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Bush emails not a priority: Congress budgets $650,000 to declassify Nazi war docs
John Byrne
Published: Wednesday March 4, 2009


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The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) -- which has yet to complete a program designed to properly store electronic records even in the shadow of millions of missing White House emails sent during the presidency of George W. Bush -- apparently feels a World War II probe is more important.

So does Congress, if their most recent budget is any guide. Congress has just budgeted $650,000 for the declassification of any documents relating to US intelligence agencies and their relationships with Nazi or Japanese war criminals.

Thirty million dollars has already been spent on the Archives' program aiming to declassify records that explore the web of connections between intelligence agencies and Nazi and Japanese war criminals, according to Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein, who also reported the budget request. The Archives has already spent ten years attempting to sort through their files.

But Congress appears to think $30 million and a decade of time spent isn't enough.

"There's a million pages of Army and CIA documents left" to read and catalog, Miriam Kleiman, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Records Administration, told Stein. She blamed other agencies for failing to produce documents to declassify in a timely manner, and says the Archives plans to hire additional staff to continue the project.

While the Archives focuses on Nazi-era documents, watchdogs have questioned the agency's ability to keep up with computer-era files -- namely, records of the Bush Administration. A comprehensive program to store electronic data is not slated to be completed until 2011, and has been hampered by delays and cost overruns.

Last September, the Government Accountability Office urged the Archives to create a backup plan should their systems be unable to process incoming records turned over by former President Bush in January of this year.

"If it cannot ingest the electronic records from the Bush administration in a way that supports the search, processing and retrieval of records immediately after the presidential transition, it will not be able to meet the requirements of the Congress, the former and incumbent presidents, and the courts for information in these records in a timely fashion," the GAO wrote.

In December, a report indicated that the records would not be transferred on schedule for various reasons, among them Bush officials' court battles and technical problems the Archives has encountered.

Stories on millions of missing Bush White House emails, which the Bush White House said were not backed up by accident, have brought a spotlight to the Archives' capacity and technical resources relating to electronic data.

The missing emails caused a stir in Congress because of the dates in which they were deleted; they included key dates in the timeline of the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson, and were sought in connection with the alleged political firing of US Attorneys.

In a December interview, the Archives' general counsel Gary M. Stern told The Washington Post, "We hope and expect they all will exist on the system or be recoverable," even in coming weeks. "We can't say for sure."

US government agencies were required by a 1999 law to release "all records" relating to their relationships with German scientists and intelligence agents. An agency set up for the task published books on their findings in 2004 and 2006, Stein notes.

"I thought this was concluded years ago," secrecy expert Steven Aftergood told Stein. "$650k is a good chunk of money in the declassification world. At roughly $1 per page declassified -- it could be $0.50 or as much as $3.00 per page declassified, depending on the need for multiple reviews or for detailed redaction of individual pages -- that would pay for more than half a million pages that could be declassified. At this point, the Nazi and Japanese Imperial (Government) records should be completed, and other initiatives funded."


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