Okay, I admit it: this stunned me. The most secretive administration, certainly since Nixon, is NOT fighting the declassification of 100s of millions of pages of material?
It will be a Cinderella moment for the band of researchers who study the hidden history of American government.
At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret documents will be instantly declassified, including many FBI cold war files on investigations of people suspected of being Communist sympathizers. After years of extensions sought by federal agencies behaving like college students facing a term paper, the end of 2006 means the government's first automatic declassification of records.
Secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status without so much as the stroke of a pen, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret.
Historians say the deadline, created in the Clinton administration but enforced, to the surprise of some scholars, by the secrecy-prone Bush administration, has had huge effects on public access, despite the large numbers of intelligence documents that have been exempted.
And every year from now on, millions of additional documents will be automatically declassified as they reach the 25-year limit, reversing the traditional practice of releasing just what scholars request.
Many historians had expected President George W. Bush to scrap the deadline. His administration has overseen the reclassification of many historical files and restricted access to presidential papers of past administrations, as well as contemporary records.
[..]Gearing up to review aging records to meet the deadline, agencies have declassified more than one billion pages, shedding light on the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the network of Soviet agents in the American government.
[..]J. William Leonard, who oversees declassification as head of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives, said the threat that secret files might be made public without a security review had sent a useful chill through the bureaucracy.
"Unfortunately, you sometimes need a two-by-four to get agencies to pay attention," Leonard said. "Automatic declassification was essentially that two-by-four."
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