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    The CIA Is Closing the Office That Declassifies Historical Documents

    CIA Director John Brennan, courtesy the CIA

    As a result of the sequester-induced budget cuts, the CIA is closing the Historical Collections Division office, which declassifies historical documents, and transferring the division's responsibilities to the office that handles FOIA requests.  

    The Historical Collections Division is described on its website as “an important part of CIA's ongoing effort to be more open and to provide for more public accountability.” It is a “voluntary declassification program that focuses on records of historical value,” including information on the Vietnam War, spy satellites, the Bay of Pigs and other historical scandals and operations.

    Neither of America’s two major political parties is definitively “pro-transparency” or “pro-obstructionism,” so unlike when the CIA closed the GOP-maligned Center on Climate Change and National Security, closing this office isn’t a victory for anyone—least of all, for Americans who want to see more transparency in government.

    Ken Dilanian at the Los Angeles Times reported quoted Washington lawyer Mark Zaid, who said, "this move is a true loss to the public." According to Zaid, the CIA office that handles Freedom of Information Act requests "is the most obstructionist and unfriendly of those I have dealt with during the last two decades."

    The CIA claims that the work of the Historical Collections Division will continue though. "As a result of sequestration, elements of one program office were moved into a larger unit to create efficiencies, but CIA will continue to perform this important work," said Edward Price, a CIA spokesman.

    It’s a counterintuitive move—or, cynically, a predictable one—for an agency that is ostensibly following Barack Obama’s Open Government Initiative. The CIA’s Open Government website set out goals in 2010 to release more historical documents, but its open government website itself launched a month late and hasn’t been updated since February.

    Congress's inability to come to a consensus on a budget has already been called devastating for the poor, as well as ushering in a dark age for American science. Now the sequester looks like it will make our already-dysfunctional government even less transparent. Is it any coincidence that "sequester" means to "hide something away"? If there's a dark, pernicious force at work here, you can bet that you won't find out about it in a timely fashion.

    Topics: Sequester Means to Hide, budget cuts, transparency, CIA, historical document, politics, government

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