Report criticizes CIA recordkeeping
- By Dan Verton
- Apr 05, 2000
Flawed recordkeeping practices at the CIA have increased the risk of losing
critical data, including documents about agency activities and policies
and information of historical value, according to a report by the National
Archives and Records Administration.
The report, "Records Management in the Central Intelligence Agency: A NARA
Evaluation," found "serious shortcomings" in the CIA's overall recordkeeping
practices and singled out the agency's handling of electronic records. The
failure of the CIA to inventory and schedule key electronic records for
transfer to NARA poses "a serious risk that information of great value will
not be preserved," the report stated.
The CIA established an Electronic Records Management Program Office in 1995
after a congressional request for information sent officials scrambling
to locate data stored on a wide array of systems, local servers and paper
files. The overall success of the office has been "mixed," according to
Although the agency has "strongly embraced" electronic recordkeeping, it
has lagged far behind in scheduling data contained in automated systems,
the report found. The agency maintains thousands of systems but has submitted
schedules covering only about 60 of them, nearly all of which pertain to
routine administrative functions. None of the major systems that contain
key records, such as the President's Daily Brief, major intelligence publications
and files pertaining to covert operations, has been scheduled.
"Many in the CIA believe that electronically maintained information is not
a record, or if it is a record, it is almost invariably disposable," the
report stated. "They also believe that when the retention of electronic
data is required, it can and should be preserved in a hard copy format."
By 2002, CIA officials plan to deploy a centralized electronic repository
to streamline record creation, maintenance and retrieval. The Pro-active
Electronic Records Management (PERM) system will collect and display information
from official agency documents from the time of their creation. It also
will provide automated alerts when documents become eligible for declassification
The first phase of PERM has focused on e-mail. However, the system is not
yet capable of determining whether individual e-mail messages have official
record status. Likewise, PERM's success in simplifying electronic record
maintenance will depend on the "extent that it incorporates other databases
and office automation applications," according to the report. The agency
has developed plans to integrate other systems with PERM, but the plans
do not include a migration strategy that complies with NARA regulations.
Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst with the Federation of American
Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, said that whenever a "mild-mannered"
agency such as NARA issues a report like this, it is worth noting. "CIA
is probably not doing a worse job of records management than other agencies,
but it ought to be doing considerably better," Aftergood said. "After all,
the task of information management is essential to intelligence production.
If the agency can't get this right, it is wasting its time — and our money."