14 Replies Latest reply on Sep 8, 2017 6:06 AM by Michael Tomko

    How does one go about requesting the declassification of ALL documents on a specific topic?

    Bill Streifer Adventurer

      I am not talking about the release of documents. Say 5,000 documents were released through FOIA, that would obviously be very costly unless the request comes from an agency that qualifies for a fee waiver. Are there other ways to have the documents declassified and released to NARA, upon request by a third party (say me)? Is there a process to get the ball rolling?

        • Re: How does one go about requesting the declassification of ALL documents on a specific topic?
          Research Services at the National Archives Tracker

          Dear Mr. Streifer,


          You can find information about NARA and Declassification here on our website. The site contains information about and links to a variety of declassification related topics. You may also find some helpful information on the NDC's website.


          For information about NARA and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, you can view our FOIA Reference Guide here. This guide includes general information about FOIA requests as well as instructions on how and where to make a request for records in the custody of the National Archives. As noted in the guide, all FOIA requests must be submitted in writing, and "[a]ll FOIA requests must include a reasonable description of the records requested. In making your request you should be as specific as possible with regard to names, titles, dates, places, events, subjects, recipients, or agency component(s) or offices likely to maintain records that are of interest to you. The more specific you are about the records or types of records that you want, the more likely it will be that NARA will be able to locate those records."


          If the records you would like to request are in the custody of another agency (or other agencies), you will need to submit your FOIA request to that agency (or to each other agency individually). These other FOIA resources may help you with that process. Included, for example, is a link to principal FOIA contacts at other agencies.


          Thank you for sharing your question with the History Hub.

          • Re: How does one go about requesting the declassification of ALL documents on a specific topic?

            Dear Bill,


            That is a tough task to get accomplished. There could be 100's of linear feet, and classifications at various levels.

            Some can be classified for 25, 50 or 75 years. It also takes time to process a MDR or FOIA. The best strategy is to utilize the SF135 and 258, and request specific portions. Please watch the last NARA YouTube PIDB, Public Interest

            Declassification Board Meeting. It was mentioned in the meeting that some agencies do not transfer their records to NARA. It was also mentioned that NARA had no authority over the agencies. One agency mentioned specifically, was

            the NRO, National Reconnaissance Office. The PIDB makes recommendations toward classification and declassification procedures. These are utilized when drafting Executive Orders. A MDR falls within the EO, category.

            I also watched the NARA Youtube Chief FOIA Officers Meeting. It was very informative. The FOIA teams should be trying to focus the FOIA, and agencies should be participating in Proactive Disclosure, and placing records online for public review in an electronic format.


            In my opinion, the best route would be for legislative and executive action. This would increase funding and staffing as to promote the FOIA and MDR, ISCAP process, and most importantly, proactive disclosure. Maybe, this would minimize

            the "fake news" syndrome? Again, in my opinion, unlimited classification, leaves a lot of room for corruption and wrong doing.  It also restricts learning and public participation in the governmental process. Of course it is well suited for engaging in war. But as Thomas Jefferson stated " We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long a we remain honest - which will be as long as we can keep the attention of the people alive.  If they once become

            inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves."


            Declassification of ALL the records on a specific topic, would rely on the nature of the topic and the interest of the public. Another consideration would be, yes it Can be done, but Should it be done.  Maybe, it would be better to just exist within the pack?

            • Re: How does one go about requesting the declassification of ALL documents on a specific topic?

              5000 Records ! The FOIA Teams would be working Weekends without lunch for the next 30 years. They just released

              the JFK records which were released by legislation. I saw another NARA Youtube video of the FRC, Federal Record Center in the limestone caves, whereby they digitize the documents for other agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers.  Some Agencies seem to have their own system. The video shows the digitation process. It seems that many records may be digitized before they are even sent to NARA.  They also use E-Discovery tools, and electronic redaction which may simplify the process of declassification.


              The philosophy of release is now "Release to one and release to all".  Congress has legislated in the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 that a unified FOIA portal be funded and developed. The Agencies and NARA receive

              feedback from various groups and researchers toward what could be proactively declassified and released to the

              public. The Open Meetings and Federal Register are open for public comments.


              I think it would be great to disclose more records to the public in an electronic format. But the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 did not provide extra funding and staffing for it. The Electronic Portal is funded. The portal will eliminate redundancy. Such as declassifying records twice, with different redactions. It will also eliminate the unjust issue of records for profit, whereby others can view and download them from the portal.


              In many cases, the logistic issue of a thousand cans of beans, or grenades may not be needed during the research.

              A focused and specific FOIA for the Joint Command records or Unit Chronology may suffice.


              Also, photos, maps and motion pictures are important, because they provide specific dates record groups, and

              accession numbers that may have further textual records.


              The past practice of asking for ALL records related to a subject should be Avoided. Use the Public Catalog and

              SF135 Forms to Focus the specific information. This will also help when presenting the information to others, since

              the younger generation wants quick, user friendly facts.

              • Re: How does one go about requesting the declassification of ALL documents on a specific topic?

                After analyzing the current method and motto of  " Release to One, and Release to All " , does it mean that the

                information will only be released to One publisher or  motion picture company as to create books and movies for all the customers?


                If this is the case, then the information may be sanitized and merely released for profit?

                Maybe the Motto should just be,  "Release to All"?

                • Re: How does one go about requesting the declassification of ALL documents on a specific topic?

                  This is a very good NARA Youtube Video concerning the NDC National Declassification Center Process.

                  Intel sources and design criteria towards weapons of mass destruction are an exemption. They also mentioned how

                  certain classes of records draw more attention, such as an intel source verses a logistic source.

                  They also mentioned that the records are electronically scanned and sent to the agencies with equity.

                  So  an Adobe file should already exist when an MDR occurs. The future of declassification will most likely involve

                  AI, and records will be reviewed for key terms and topics using artificial intelligence. Just as E-Discovery tools can

                  be utilized to search for a FOIA topic. This is a very informed discussion. The human intel sources and design of

                  special weapons is a critical defense factor that must be protected.  The problem exists whereby civilian and military

                  staff that are exposed to these weapons are often included in the classification. This has been a historic problem since

                  the use of chemical weapons during WWI, atomic testing during WWII and the Cold War, and biological testing involving the SHAD Project in the 1960's, and the use of defoliants in Vietnam.  The design classification seems to become confused with the actual test phase , deployment and use of special weapons on the battlefield?

                  This video provides insight toward the thought process of declassification.


                  National Declassification Center Public Forum - YouTube

                  1 person found this helpful