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Published: Saturday, 5/6/2006

Access restored

NOW that they're wise to it, top officials at the National Archives have gamely put a stop to the outrageous secrecy scam perpetrated by the U.S. intelligence community over the past seven years.

"We're in the access business, not the classification business," declared Allen Weinstein, archives director, after calling a halt to a covert program in which the Central Intelligence Agency, the Air Force, and other agencies were reclassifying a whole raft of documents that had long been open for public inspection.

The problem was that the program, which one congressman described as being akin to trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, had been agreed to by lower-level officials before Mr. Weinstein took over at the archives.

The absurdity of restoring the secret stamp to documents that have been read and copied by historians and researchers was lost on the intelligence agencies, which claimed they were only trying to protect "sensitive" information that had been wrongly declassified.

But that was not the intelligence community's call to make. It was a 1999 presidential executive order that decreed - properly in our view - that too much government information was being classified. The agencies had no legal right to unilaterally reclassify anything, and archives officials who went along with the secret program should be fired.

Many of the 25,000 documents withdrawn from public view appeared to have been reclassified simply to cover up evidence of government incompetence. But, then, what's secret about that?

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