A memorandum of understanding (pdf) signed this month by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archivist is expected to enable the transfer of many permanently valuable historical CIA records that are 50 years old or older to the custody of the National Archives (NARA), officials of both agencies said today.
Up to now, “we haven’t had a framework” for such transfers, said Joe Lambert, the new CIA chief information officer. And so, with few exceptions, “we haven’t transferred anything [to the Archives] in the past.” (Exceptions include certain CIA records related to the JFK assassination, Nazi war crimes, and a few other topics, as well as translations of foreign news reports.)
The new memorandum “lays the groundwork for routine transfer of CIA records” to the National Archives once they become 50 years old, said Assistant Archivist Michael J. Kurtz. “This will institutionalize the process.”
The memorandum itself does not seem very promising. It imposes a number of binding requirements on NARA officials, including referral to CIA of any request for records that have not already been approved for public release. No binding requirements are imposed on CIA, beyond an open-ended commitment to “review” any such requests.
But Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the United States, said the memorandum would pave the way for regular transfers of CIA records to the Archives, and would ultimately result in improved public access to those records.
“Access is a multi-step process,” said Gary M. Stern, General Counsel at the National Archives. “Getting the records into the Archives is the first step.”
Having “listened carefully to the words and the music, I was convinced that this [agreement] would serve the public interest,” said Dr. Weinstein. “I wouldn’t have signed it otherwise.”
The memorandum’s words, at least, can be found here: fas.org/sgp/othergov/intel/nara-cia.pdf
CIA is expected to provide to NARA an index of records subject to transfer in the next few weeks, with actual transfers to follow sometime thereafter.
A March 2000 National Archives evaluation of “Records Management in the Central Intelligence Agency” provided some detailed insight into the subject.
At that time, NARA held that “CIA retention of permanent files for 50 years is no longer appropriate” and should be reduced to something closer to 30 years. But by default and inaction, 50 year retention of records by CIA has now become the goal that the agencies are striving for.