UPDATED: TCP Advises Caution on Proposed Change in CIA Email Retention

The Constitution Project wants the National Archives to move cautiously in reviewing a proposed change in email retention for the CIA.  It appears the proposed change would authorize the intelligence agency to destroy the emails of all but 22 of its personnel as early as the day those employees stop working at the CIA.

In a November 17 letter, TCP President Virginia Sloan and Senior Counsel Scott Roehm warned that the proposed change has the potential to frustrate Congressional oversight.  Quoting from a 2009 TCP report, the letter argues that such oversight is an essential vehicle for ensuring that the executive branch is complying with the law and administering government programs efficiently and effectively.

“From Watergate, to revelations of the CIA’s role in attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, to more recent disclosures around our government’s controversial surveillance practices, we continue to be reminded that vigorous government oversight is uniquely important with respect to national security agencies that operate largely in secret,” Sloan and Roehm wrote.

The letter noted that recent investigations by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including its inquiry into the terrorist attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi and the yet-to-be-released report on agency’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, relied heavily on the examination of CIA internal emails, some or most of which may not have been available under the proposed retention schedule.  In addition, it cited recent efforts by the agency to evade effective oversight.

“There are good reasons – both inherent to our constitutional scheme of separated powers and checks and balances, and specific to the CIA and its track record of resisting oversight – for [the National Archives and Record Administration] to approach the proposed schedule with a healthy degree of skepticism,” Sloan and Roehm wrote.

The National Archive is expected to determine the applicability of the proposed change early next year.

UPDATE: On November 21, the Chief Records Officer wrote to three members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, “Based on the comments and concerns that you and others have raised, we have informed the CIA we need to reassess their proposed schedule, including the scope of the senior leadership positions and the proposed retention periods.”  The letter did not indicate a timeline for the reassessment.

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