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October 22, 2002

Transcript of remarks made by John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton

I thought I might start with the famous line with Admiral Stockdale "Who am I? What am I doing here?" Or Maybe I should start with who I am not? I have actually never been followed by a tractor beam. I have never been bathed in the grow of the white light coming from an object in the sky. I certainly have never been 'taken.' Why my obsession with. . .for some of you was well known while I was in the White House with the X-files during my time there. It earned me the honorary title of the "first fan," I think I always understood the difference between fact and fiction. So I guess you could call me a skeptic.

But I am skeptical about many things, including the notion that government always knows best, and that the people can not be trusted with the truth. That's why I have dedicated three decades of my life, both in private practice including my work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and my work at the White House to the fundamental principle of protecting openness in government. Harold Cross, for those of you who know who he is - was actually the founder of the Freedom of Information Act - the father of the Freedom of Information Act. He was a fell know journalism professor at the University of Missouri. He said, "The right to speak, and the right to print, without the right to know, are pretty empty."

So I believe that the notion of open government Freedom of Information - the fundamental tenets of the Freedom of Information Act are really part and parcel of our first amendment rights. I think it is worth going back and reminding all of you just exactly what those tenets really are, that form the basis of that act.

They are that disclosure is the general rule and not the exception. That all individuals have equal rights of access. That the burden is on the government to justify the withholding of the document, not on the person requesting it, and that individuals improperly denied access to documents have the right seek conjunctive relief in the courts.

That's why I am here today, to add my voice to Bonnie (Hammer), Leslie (Kean) and Lee (Helfrich). I think it's time to open the books on questions that have remained in the dark on the question of government investigations of UFOs. Its time to find out what the truth really is that's out there. We ought to do it really because its right. We ought to do it because the American people quite frankly can handle the truth, and we ought to do it because its the law. Let me explain what I mean by that.

In 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12958 which sets tough standards for classifying documents, and led to an unprecedented effort to declassify millions of pages from our Nation's diplomatic and national security history.

Before President Clinton signed that Executive Order, a tiny minority of classified documents - only 5% had fixed classification dates. Since the signing of that order now, more than 50% of those documents are marked for declassification in 10 years or less. Perhaps I think even more significantly during the five years that the executive order was in place, its policy resulted in the declassification of what were 800 million pages of historically valuable records, with the prospect of many hundreds of millions of more being declassified in the next few years.

To give you a bit of a comparison of that. In the previous 15 years the government had declassified a total of 188 million pages. So I think that was a singular accomplishment of the Clinton administration for further generations. Our history books will rely on the information contained in those declassified documents. Scholars, historians, journalists, and everyday researchers around the world, not just in the United States will explore the past and help guide our future.

But the work is not done. That Order required the automatic declassification of records that are 25 years or older, subject to a very narrow set of exceptions, and I want to just note two of those, and as an introduction to Lee, who is going to talk about the Freedom of Information Act that has been requested. One is that they reveal the automatic declassification rule does not apply if it reveals the identity of a confidential human source - and I underline the word human. I don't think that we are talking about that in the cases that ought to be looked at, reviewed, and declassified.

The other is they would curiously or demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities of the United States, and unless we have ongoing diplomatic activities with people who are extraterrestrials that I'm unaware of, I don't think that exception doesn't apply either. So there are these cases in which documents haven't been made available to the American public. The American public as Bonnie noted is quite skeptical about the fact that the government won't make them available for public inspection. These are records that are more than 25 years old. The ought to be declassified. They ought to be released, and we ought to be able to see for ourselves what is included in those.

This note this morning in the Washington Post. Again a Novak story, that notes that our government does not always reveal the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and even though the highest leaders of our government don't always tell the facts just as they are. That's why the Freedom of Information is so important, and the information that is included in the request that Lee will discuss. It is so critical to be put in front of the American public so that they can make their own judgement about the conduct of the program of investigation as well as the underlying facts that the Air Force and other discover. So with that let me turn it over to Lee, and let her discuss the request that is being made.


for further reading

John Podesta: Clinton's X-Files Man