Skip to content

The Soviet Battlefield Development Plan

November 20, 2014


sbdpBy Clay Katsky

On November 1, 1982, an executive summary of The Soviet Battlefield Development Plan (SBDP) was published as a secret report for military officers. A strategic analysis prepared by the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, with contributions from the U.S. Army Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center, the Foreign Service and Technology Center, and the Missile Intelligence Agency, the information contained in this document was considered valid up only through the previous August 1982, and work on the next version was already under way when it was released. The SBDP was “Army Intelligence’s response to a request from the Commander of TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] for a Soviet counterpart to the U.S. Battlefield Development Plan,”[i] and was intended to give TRADOC decision makers an overview of the competition they faced, which would allow them to plan better for possible battlefield maneuvers. According to its preface: “Ideally, Army planners will be able to exploit our understanding of Soviet doctrine and force modernization, thereby giving the U.S. Army advantages in equipment, weapons, training, and tactics.”[ii] The stated goal of “forced modernization” hints towards a potential framework that contributed to the Soviet Union’s collapse and peaceful end to the Cold War.

Thousands of pages long, this hefty stack of intelligence was compiled as an Executive Summary “designed to give senior officers the key findings of the SBDP in a form they can read in a couple of hours.”[iii] Having been specifically put together for readers pressed for time, with the intention “to integrate the mass of intelligence information we have on Soviet military affairs in an interpretive framework,”[iv] this recently declassified tome should prove a valuable resource for researchers looking for primary source material pertaining to Cold War military logistics. Made available to the National Security Archive at the end of March 2014 in response to a FOIA request sent to U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, this intelligence report is a revelatory read for any Cold War historian, and also others interested in the theoretical and strategic aspects of military planning. Interesting revelations include:

  • Section 7 of the report, Forecasts of Operations, starts by offering six background bullets to give an overview of the how the Soviets’ “new operational concepts for the nuclear battlefield greatly enhanced their conventional war-fighting capabilities as well.”[v] The last point is especially interesting in terms of understanding how the U.S. foresaw Soviet battlefield behavior: “Their force structure, however, suggests that they want to retain as much choice as possible not to use nuclear weapons, for as long as possible. They do not want choices predetermined or automatic as a result of force design and doctrine. But once the nuclear use is decided, the first blow is, in their view, possibly decisive. Their forces are designed to provide successive strikes over days and weeks. How significant these lay-downs will be is not so clear to them.[vi]
  • …Crossing the tripwire.

    Also in Section 7’s Forecasts for Operations is an analysis detailing the implications of Marshal Ogarkov’s assignment as Chief of the General Staff in 1977, which the report says “marked the beginning of a new series of initiatives to carry Sokolovsky’s ‘force development plan’ further and to achieve it faster.”[vii] Ogarkov believed operational concepts had not kept pace with equipment development and advancements, and therefore the battlefield potential of new improved weapons systems needed to be maximized: “Figure 9 presents the kinds of improved weapons capabilities Ogarkov had in mind. It indicates the depths to which Soviet commanders at various organizational levels can place nuclear or conventional fires by using their organic missile assets.[viii] [ix]

  • A chapter assessing Soviet infrastructure examines Soviet transportation capabilities but focuses on the interdiction susceptibility of military transport routes. One section entitled How This Influences Their Ability to Fight Now and in the Year 2000 looks at both the strengths and weaknesses of recent trends in the their transportation sector: “Soviet transportation facilities are not the best in the world, but their shortcomings in this respect will not significantly impair their ability to conduct a successful invasion of Europe. However, the transloading points between the Soviet and Polish rail lines appear to be extremely vulnerable.[x]
  • A chapter of the report on Civil Defense opens with a history of the “largest and most comprehensive war-survival program in the world,”[xi] and then concludes with the Soviet’s three main objectives: “(1) An ability to protect people – the leadership first, the essential workforce second, and the remainder of the population third; (2) An ability to protect the sources of economic productivity, to assure the continuity of economic activity in wartime, and to permit the restoration of production following a nuclear attack; (3) An ability to sustain the surviving population and to prepare for longer term postattack recovery.[xii] In a section analyzing the survival of the Soviet people, the report states: “A minimum of 10 to 20 percent of the population in urban areas (including essential workers) could presently be accommodated in blast-resistant shelters.”
  • “The Soviets define reconnaissance as ‘information about the location, disposition, composition, number, armament, combat preparedness, character of activities, and intentions of the enemy in the interest of combat.’”[xiii] A chapter forecasting the future of Soviet reconnaissance and surveillance systems predicts and examines future aerial approaches. In the period from 1986-1990, the report states that the Soviets will deploy an airborne warning and control system, today commonly known as AWACS. “An AWACS so deployed could provide continuous target track data over a wide-area to an integrated ground-based air defense system. Continuous, low-altitude, target-tracking coverage would provide for an enhanced environment for wide-area ground control intercept (GCI). Wide-area GCI, when combined with a fighter look-down/shoot-down capability, can provide a significant frontal aviation low-altitude aircraft intercept capability.[xiv]
  • Perhaps most interesting of all, and buried deep in the document is a heavily redacted portion which explores the capabilities of Soviet reconnaissance and weapons systems including an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device. A chapter on Firepower and Target Disruption focuses on artillery, but also “considers aircraft, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear warheads, and directed energy weapons,”[xv] and contains the prediction that the Soviets will soon employ an EMP weapon for battlefield use. “The Soviets are expected to have the capability to introduce a field artillery projectile with an EMP intended to damage solid-state electronic devices within about 300 meters of the round when the EMP event is initiated. The device would be powered by an explosive generator and would likely be mounted in a 203-mm carrier projectile. It would be employed to disrupt seriously or destroy proximate battlefield electronic devices, including communications and computers.[xvi]

