Since the Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified archive was published online as a result of our lawsuit a little over a year ago, I’ve spent at least five minutes a day browsing CREST. Often inspired by nothing more exciting that what I happen to have on my desk (I must have searched for “sandwich” at least a dozen times) or how I’m feeling (ditto for “tired”), these daily deep-dives have turned up everything from classified cat photos to a psychic prediction of the Trump presidency.
Now, if you were to ask me what my favorite find is so far, it’d be tough, but I’d have to go with this one:
That is an editorial cartoon by the Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Herbert Block, nom de plume Herblock, poking fun of the Reagan administration’s obsession with secrecy. The CIA kept it classified for nearly 30 years.
Beyond the obvious appeal of irony, what I like the most about this criticism of overclassification becoming part of the CIA’s secret history is that it serves as both a reminder that the government is listening to our grumbling and that those grumbles themselves (eventually) become part of the public record. I’ve written before about how the Agency’s tendency to collect all their bad press makes CREST a repository for some truly excellent oversight journalism, and I have no doubt that the archives of every federal agency is clogged with clippings demanding to know what is being done in the public’s name.
True, meaningful transparency - like FOIA - is often a slow and painful process, and the work of reclaiming close to a century of stolen history won’t be accomplished overnight. But it is cumulative, and every day more people are demanding the democracy we deserve. So the next time you sit down to bang out a short piece bemoaning another stack of completed redacted pages, remember - a decade or so down the line, somebody might be reading it off some agency’s declassified archive.
I want to wish everyone in the community a very happy Sunshine Week, and in closing, leave you with the words of my good friend Emma Best …
Getting and publishing government documents means that with five years effort, you can change fifty years of history. #FOIA— Emma Best (U//FOUO) (@NatSecGeek) December 3, 2016