After a career working at the Department of Justice and the CIA, Paul-Noel Chretien is currently a management analyst at Leidos.
Mr. Chretien identifies two major challenges the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) faces: over-classification and insufficient resources in executive branch agencies for review and release programs. He notes that there are few incentives for employees to ensure documents are not over-classified. As a result, the fear of a potentially sensitive document being released because it was under-classified often leads to over-classification.
The PIDB also recognizes the challenge of competing priorities and insufficient resources across the federal government to support declassification reviews. In particular, federal agencies lack a sufficient number of personnel with security clearances and the expertise to conduct declassification reviews. Obtaining a security clearance itself takes a long time, and cleared personnel must also focus on other compelling government priorities. This situation delays declassification reviews.
Mr. Chretien believes bureaucratic inertia; the lack of incentives to classify properly information; and the high cost of using the limited number of cleared personnel to review records all cause many important documents to be withheld from the public for too long. Together with over-classification, the delays in the review and release of information have had a corrosive effect on public debate and have reduced trust in the government, often fueling conspiracy theories.
Mr. Chretien emphasizes that declassification is an administrative matter, not a political one, and that a bipartisan consensus supports the systemic declassification of formerly classified information. As an example of such bipartisan support, he pointed to the release during the past year of many previously withheld JFK Assassination Act documents and the recently released Bush Cheney 9/11 transcripts.
Mr. Chretien believes that the government should trust that the American people can handle this type of information and that it should be released whenever possible. While he was pleased that the Bush Cheney 9/11 transcripts from 2004 were released with less than 1% of the information redacted, he was disappointed that the release took 18 years.
Looking forward, Mr. Chretien would like to implement changes outlined in the PIDB’s A Vision for the Digital Age and for release programs to receive adequate funding. He also expects the President to hold federal agencies accountable for implementing the October 2021 Executive Memorandum requiring the release of the remaining JFK Assassination Act records. That release should occur in December 2022.