To emphasize that "lawful process," Rumsfeld then added that his soon-to-be released book, "Known and Unknown," would be accompanied by hundreds of supporting documents -- some once secret -- and that all of them would be cleared by the U.S. government.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that Rumsfeld, as a former presidential appointee, has the right to request certain records separate from the FOIA process, although that access is "limited to records they originated, reviewed, signed or received during their tenure, regardless of classification," Whitman told AOL News.
For longtime critics of government secrecy, like Steven Aftergood, who runs the Secrecy News blog at the Federation of American Scientists, Rumsfeld's comment on the lawful release of once-secret records merely highlights the shortcomings of FOIA.
"I don't believe that his requests for declassification were handled in the same queue as my FOIA requests are," Aftergood wrote AOL News in an e-mail. "If they had been, he would have had to wait for at least a couple more years to get a response, and probably a partial, incomplete one at that."
Rumsfeld could bypass the long wait of FOIA by simply asking for a declassification review under the administrative procedures that cover former presidential appointees, according to Aftergood.
"It is true that 'There is an appropriate, lawful process for declassifying material,'" Aftergood said. "There is also a privileged, expedited process for former officials who are marketing their version of history."
Rumsfeld through a spokesman declined to answer queries pending the book's February release. A spokeswoman for Sentinel, the book's publisher, told AOL News that "the book is under strict embargo" until the release, and no review copies are being made available.
Rumsfeld is by no means the only former government official to rely on declassified records for his memoir. Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, also released a number of documents on the website for his book "War and Decision." It is unclear how the documents were obtained, though a number of formerly secret documents indicate they were reviewed and declassified.
Feith did not respond to a request about how his documents were declassified.
WikiLeaks' massive dump of diplomatic cables and military records on the Internet has reignited debates over government secrecy and the role of FOIA, which has long been the avenue for journalists and private citizens to gain access to government documents.
For those who are forced to rely on FOIA, however, the wait can be long and frustrating. When an FOIA request is received by an agency, it is assigned a number in the queue, and it may take months or even years before it is reviewed.
John Young, a New York-based architect who runs Cryptome, often described as a rival site to WikiLeaks, says the time it takes to process a request varies by the agency. Some agencies, like the CIA, he describes as "obstinately unresponsive," while others, like the National Security Agency, are "reliable," though the documents released are typically heavily redacted.
But overall, according to Young, the FOIA process has become too drawn out and cumbersome to be useful for private citizens. "My opinion is that the FOIA system is now only useful to those with resources to sue or hire a professional to bird-dog the process, thus anti-democratic," Young wrote in an email to AOL News. "Or, as you say, those with anti-democratic privileges to use selective material for advancing an agenda."
Allowing former high-ranking officials to sidestep FOIA creates a "double-standard," according to Lawrence Korb, who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
Former presidential appointees can obtain such records quickly, while private citizens may wait years. "That's what is so frustrating," he says.
Some former senior officials writing memoirs sidestep the secrecy issue completely by forgoing such privileged access. "I didn't ask for anything to be declassified," John Bolton, who served at the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the Bush administration, told AOL News in a phone interview.
In fact, Rumsfeld's book relies on a mix of personal documents, government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information of Act, and documents obtained through the executive order that provides former presidential appointees access to declassified and unclassified documents that they reviewed or created while in office.
It is unclear how many of the once-classified documents that Rumsfeld plans to release are the result of FOIA requests and how many are from requests made as a former presidential appointee. A review of FOIA logs from 2007 to 2009 does not show any requests made specifically by Rumsfeld, although requests can be made by third parties, including businesses that specialize in FOIA requests.
Rumsfeld was a vocal proponent in the 1966 legislative debate that lead to FOIA, arguing that "government will serve us well only if the citizens are well informed." Rumsfeld, then a Republican congressman, was concerned the administration of President Lyndon Johnson was avoiding oversight.