Two news reports published last week highlighted last year’s recommendations as well as ongoing activities of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) to promote the modernization of classification and declassification systems. Both reports cited the PIDB’s continuing advocacy for new policies and processes to reduce over-classification. (The PIDB’s 2020 Report to the President recommended policies and investments to implement technological solutions needed for the effective and consistent classification of information and declassification review of sensitive electronic information.)
On September 3, 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order directing declassification of certain records related to the FBI’s investigation of foreign connections to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and related civil court cases. In reporting on the President’s Executive Order and the partial declassification of one record by the Department of Justice, the Capital News Service underscored the inadequacy of antiquated, paper-based declassification processes, citing the PIDB’s 2020 Report to the President. The article, titled “Biden’s 9/11 Declassification Order Renews Debate Between Secrecy vs. Transparency,” reported that the too-long delayed and still incomplete declassification of 9/11 records results from what the PIDB previously identified as the outmoded and still entrenched declassification system “created before the United States entered World War II.” It concluded by highlighting the imbalance between the $18 billion the Executive branch spent in 2017 on classifying information and the $102 million it spent on declassification.
Similarly, a report last week in Politico focused on the PIDB’s continued interest in addressing over-classification. Just as PIDB Member John Tierney testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2020, the current PIDB Chair, Ezra Cohen, finds the problem of over-classification increasingly urgent. Mr. Cohen told Politico that the PIDB will continue to expand its model of advocating for greater transparency—as it has this year in recommending the President order a prioritized declassification of 9/11 Commission records. Mr. Cohen highlighted PIDB blog posts and public meetings, which brought attention to the issue and added: “We are particularly appreciative of President Biden’s efforts thus far to prioritize the release of key classified records related to the 9/11 terror attacks.”