FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
U.S. DISTRICT COURT RULES THAT WORLD WAR I GERMAN INVISIBLE INK FORMULAS MUST STILL REMAIN HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC
Decision Reflects Judicial Difficulties In Addressing Secrecy Vs. Openness Disputes
WASHINGTON, D.C. --
The Honorable Thomas Penfield Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled today from the bench that the National Archives & Records Administration ("NARA"), acting at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA"), can withhold the six oldest U.S. classified documents currently in NARA's custody. The documents, which date between 1917-30, were sought by The James Madison Project ("JMP") in a 1998 lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act and contain formulas for creating and detecting invisible ink, particularly those used by the German government during the Great War. JMP plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit reflects the classic struggle in the battle between secrecy and openness. Judge Jackson noted that although he was sympathetic to the effort, as well as recalled that his childhood breakfast cereal contained the formula for invisible ink, he had no choice but to rule in favor of the CIA's position given that it stated sources and methods were at issue. Although the documents are nearly 100 years old, the CIA argued that the antiquated formulas and techniques were: "(1) currently viable for use by CIA agents; (2) building blocks for the CIA's more modern and sophisticated methods of using or detecting secret writing; (3) used to test current CIA secret writing systems for vulnerabilities; and (4) used to develop new formulas and techniques for secret writing."
"We're obviously disappointed with the court's decision. The CIA's refusal to release such historical information denigrates its credibility in withholding information that truly must remain secret. It may as well classify the periodic table," said Mark S. Zaid, JMP's Executive Director. Zaid added that the documents were created by foreign governments no longer in existence or federal agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, that have no classification authority and even previously published the same information.
The lawsuit was specifically brought to illustrate the absurdity of the classification system. The Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, a bi-partisan entity chaired by then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, concluded in 1997 that "[t]he best way to ensure that secrecy is respected, and that the most important secrets remain secret, is for secrecy to be returned to its limited but necessary role. Secrets can be protected more effectively if secrecy is reduced overall."
JMP is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization with the primary purpose of reducing secrecy and promoting government accountability. It organizes educational events on issues relating to intelligence gathering and operations, secrecy policies, and national security. More information concerning JMP, as well as copies of some of the pleadings in this litigation, can be found at its website at www.jamesmadisonproject.org.
The case is The James Madison Project v. National Archives & Records Administration, Civil Action No. 98-2737 (D.D.C.)(TPJ).