AGENCIES RE-EXAMINE RECORDS PROTECTION
The White House has ordered federal agencies to re-examine how they safeguard information that could be exploited by terrorists.
The order came in a memorandum dated March 19 from Andrew Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, according to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Card’s memo calls for classification or reclassification of information on weapons of mass destruction and revives dormant government efforts to withhold “sensitive but unclassified” information for national security reasons – even when the Freedom of Information Act’s exemption for national security does not apply.
The instruction tells agencies to keep information classified that is already classified and that might “reveal information that would assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.” The current classification order generally requires declassification of documents after 10 years but provides for extensions of up to 25 years for such information.
The March 2002 memorandum also directs agencies to use loopholes in the classification order to protect such weapons information that is more than 25 years old.
The memorandum directs agencies to consider protection of information “on a case-by-case” basis and to evaluate sensitivity “together with the benefits that result from the open and efficient exchange of scientific, technical and like information.”
In writing the memo, Card solicited advice from the government’s chief FOI Act and classification authorities and included their guidance in his instructions to federal agencies. Those authorities also urged government officials to carefully consider the need to protect sensitive information from inappropriate disclosure.
Card requested that the agencies file their reports with the Office of Homeland Security by mid-June.
JUDGE ORDERS RELEASE OF ENERGY RECORDS
A federal judge has ordered a half-dozen federal agencies to release by mid-May records of their involvement in an energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Ruling in a case filed a year ago, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said the agencies have had sufficient time to collect thousands of pages of material from their files, The Associated Press reported.
Friedman’s order also covers the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The agencies must release the material promptly or itemize the documents they want to keep confidential so that the lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch can proceed, Friedman said.
Friedman’s March 5 decision was the second in two weeks by a federal judge setting a timetable for the prompt release of materials involving the Cheney energy task force.
The Energy Department has no legal justification “for working at a glacial pace,” U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in a Feb. 21 ruling.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, has been seeking the agency’s documents since April 2001 and sued the government in December.
Kessler’s ruling could undercut the Bush administration’s effort to keep secret the names of industry executives and lobbyists who met with the White House as it formulated its energy policy last spring.
The General Accounting Office and a conservative group, Judicial Watch, have filed separate lawsuits trying to force the White House to surrender the material.
NEW GIULIANI RECORDS PLAN MAY BE ILLEGAL
A revised plan for handling former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s records is still inconsistent with New York’s Freedom of Information law, the state’s top open-records official said in late February.
Robert Freeman, director of the state Committee on Open Government, said the plan, which classifies some of Giuliani’s records as public and others as private, conflicts with past state court rulings, The Associated Press reported.
“No document or record that had been or is now maintained by any agency of City government may in my opinion be characterized as ‘private’ or ‘belonging to’ the former mayor or any other person,” Freeman wrote in the advisory opinion requested by the AP.
Archivists, historians and some public officials protested a plan that handed archival responsibility for the records to the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs, a private organization run by colleagues of the ex-mayor.
Under the revised plan, the records would be made the property of the city while private archivists at the Giuliani Center process them over three years.
Any records deemed by the archivists as private, relating to city security, law enforcement or pending litigation, would be separated and marked “restricted.”