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Secret government records misplaced at National Archives

Wednesday - 5/2/2012, 5:15pm  ET

Nathan Hager, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The National Archives is taking action following an inspector general's report that found thousands of boxes of secret government records unaccounted for at its facility in Suitland, Md.

The report, first obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from The Washington Times, found more than 2,300 boxes of classified files had gone missing from the Washington National Records Center.

The facility houses 3.9 million boxes of records for agencies across the federal government.

Since the report was issued in 2011, the Archives says it has accounted for about 640 missing boxes. It is still investigating the whereabouts of another 1,708.

"While it represents a very small failure rate, it's still a very serious matter, and one that we at the Archives take most seriously," says William "Jay" Basenko, executive for agency services at the National Archives.

The IG report blames faulty data for the loss of the material. In the case of the 640 boxes that have been found, there were discrepancies between tracking numbers in the Archives' computerized database and the numbers on the boxes themselves.

Basenko says the agency is in the process of doing the research necessary to clear any discrepancies in the remaining 1,708 boxes. Most of the material is not thought to be missing from the facility itself.

Some of the records are labeled top-secret, which raises questions of whether any of the missing material pertains to national security.

Basenko says the most recent of the missing files date back to 2004. Some go back much earlier than that.

"Some of the materials that are at issue here date from 1915 to 1966 and dealt with hydrology and hydraulics records. The odds of there being a sensitivity today? Pretty slim," Basenko says.

He also says the agency has taken steps to improve security and accountability since the IG report came out last year, including biweekly meetings about the status of the unaccounted records, discussions with other agencies about best practices regarding similar missing records, and changes at the top.

"From when this situation began until today, everybody from the Archivist of the United States to the center director is a different person. So it's all new leadership dealing with the problem," Basenko says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)