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News Archive - Apr 2006

Reclassification Effort Larger Than Previously Revealed

Apr 27, 2006: The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released an audit report of the secret reclassification effort which has been going on at the National Archives for the past several years and only recently revealed (see Secret Memo on Archives Reclassification Effort Revealed and Reclassification at National Archives Halted). The National Security Archive's article entitled ISOO Audit Report Exposes Abuse of Classification System notes that the number of documents reclassified exceeds 25,000, not the 9,500 number previously reported. The ISOO audit concluded that "there were a significant number of instances when records that were clearly inappropriate for continued classification were withdrawn from public access. We concluded that 24 percent of the sample records fell into this category, and an additional 12 percent were questionable." The report also noted that the reclassification effort extended to the Presidential Libraries (not just NARA in Washington DC), and 816 records were withdrawn from the Kennedy Library (about half have been returned to public access in redacted form, and the remainder are either entirely withdrawn or pending further review).

FBI Wants Access to Jack Anderson Papers

Apr 20, 2006: The family of Jack Anderson, who died in December 2005, intends to donate his archive of papers to George Washington University. But agents of the FBI has contacted the family and the University and told them they want to go through the archive, and remove items they deem confidential or top secret (see Chronicle of Higher Education story of Apr 18). Anderson's column, Washington Merry Go-Round, was a steady source of inside information on Washington politics, including revelations related to Watergate, CIA assassination plots, and various political scandals. Kevin Anderson, Jack's son, has said the family plans to fight the FBI and told reporters that his father "would probably come out of his skin at the thought of the FBI going through his papers."

MLK Records Act Introduced in Senate

Apr 17, 2006: On April 4, the 38th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Senate Bill 2499 was introduced by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. S.2499, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Records Collection Act of 2006, is modeled after the 1992 JFK Records Act, responsible for the declassification of millions of pages of records on the JFK assassination. Rep. Cynthia McKinny had last year introduced a similar bill, H.R.2554, in the House of Representatives. The full text of these bills is available on the Congress' Thomas website.

Senator Kerry made these remarks on the introduction of the bill:

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today, on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, I am pleased to join with my colleague in the House, Congresswoman CYNTHIA MCKINNEY to introduce the Martin Luther King, Jr., Record Collections Act. This act will ensure the expeditious disclosure and preservation of records relevant to Dr. King's life and death. Fully releasing these records--many of which are not subject to disclosure until 2038--will shed significant light on a turning point in American history. My friend, Representative JOHN LEWIS, explained its necessity quite eloquently:

I, too, was the subject of unwarranted FBI surveillance during the Civil Rights Movement. Because we do not know this part of our history, it is clear that we are beginning to repeat it. Recently, we became aware of the administration's domestic spying program that has targeted peace groups that are carrying on the nonviolent action of Dr. King. It is time that we know our history, and passage of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Records Act will take us one step closer to uncovering that history.

Judge Joseph Brown, the last presiding judge in James Earl Ray's post-conviction relief proceedings, also supports this legislation. He believes that it is important to:

..... fully release the still classified historical record surrounding the life and death of the late Dr. King. In light of the disturbing records and documents that came to light in James Earl Ray's petition before me and in consideration of the recent furor over the power and authority granted to certain officials under the guise of the Homeland Security Act, it might prove most illuminating to review the historical record relative to the exercise of purportedly similar power and authority by the U.S. officials 40 years ago. The American public, the citizens of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave deserve this access to the historic record surrounding the life and death of Dr. King.

Our legislation will create a Martin Luther King Records Collection at the National Archives. This will include all records--public and private--related to the life and death of Dr. King, including any investigations or inquiries by Federal, State, or local agencies. The records will be organized in a central directory to allow the public to access them online from anywhere in the world. The documents will be overseen by a review board consisting of at least one professional historian, one attorney, one researcher, and one representative of the civil rights community.

The MLK Records Review Board, a five-member independent agency, will be responsible for facilitating the review and transmission of all related records to the Archivist for public disclosure. Members will be nominated by the President and approved with the advice and consent of the Senate. It will have the power to direct government offices to locate and organize related records and transmit them for review or release. It will also have the power to investigate the facts surrounding the transmission or possession of records, take testimony of individuals in order to fulfill their responsibilities, request the Attorney General to subpoena private persons or government employees to compel testimony or records and require agencies to account in writing for any previous or current destruction of related records. In addition, the Board can request that the Attorney General petition any court in the U.S. or abroad to release any sealed information or physical evidence relevant to the life or death of Dr. King, and to subpoena such evidence if it is no longer in the possession of the government. The MLK Records Review Board will also be required to provide annual reports to Congress, the President, the Archivist, and all government agencies whose records have been reviewed, and to the public. The Board must terminate its work no later than 5 years from the passage of the Act unless it votes to extend for an additional 2-year term.

The reason for having such a Board is to ensure that someone is responsible for finding all relevant records and that the records do not disclose any sensitive information. It is particularly important to have a Board like this given recent revelations by the New York Times that the government has begun removing thousands of declassified documents on a wide range of historical subjects from public access at the National Archives. There has perhaps never been a more urgent time to bring the records on Dr. King into the light of day. According to the National Archives, about 9,500 records totaling more than 55,000 pages have been withdrawn from the public shelves and reclassified since 1999. We need to ensure that the records relating to the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., do not suffer the same fate. They are too important to us at this point in American history.

Dr. King challenged the conscience of my generation, and his words and his legacy continue to move generations to action today. His love and faith is alive in the millions of Americans who volunteer each day in soup kitchens or in schools, and those who refused to ignore the suffering of thousands they'd never met when Hurricane Katrina destroyed lives and communities. His vision and his passion are alive in churches and on campuses when millions stand up against the injustice of discrimination or the indifference that leaves too many behind.

The best way to honor the memory of Dr. King is to finish his work at home and around the world. And the first step to furthering his legacy is to know the full body of it. I hope that my colleagues will join me in this very important effort: to preserve and learn from records relating to the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Secret Memo on Archives Reclassification Effort Revealed

Apr 12, 2006: A secret 2002 Memorandum of Understanding signed by the National Archives and the Air Force has been declassified as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive. The agreement, concerning a recently-revealed re-classification program (see Reclassification at National Archives Halted) reveals that the National Archives had agreed that the existence of the program was to be kept secret, even from Archives staff. The full story, including the partially-redacted memorandum, is carried on the National Security Archives website, and is reported in a Washington Post article by Christopher Lee. This memorandum, part of the process by which 55,000 pages of formerly-public records have been removed from Archives shelves, was signed on 7 Mar 2002 by Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist, who is an historian and author of the book Crime of the Century.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination Evidence Online

Apr 10, 2006: The Shelby County Register's Office in Memphis Tennessee has put online a variety of photographs, audio recordings, court documents, and other materials related to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These materials may be viewed at register.shelby.tn.us/mlk/index.php. Thanks to Debra Conway and JFK Lancer Productions and Publications for noting this new resource in the Lancer email newsletter.

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