Every three months, the National Declassification Center releases a set of secret files to the public. Sure, this takes the fun out of hacking into the government database ourselves, but let's face it, we can barely figure out Mailchimp's 2-step password verification and we own the account. So what kind of stuff does the government release, you ask?
According to Executive Order 13536, eligible documents and data can be declassified and released to the public after 25 years, and viewable here. In general, the released data must have permanent historical value to the public and/or researchers to qualify for automatic release. It can't jeopardize national security or clearly and demonstrably impair relations with foreign powers. This criteria is deliberately vague and - most likely - used to ensure some items remain classified for longer. Sneaky. If files reveal the identity of a human source, they can be held for 50 or even 75 years before being released - basically enough time for that person to have died without anyone knowing they were involved. Sometimes, they make a mistake, like a few weeks ago when the FBI released a document but forgot to redact the name of someone involved in the 9/11 attacks. So, are you getting excited to read deep dark government secrets? Well, here’s where all the fun gets sucked out of the room. Even after 75 years, extension requests can be made to maintain the classification status of a document. Although files can’t be classified indefinitely, they can be continually assessed, reviewed and reclassified. But don’t worry, you can still sift through the files they release each year and pretend you hacked the CIA like Mr Bourne.
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