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Report finds steep rise in classifying of documents

WASHINGTON -- Government secrecy has increased sharply in the past few years -- keeping Americans in the dark about information they should be able to access, says a report released yesterday by a coalition of watchdog groups.

It found the federal government created 14 million new classified documents in fiscal year 2003 -- a 26 percent increase over 2002, and a 60 percent increase over 2001. Those numbers cover more than 40 agencies, but exclude the CIA.

At the same time, the government is declassifying fewer documents, the report said. Some 43 million pages were declassified in 2003 -- a significant decrease from 100 million pages in 2001.

"There are secrets that are necessary, but there are a heck of a lot of secrets . . . that the public would benefit from, with their disclosure," said Rick Blum, coalition coordinator for OpenTheGovernment.org and author of the report.

Blum said the recent spike began in 2000 during the Clinton administration.

J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives, said the government is producing more documents in a post-Sept 11, 2001, world, but that agencies are too quick to apply classification.

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