The PIDB Responds to More Questions Received at the Virtual Public Meeting of May 18, 2021

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) offers the following responses to questions received from the public, which it did not have time to answer during the Virtual Public Meeting last week, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021:

1.) Question: Can you please tell me how I can get records to the May 18 meeting on 9/11?

Answer: You may view the PIDB Virtual Public Meeting of May 18, 2021, in its entirety on NARA’s YouTube Channel.  As with all PIDB meetings, the agenda for the PIDB Virtual Public Meeting of May 18, 2021, is posted on the PIDB Meetings webpage. The Agenda for May 18 posted on the webpage includes biographies of guest speakers Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow.

2.) Question: Wouldn’t it be helpful if the Public Interest Declassification Board had a declassifier as a member?

Answer: Currently, Paul-Noel Chretien, who was appointed on December 30, 2020, to a three-year term on the PIDB, is an attorney with extensive experience as a declassifier—including previously serving as the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Liaison Representative to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) at the National Archives. As the CIA’s Liaison Representative to the ISCAP, Mr. Chretien was responsible for justifying either the declassification of CIA documents or their continued classification to protect national security. 

3.) Question: When will the 9/11 documents be released and where can the public view them at?

Answer: As discussed at the PIDB Virtual Public Meeting of May 18, 2021, the publicly available records of the 9/11 Commission are legislative records held by The Center for Legislative Archives. For information about accessing these records, see the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) online catalog on NARA’s Research Our Records>9/11 Commission webpage.

In addition to these records, other records related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been released by Executive Branch agencies in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and are available online. For instance, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room has a webpage specifically dedicated to Declassified Documents Related to 9/11 Attacks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also has many declassified records related to the 9/11 terrorist attack on its FOIA Vault website.

4.) Question: Are you releasing any actual info? Or just talking about processes?

Answer: As established by the Public Interest Declassification Act of 2000, the PIDB does not itself have the authority to declassify any classified documents, but rather advises and provides recommendations to the President and other executive branch officials on the systematic, coordinated, and comprehensive identification, collection, review for declassification, and release of declassified records and materials of historic value.

5.) Question: What can we the people do to demand declassification? We deserve to know what happened. To add to this, the suppression of this information causes distrust of the American People.

Answer: In its 2020 Report to the President, the PIDB reiterated its view that over-classification may undermine public confidence in the Federal Government, and even result in the proliferation of leaks that result in the unauthorized disclosure of legitimately classified national security information. To access classified information withheld by the Federal Government, citizens may submit a request for the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) of classified information to a Federal agency. After an agency’s denial of an MDR request, the requestor can file an administrative appeal with the agency, which, if denied can be followed by an appeal to the ISCAP. The ISCAP is the highest appellate body for MDR decisions. In addition to submitting requests for MDRs, citizens may seek access to Government information by submitting FOIA requests to specific Federal agencies for specific information.

6.) Question: Are there any plans for a new executive order on classification and declassification to replace the current one from December 2009?

What are the possibilities that a redaction standard (versus the pass-fail standard) could be used for a limited number of high-level records under the automatic/systematic declassification program?

Answer: The PIDB has consistently advocated for modernizing Executive Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” including most recently in its 2020 Report to the President. Among its recommendations were the need for new policies and practices to allow more effective and efficient classification and declassification, including the use of advanced technologies. The PIDB believes that the adoption and use of technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will improve public access to records of historical significance and allow for redaction of those records.

7.) Question: There is a 78-page monograph written by the 9/11 Commission in July 2004 entitled “The National Security Council and Counterterrorism from 1998-9/11” which has the dubious distinction of being the only 9/11 Commission monograph still not publicly available. NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives sent a declassification request to the NSC sometime before 2014 and it’s been the subject of a few MDR requests from private citizens since then, but nothing happens. Those requests seem to be sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere. I would like to know the presenters’ thoughts on this and ask the PIDB to step in and break this logjam.

Answer: During the public meeting, the PIDB heard from a 9/11 Commissioner and the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. They learned that there are important records that remain classified. As part of their background briefings on the 9/11 Commission records, they also learned there are outstanding requests for declassification and public access. The PIDB will use this information to form part of their recommendations on prioritizing records of historical significance and interest.

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