Sunday, December 7, 2014

CIA plan to purge its employees emails

Interesting OP-Ed in the NYT.

Last September, a brief mention in a welter of bureaucratic announcements caught the eye of Steven Aftergood, an advocate for government transparency at the Federation of American Scientists. He investigated and discovered that the Central Intelligence Agency was proposing to eventually destroy the email of all but a small number of its thousands of employees, from covert operatives to counterterrorism officers.

Not only that, Mr. Aftergood found out the National Archives and Records Administration had already offered tentative approval in August of the plan to — as a spy might put it — disappear the email of every worker but the C.I.A.’s top 22 managers, three years after they left the agency.

The proposal was treated as part of a governmentwide effort to trim worthless emails from federal archives. But, please, it was shocking on its face considering the agency’s dark history of destroying videotaped evidence of waterboarding and other torture methods and its repeated finessing of congressional attempts to take account of the C.I.A.’s clandestine clout in the world. Station chiefs in the Middle East, Mr. Aftergood noted, surely could shed interesting light retrospectively on history and agency mismanagement via their email record.

Fortunately, once the plan was known, blunt warnings about its damage to democratic transparency and government accountability were sent to the National Archives by a bipartisan group of senators, including the ranking members of the intelligence committee that oversees the C.I.A., Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

The senators pointed out a variety of exempted ranking officials with deep responsibilities whose emails would not be preserved, including those managing the controversial drone attacks overseas and other stealth missions.

The C.I.A. insists its plan was as sound and non-devious as the trimming back at other agencies. But the C.I.A. is not like other agencies, and history shows all manner of vital records for holding government accountable would be at risk if it were given such a license to purge.

Officials at the National Archives, who have ultimate say on the issue barring enactment of new law, got the message. They told the C.I.A. last month that the purging plan had to be reassessed because of new concerns about its scope. They promised a public hearing. Credible controls are absolutely needed, for right now C.I.A. officers are required to print and save only those emails they decide are important.

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