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How to Bury a Secret: Turn It Into Paperwork
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of Washington Post

Washington Post, January 16, 2007
Posted: January 18th, 2007

At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31 ... some 700 million pages of secret documents became unsecret. No longer were they classified. This would seem a victory for freedom of information. Executive Order 12958 in 1995 ... mandated that 25-year-old documents be automatically declassified unless exempted for national security or other reasons. But it is not so simple. There is a dirty little secret about these secrets: They remain secreted away. It could be years before these public documents can be viewed by the public. Fifty archivists can process 40 million pages in a year, but now they are facing 400 million. Not only are archivists overwhelmed by the number of documents that have arrived at the facility; they also face the strange mumbo jumbo of competing declassification instructions from various agencies. "The United States has the most open government in the world," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, "but it also has the most secretive government in the world, if you measure it by the production of new secrets." Among the 400 million pages of documents awaiting their release are road maps to American history in the 1950s and 1960s. But frankly, no one really knows what's there -- except the officials who originally classified them. Old secrets also can provide context for new crises. For example, U.S. dealings with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s are still coming to light. "It's our history, and in many cases, it's our present," Aftergood says.

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