CIA and The National Archives
HandelontheLaw.com Staff Writer
The new record-keeping strategy of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which allows for the CIA’s destruction of non-senior personnel e-mails, caused such an outcry from lawmakers that it is now being reconsidered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), per a November 21, 2014 letter.
NARA is an independent federal agency responsible for maintaining and recording governmental and historical documents (the National Archives) and for providing public access to some of them. Established in 1934, NARA is normally associated with the National Archives Building in Washington, DC but also maintains regional archives across the United States, has 10 additional Affiliated Archives, maintains the Presidential libraries and is associated with other archival facilities.
NARA’s considerable burdens were exponentially increased with the advent of e-mail, which agencies managed either by print-and-file systems or records management applications requiring agency staff to file e-mail records individually. Sometime prior to 2011, NARA and/or other agencies concluded something along the lines of “These systems are crazy-making!” Consequently, in 2011, NARA offered agencies the option of “Capstone.”
Capstone is a more simplified, automated approach to managing e-mail, allowing an agency to categorize/schedule e-mail according to the work/position of the e-mail account owner. The e-mails of officials at or near the top of the agency and of other agency designees are captured and preserved; everyone else’s e-mail is kept only temporarily or otherwise handled according to the agency’s needs and NARA – approved disposition.
Capstone sounds great but the problem is that there are agencies and then there are agencies. The CIA and the Administration on Aging are both agencies but the CIA’s work can be dicier. The CIA not only gathers and analyzes information for national security but also carries out covert activities and tactical operations. Lawmakers and others want to know what’s going on CIA-wise and e-mails are often the key.
When the CIA proposed the destruction of its non-senior personnel e-mails “when no longer needed” and NARA temporarily approved the proposal, lawmakers reacted immediately. The approved proposal gives the CIA too much discretion in keeping/destroying e-mails that are important for oversight of the CIA, the lawmakers said. According to experienced lawmakers, those e-mails are essential to finding CIA records that may not otherwise exist as “permanent records.”
Due to the strong backlash from lawmakers, NARA informed the CIA that its proposal will be reassessed, including the scope of “leadership positions” and the e-mail retention periods.
By Kathy Catanzarite
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