The Oldest Unanswered Freedom of Information Act Requests

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Robert Earl, still secret after all these years

The U.S. government has a long way to go before it fulfills decades-old requests for classified documents, despite the promises made by President Barack Obama to make federal agencies more open to the public.

According to The National Security Archive at George Washington University, the Executive Branch still has not responded to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed during the early Clinton years. The oldest pending FOIA submission was made in September 1992 by the Archive for documents regarding nuclear weapons testing from 1959-1961. The request has languished because three federal offices—Department of Energy, Department of Defense and the Air Force Technical Application Center—must sign off before the information is released.
Other FOIA requests that have gone unfulfilled deal with such topics as the U.S. military’s 1961 reaction to the construction of the Berlin Wall, a full set of the “Pentagon Papers” (which has been public since 1971), the Reykjavik summit in 1986 between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, U.S. export policy to Iraq in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s consideration of judicial nominees, and the independent counsel’s report on the Iran-Contra scandal, as well as information about Robert Earl, who destroyed the records of Oliver North.
Requests for presidential records are also delayed. Among those still not released are documents relating to Lyndon Johnson’s surveillance of civil rights groups, minutes of Richard Nixon’s National Security Council meetings, records relating to Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Libya in 1986 and the subsequent Libyan-backed bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and Bill Clinton’s policies towards Rwanda and Haiti.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Sunshine and Shadows (National Security Archive) (pdf)


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