PIDB Members Thank You for your Comments and Questions to the Virtual Public Meeting of May 18

Members of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) are grateful for the audience of over 4,000 viewers who attended the live virtual public meeting on May 18. The video of the event will remain publicly available in its entirety on the NARA YouTube Channel, where it has already reached over 48,000 viewers.

The PIDB received a wide range of questions and comments submitted before, during, and after the virtual public meeting.  This meeting featured a discussion of the records of the 9/11 Commission by former 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick, and Philip Zelikow, who served as the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. In response to the questions of fact, and the many speculative questions and comments received, the PIDB refers all to the 9/11 Commission Final Report itself, and the publicly available records of the 9/11 Commission held by The Center of Legislative Archives. The full Final Report can be read here. For information about accessing the 9/11 Commission’s records, see the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) online catalog on NARA’s Research Our Records>9/11 Commission webpage. NARA holds additional records related to the terrorist attacks at the George W. Bush Library. 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 may be available from each agency upon request. Some of these records released in response to FOIA requests 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.

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.

The PIDB remains committed to promoting the declassification of historically significant records in the public interest. 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.

The PIDB members have found the discussion by Ms. Gorelick and Dr. Zelikow, as well as the questions and comments submitted to the virtual public meeting of May 18, to be very helpful as they consider recommendations for the President for the advancement of secrecy reform, and to declassify records relating to the 9/11 Commission. Please stay tuned here to Transforming Classification for the announcement of these recommendations, as they will be presented to the President in the weeks ahead.

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