Declassify or not . . .that’s our question.

The Public Interest Declassification Board continues to advocate for transforming the security classification system.  We now ask YOU to join the discussion about what the government should prioritize for declassification.  Make sure the PIDB hears your voice by commenting on our blog, Transforming Classification, today through mid-January 2014.

Please check back-in early this afternoon to join the conversation to make the Prioritization List a reflection of all our needs. 

In the coming weeks, we will begin posting this Prioritization List for public comment on our blog.  The topics on the list fall into one of five categories: Topics Older than 25 Years, Topics 25 Years Old and Younger, Topics Related to Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) Information, General Topics of Interest, and Topics Specifically Gathered from Presidential Libraries.

We ask for your comments on the topics as we post them, as well as any additional topics you believe warrant inclusion on the List.  We will post the first category of topics for comment TODAY following our public meeting.  We will post a new category with topics for discussion on the following Mondays: *December 2, December 9 and December 16. *(Date Change Due to Holiday Week)*  The week of December 16th will have two categories to discuss.

We hope the List will serve as a guide to aid agencies in reviewing the information the public wants to see.  This is your opportunity to spark a much-needed conversation about the sustainability of the current declassification system and what our priorities collectively should be to make the most impact.

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DNI General Clapper Declassifies Additional IC Documents About Collection Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) declassified and publicly released documents relating to intelligence collection under sections 501 and 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  The DNI has now declassified nearly 2,000 pages of documents since June.  The declassified documents include Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions and orders, reports to Congress on FISA activities, and internal documents from agencies on their FISA collection programs.

General Clapper began this effort at the direction of President Obama in June.  We congratulate the DNI for his leadership regarding this declassification activity.  Over the past year, we have heard from the public about its interest in documents related to the FISA.  Gen. Clapper’s decisions support our recommendations to transform the security classification system.   His declassification actions promote Government transparency and democratic discourse.  These documents allow our citizens to judge the actions taken by the Government on their behalf to protect our nation’s security.  The declassification actions also follow our recommendations to protect clearly defined intelligence sources and methods and to limit classification to only that information requiring protection for national security.

You may access more information about the declassification of these documents on the DNI website.

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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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