DoD and DOE have done little to declassify information on our nuclear weapons history and its role in winning the Cold War.  It is our hope that the Departments of Energy and Defense can learn from NATO’s efforts.

We believe the cooperation and excellent work undertaken by the member nations support our recommendation to the President in our Transforming the Security Classification System report that the Departments of Defense and Energy take steps necessary to allow for the systematic declassification review of obsolete FRD information that would provide citizens and historians new perspective on US Cold War policies.  We believe the declassification of the SHAPE histories can serve as a model for achieving this goal.

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Support for the PIDB’s Recommendations Continues to Grow

The Public Interest Declassification Board received recognition at a recent academic conference titled The Legal and Civil Policy Implications of “Leaks” at the American University Washington College of Law.  A panel focusing on the legislative response to “leaks” discussed what impact over-classification and the current state of the security classification system have on the prevalence of leaks.  Panelist John B. Dickas, the Legislative Counsel to Senator Ron Wyden on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cited the Board’s Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. He agreed that over-classification is a pervasive problem among system users and that the declassification process does not keep pace with user demand.  Moderator Sharon Bradford Franklin, Senior Counsel at the Constitution Project, noted the Board’s report prompted 31 organizations concerned with the Government’s classification activity to send a letter to the President urging him to establish a steering committee as recommended in the Board’s report.

The academic conference gathered government, academic and other private sector experts to discuss the legal and civil policy implications of “leaks” in the “WikiLeaks” era, examining the history of leaks over recent decades, their growing significance in Freedom of Information Act litigation, potential legislative responses on the subject, and the future that can be foreseen with continued advances in information technology.  More information about the academic conference is available here.

The National Security Archive recently highlighted a recommendation from the Board’s report on its Unredacted blog.  The post focused on an aspect of U.S. nuclear deployment history from the early years of the Cold War.  It mentioned the Board’s recommendation to allow obsolete historical nuclear information to be reviewed for declassification.  You can read the blog post here. The Board heard testimony and received extensive comments on the need to reform how agencies treat historical “Formerly Restricted Data.”  Transforming the Security Classification System offers a solution that allows the declassification review of information that is of no operational or military use so the American public can better understand the role nuclear weapons played in winning the Cold War.

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What We Heard and Learned during Sunshine Week

The members and staff of the Public Interest Declassification Board attended and participated in many events last week to commemorate Sunshine Week.  We would like to thank the representatives from agencies, civil society and open government advocacy groups, the Congress, the public and all the attendees who participated in these panels and events.  The Board wishes to thank Elizabeth Goitein and the Brennan Center for Justice for hosting a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled, Secrecy & Security: The Future of Classification Reform.  I enjoyed participating in this lively discussion.  In case you missed it, you can view the forum here.  The discussions and comments from these events highlight the importance of an open and transparent government.  They reinforced our belief that citizens are interested in engaging with Government and they value the importance of democratic discourse.  We heard repeatedly of a deep desire for citizens to participate actively in policy deliberation to be able to hold Government accountable for policy decisions.  The ideals espoused by James Madison are very much present.

We heard about the need to reform the secrecy system:  too much information is needlessly classified and classified information remains inaccessible for too long.  We heard that the classification system is too old, too complicated and is not suited for the post-Cold War information age. We heard that the era of “Big Data” threatens to overwhelm the system and that the current declassification processes will not work in an age of petabytes of information creation.

The panelists’ comments underscored the challenges of the cultural perspectives ingrained in system users and reinforced the Board’s view that only leadership from the White House will drive real reform.  This is precisely why the Board’s first recommendation in our report calls for establishing a Steering Committee accountable to the President to energize and direct agencies to work together to reform the classification system.

The Secrecy & Security forum sparked a serious conversation about the limits of secrecy and offered perspectives on how to transform the security classification system to one that meets the demands of all users in the digital age.  As part of my remarks, I emphasized the need for the President to establish a Steering Committee.  It is essential that membership includes officials with expertise in technology, records and information management, and officials who can drive reform and change existing policies.  Cultural bias in favor of secrecy is perhaps the largest impediment to true reform across Government, a sentiment echoed by fellow panelists and attendees at events throughout the week.  Only through strong leadership will attitudes and opinions about secrecy and openness change.

At the conclusion of Sunshine Week, we reaffirm our commitment to an Open Government.  We invite you to continue the discussion about open government and freedom of information by commenting on our recommendations on our blog.


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Public Interest Declassification Board Commemorates James Madison’s Birthday and Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week is an annual initiative, which coincides with national Freedom of Information Day and James Madison’s birthday (March 16), designed to raise awareness of the importance of citizen access to Government records.

As we commemorate Sunshine Week, we reaffirm the principle of an Open Government.  The Public Interest Declassification Board believes that our democratic principles require an appropriate balance between public access and limited secrecy.  In November, we issued our report to the President on the need to transform the current security classification system.  Our report provided fourteen core recommendations on how best to modernize classification and declassification to meet the needs of all users in the digital age, including both our citizens and those entrusted to keep us safe.

We believe the current classification and declassification systems are outdated and incapable of dealing adequately with the large volumes of classified information generated in an era of digital communications and information systems.  The Government’s management of classified information must change to match the realities and demands of the 21st century.  A transformed classification system must be able to better manage the exponential growth of electronic records agencies are creating across Government.

Currently, classification and declassification policies remain mired in a Cold War culture of caution and risk avoidance and these outdated policies do not facilitate rapid and agile information sharing required to fully sup­port today’s national security mission.  The classification system exists to protect national security, but its outdated design and implementation often hinders that mission.  The system is compromised by over-classification and, not coincidentally, by increasing instances of unau­thorized disclosures.  This undermines the credibility of the classification system, blurs the focus on what truly requires protection, and fails to serve the public interest.  Put simply, the current system is outmoded and unsustainable; transformation is not simply advisable but imperative.

Declassification performs a service crucial to open government, informing citizens and promoting responsible dialogue between the public and Government.  There are also significant policy benefits from declassification that can aid national security decisions and diplomacy.  It is a valuable information sharing tool, particularly when information holders must work with stakeholders outside the intelligence and defense communities.  Information access may be the newest and most important policy tool of the modern era; nonetheless, often declassification review is perceived by agen­cies as an historical exercise with very limited relevance to today’s national security mission.  As a result, declassifica­tion is a significantly under-resourced and under-appreci­ated function.

Democratic values are very much part of national security.  The new realities of the digital age require agencies modernize information management and declassification practices.  Our first recommendation – that the President appoint a high level steering committee to review our recommendations – is an important first step.  Appointees must recognize that the existing system is collapsing and is unable to handle both the volume of information being generated and support the needs of users.  Transforming the system will undoubtedly be difficult as new policies are needed to overcome sixty years of Cold War culture and think anew about how best to protect our nation’s security in the Information Age.  We invite you to continue the discussion about open government and freedom of information by commenting on our recommendations on our blog.


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