National Security Archive – 35 years of Working to Declassify U.S. Records, Ensuring Transparency

A fascinating story in last week’s New York Times discusses the release of years old CIA cables and reports that are being put to use in Argentina as prosecutors pursue cases related to that country’s “Dirty War.” The release of the records was promised in 2016 when then-President Obama  committed to declassifying US records related to the “Dirty War.” The story of the release dates back much further, though, and illustrates the unique role that the National Security Archive plays in using the FOIA to force the release and declassification of government records.

 Founded in 1985, the National Security Archive has filed over 60,000 FOIA requests and forced the release of millions of pages of previously classified records in service of its mission to “check rising government secrecy.”  In the matter of the “Dirty War” files, the National Security Archive filed its first FOIA related to the records in July 2002 and then kept pushing for the release of an ever larger collection of identified records by providing searchers with detailed key word lists and chronologies to assist them in their search.  In addition, Carlos Osorio, the director of the National Security Archive’s Southern Cone project has worked with both the government of Argentina and several US government agencies to guide the release of relevant records.

 To disseminate the records it collects, the National Security Archive hosts the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), an online collection of over 100,000 declassified US records related to US policy decisions.  The National Security Archive also hosts a Virtual Reading Room and has on-going projects related to unearthing and publishing records related to specific areas of interest like environmental diplomacy as well as records related to US relations with specific countries (e.g., the Indonesia Documentation Project.)  A more detailed breakdown of the National Security Archive’s holdings can be found here.