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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 17, 1995


Today I have signed an Executive order reforming the Government's system of secrecy. The order will lift the veil on millions of existing documents, keep a great many future documents from ever being classified, and still maintain necessary controls over information that legitimately needs to be guarded in the interests of national security.

In issuing this order, I am seeking to bring the system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information into line with our vision of American democracy in the postCold War world.

This order strikes an appropriate balance. On the one hand, it will sharply reduce the permitted level of secrecy within our Government, making available to the American people and posterity most documents of permanent historical value that were maintained in secrecy until now.

On the other, the order enables us to safeguard the information that we must hold in confidence to protect our Nation and our citizens. We must continue to protect information that is critical to the pursuit of our national security interests. There are some categories of information -- for example, the war plans we may employ or the identities of clandestine human assets -- that must remain protected.

This order also will reduce the sizable costs of secrecy -- the tangible costs of needlessly guarding documents and the intangible costs of depriving ourselves of the fullest possible flow of information.

This order establishes many firsts: Classifiers will have to justify what they classify; employees will be encouraged and expected to challenge improper classification and protected from retribution for doing so; and large-scale declassification won't be dependent on the availability of individuals to conduct a line-by-line review. Rather, we will automatically declassify hundreds of millions of pages of information that were classified in the past 50 years.

Similarly, we will no longer tolerate the excesses of the current system. For example, we will resolve doubtful calls about classification in favor of keeping the information unclassified. We will not permit the reclassification of information after it has been declassified and disclosed under proper authority. We will authorize agency heads to balance the public interest in disclosure against the national security interest in making declassification decisions. And, we will no longer presumptively classify certain categories of information, whether or not the specific information otherwise meets the strict standards for classification. At the same time, however, we will maintain every necessary safeguard and procedure to assure that appropriately classified information is fully protected.

Taken together, these reforms will greatly reduce the amount of information that we classify in the first place and the amount that remains classified. Perhaps most important, the reforms will create a classification system that Americans can trust to protect our national security in a reasonable, limited, and cost-effective manner.

In keeping with my goals and commitments, this order was drafted in an unprecedented environment of openness. We held open hearings and benefitted from the recommendations of interested Committees of Congress and nongovernmental organizations, groups, businesses, and individuals. The order I have signed today is stronger because of the advice we received from so many sources. I thank all those who have helped to establish this new system as a model for protecting our national security within the framework of a Government of, by, and for the people.



April 17, 1995.

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