After so many years in the declassification arena I can’t think of a single instance where there has been identifiable real harm to the national security as the result of a document being made available. A much stronger case can be made that national security is damaged more by artificially withholding this information than by making it available.
There was information that certainly could have been bulk declassified in 1995—here we are fifteen years later, and it’s certainly no more sensitive. If anything, there should be even more information that can be bulk declassified. When Clinton issued his order in 1995, not only did he bulk-declassify all records up to World War II, but he bulk-declassified certain records up to the Vietnam era. And that was twenty-five years prior. So if you work back twenty-five years from now, you’re talking records from 1985 and before.
CH: And there’s an incredible amount of history through the mid-1980s that I bet people would be itching to get at.
BL: Oh my god! The early ’80s would encompass our involvement in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet invasion. How valuable could some of that information have been to add to the development of an appropriate strategy there if it had been available and researchers had been available to go through it and draw lessons learned and things along those lines?
One of the things that I often point out is that agencies don’t often have the luxury of knowing what they know—they’re too busy taking care of day-to-day activities. So the research and academic community out there is a free asset for not only the American people but for our government.
This has a direct impact on America’s well-being today, and the fact that we still approach this topic of declassification with such a retrograde mindset—I find it to be appalling and actually damaging to national security.