Vast amounts of U.S. secrets to be declassified

January 12, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton in the next few weeks will sign an order for the automatic declassification of hundreds of millions of secret documents held by federal agencies, administration officials said yesterday.

In an executive order circulating through the government for final agency comment, Mr. Clinton will require intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, and the Departments of State, Energy and Justice to begin a rapid review of their files with an eye toward releasing all classified documents more than 25 years old unless they meet a handful of relatively strict exemptions.

The order will produce an avalanche of data about U.S. foreign policy, military planning, intelligence assessments and scientific research that has been under wraps for decades for what many think are dubious reasons and at huge expense.

The documents are expected to shed new light on the planning and execution of the Vietnam War; U.S. policy toward Cuba, China and Iran; and American assessments of Soviet intentions around the world in the 1950s and 1960s.

Two months ago, the White House ordered the unsealing of 44 million previously classified documents dating to World War II, but hundreds of millions of pages remain in vaults at the National Archives and in secure storage at a half-dozen federal agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

The huge cache of material will keep historians, journalists and researchers busy for decades.

Officials could not estimate how many pages of 25-year-old material remain classified, but guesses range as high as several billion pages.

An administration official said that, because of the massive number of documents involved, agencies will not be able to review them page by page and stamp selected records "secret."

The executive order will allow agency officials five years to sample mountains of classified records to see what should be kept secret under the specified exemptions. But at the end of the five years, all material not exempted will be released whether or not it has been reviewed.

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