Redactions in CIA records: December 2022

As NARA’s press release informs us, after the December 2022 redaction releases, fewer than 4,400 records have “Section 5” redactions left in them. Good to know, but where and what are these redactions? What are the justifications for continuing to hold back the information the little rectangular boxes conceal?

There is now some new documentation for the curious, as mandated by President Biden’s 2021 memo, and posted at NARA. This post will take a general look this documentation, and a close look at one particular document provided by the CIA, to see what’s up and out, and what’s still hidden in the cupboard.

Agency documentation

The main page for the latest information on agency redactions in the ARC is a new NARA page called Agency Postponement Documentation. This page provides documentation from five agencies/departments: the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the FBI, and NARA itself.

Each of these agencies/departments has submitted a letter or memorandum to President Biden identifying the type of information they wish to continue holding back in the ARC, and their reasons for doing so. These letters provide important details on redaction and declassification issues; anyone interested in the subject should read these carefully.

Each of the agencies/departments has also submitted a letter or memo to the National Security Council with details of their redacted records and plans for continuing review and eventual release of the information. Some of these plans are, er, long-term.

DOD, for example, envisions releasing some information “from the date when the nuclear weapons system is no longer part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and disclosure of weapons yields of nuclear weapons systems will not hinder U.S. nuclear war planning and civil defense.” Dang.

The key items for the detail-obsessed, however, are the lists of specific records in the ARC which are redacted, and whatever further information is provided by the agencies in their bid to keep these under wraps. CIA naturally has the longest list. This is in a whole separate file here. Since there information is so complex, they also have a whole separate file for their release plan, aka “transparency plan”, available here.

The FBI, DOD, and DOS have merged their lists of redacted files into their letters to the NSC, and their “transparency plans” are more or less appended there as well.

NARA’s letters and lists are somewhat different from the other agencies. They are basically making an official statement that there are Social Security numbers in some documents. They list the documents and spell out their plans to withhold this info until everyone concerned is dead. I note here that this list does not include any CIA documents, despite the fact that there are CIA docs with the social security numbers of indisputably living people.

The CIA document index

This is it, a long, complicated document that lists 3648 CIA documents in the ARC that still have redactions. It summaries the type of redactions under three headings: People, CIA Locations, and Operational Details. I note that this number (3648) is slightly different from the number CIA gives in its letter to the NSC, which is 3672. I assume that CIA continued to revise their list of stuff to hold back until the very last minute.

I will also note that “operational details” includes liaison information, such as text that mentions CIA liaison with some foreign security service, or information that was provided by some foreign government.

I’ve gone over this list briefly and have a couple of comments. These comments are tentative. I could easily have some errors in here, or places I have not understood.

First, several hundred of the records on this list are not listed in the ARC as CIA documents. Instead, they are documents originated by the FBI, the State Department, and so on, based on CIA information. Limiting oneself to documents originated by the CIA, there are 2902 which are marked as ‘RIP’, or “released in part”.

So why are these withheld? Summarizing under the three categories of people, locations, and operational details:

redaction type count percent
People 1173 32%
Operational details 1124 31%
Location 339 9%
People and details 379 10%
People and locations 201 5.5%
Locations and details 130 3.5%
People, Locations and details 302 8%