Setec Astronomy

Setec Astronomy

The title is an anagram that seemed appropriate for this entry. Dan NT’s Bullfight blog always has a Scrabble word, so here’s mine.

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret documents were 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.

This includes 270 million pages at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has lagged most agencies in reviews.

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.

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.”

What surprises await in the documents is impossible to predict.

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