CIA UFO Files Could Be
Declassified Under
New Legislation
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday said he would push for passage of legislation this year aimed at reducing the burden on CIA declassifiers overwhelmed by numerous special requests from government officials.
Those special requests from administration officials and members of Congress have asked CIA declassifiers to search for documents on everything from UFOs to murdered churchwomen in El Salvador to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, have sponsored legislation to create a nine-member board to prioritize such special requests.
"The purpose of the bill is to bring some order to the chaos," Goss said at a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the legislation. He said he would seek passage of the legislation this year.
"It's a push and shove, it's who has the sharper elbows," Goss said. Right now, a special request for a search of documents by the person with the most political clout is likely to be put on top of the pile, he added.
Such requests at times end up resulting in duplicative work for the CIA declassifiers because they are made by different people at different times, Goss and Moynihan said. The proposed board would aim to reduce repetitive requests and streamline agency responses.
The CIA's 230 to 300 employees at its "declassification factory" are stretched by the sheer amount of records they must review, Moynihan said. The spy agency has in the past said it processes about 8 million pages of classified records a year.
Aside from the special requests, the declassification efforts include a presidential executive order requiring information older than 25 years be declassified unless the government decides it needs to stay secret.
Also the public requests declassification of documents under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
The CIA budget for declassification efforts itself is classified.
Included with Moynihan's testimony was a letter from CIA's director of congressional affairs, John Moseman, on the impact of special searches and a list detailing the types of searches that have been requested.
The list and letter, dated Oct. 18, 1999, were declassified last Friday, July 21. "In sum, special searches are a growth industry and compete with the mandates of the many existing information review and release programs," Moseman said.
From 1993 to September 1999, the CIA conducted nine separate special searches for documents on El Salvador, mainly related to four churchwomen murdered there in 1980. There were 12 on Guatemala related to the deaths of several Americans and for records on the 1954 CIA-backed coup, the list said.
CIA Director George Tenet requested a search for documents related to convicted spy Jonathan Pollard on the damage done to national security by his espionage activities.
The request was made in late 1998 when President Clinton, during the Wye River Middle East peace conference, said he would review the case of Pollard, a former naval intelligence official jailed for life in 1986 for selling military secrets to Israel.
Israel has been seeking Pollard's release, reportedly as recently as the just-ended Camp David summit that collapsed. Tenet has opposed releasing the spy.
Other special searches were done in response to congressional requests for documents on parapsychology studies, and satellite imagery on the presence of Noah's Ark, on which after spending 1,000 hours the CIA concluded "no definitive information identified."
A CIA director also requested information on UFO sightings and Roswell, New Mexico, a subject on which more than 2,700 pages have been released, according to the list.
Several items for which special search requests had been made were blacked out on the list.

This Site Served by TheHostPros