[i] SBDP, page (3)

[ii] SBDP, page (3)

[iii] SBDP, page (3)

[iv] SBDP, page (3)

[v] SBDP, page (46)

[vi] SBDP, page (47)

[vii] SBDP, page (47)

[viii] SBDP, page (47) – (49)

[ix] SBDP, page (48)

[x] SBDP, page (173)

[xi] SBDP, page (231)

[xii] SBDP, page (233-235)

[xiii] SBDP, page (600)

[xiv] SBDP, page (604)

[xv] SBDP, page (668)

[xvi] SBDP, page (695)

Senate Judiciary Committee Unanimously Passes FOIA Improvement Act, Senate Republicans Kill NSA Reform, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 11/20/2014

November 20, 2014
Senator Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the FOIA Improvement Act’s Manager’s Amendment today, which maintains the most important reforms in the bill. While it strips a public interest balancing test provision specifically for Exemption Five, it includes a new statutory provision stating that agencies cannot use Exemption Five (or some other other exemptions) to “withhold information… merely because the agency can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of an exemption” or “merely because disclosure of the information may be embarrassing to the agency or because of speculative or abstract concerns.” The bill will also preclude agencies from using Exemption Five to withhold documents over 25 years old. This means, for example, that the CIA couldn’t misapply Exemption Five and use it continue to hide a 30-year-old volume of the agency’s draft “official history” of the Bay of Pigs debacle.

The next step for the FOIA improvement Act is a vote on the Senate floor, followed by, hopefully, conference with the House. Given the House’s unanimous vote in favor of FOIA reform this May, the chances of conference seem high. The Archive congratulates Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Leahy (D-VT), ranking member Sen. Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Cornyn (R-TX), and Reps. Issa (R-CA) and Cummings (D-MD), for working together in one of the last bastions of bipartisanship to push through this important FOIA legislation.

Senate Republicans killed a bill this week that would have curbed the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet domestic surveillance practices in a 58-42 vote. Most believed that this vote would only delay the debate over surveillance practices until next June, when the legal basis for the NSA’s phone records collection program, a provision of the Patriot Act, expires. A little-known provision of the Patriot Act, however, has recently been discovered that would allow the program to continue indefinitely, even after the law expires. The provision, “obscure because it was recorded as a note accompanying Section 215″ and did not receive its own listing in the U.S. Code, would allow the president to directly petition the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to keep the program alive.

The world’s most popular instant messaging service, WhatsApp, following similar announcements by Apple and Google, said it will begin encrypting all of its data, making it impossible for law enforcement to access the data even with a warrant. FBI director James Comey has repeatedly spoken out against Apple and Google for their encryption policies, saying the “post-Snowden pendulum has swung too far.”

The U.S. Marshals Service uses small Cessnas like this one to broadcast fake cell phone tower signals. Reuters photo.

The U.S. Marshals Service uses small Cessnas like this one to broadcast fake cell phone tower signals. Reuters photo.

The Department of Justice is refusing to either confirm or deny reports that the U.S. Marshals, the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the U.S., harvests “large amounts of data from Americans’ cellphones through devices mounted on airplanes in an effort to locate fugitives.” According to the Wall Street Journal, the Marshals run the program out of five large metropolitan areas through Cessna planes “equipped with two-foot-square devices — sometimes called ‘dirtboxes’ — that mimic cell towers and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information and general location.”

The government retracted arguments made last month in a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case concerning whether or not the gag orders that prevent recipients of the FBI’s National Security Letters (NSL) from discussing them constitute a violation of the First Amendment. Last month a DOJ lawyer said “that companies that receive national security letters — an administrative subpoena that can be issued by a field office supervisor — can comment on the ‘quality’ of the NSLs, including whether they think ‘the government is asking for too much.’” After the statements a Civil Division attorney called the lawyer’s comment “an inadvertent misstatement,” and the notion that a recipient can “publicly discuss the fact that it had received one or more NSLs and could discuss the quality of the specific NSL” received is “mistaken.”

Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood recently reported that the government will revisit its “no fly” list procedures to make them more transparent and easier to challenge. The government’s announcement was made in connection with the Gulet Mohamed v. Eric Holder lawsuit. An August 5 Intercept article, which cites classified government documents on the National Counterterrorism Center’s databases, shows, among other things, “that 47,000 people — including 800 Americans — were on the government’s no-fly list, while an additional 16,000 — including 1,200 Americans — were on the ‘selectee’ list.”

Archivist William Burr recently received a heavily excised document in response to a decade-old MDR request for Pentagon records of former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. The problem (aside from the decade-long wait)? The redacted document had previously been released twice nearly in its entirety, once in response to a 1990 FOIA request, and later in a 1996 State Department Foreign Relations of the United States publication.

The same page – page 5 – from the same document, released 3 different times. From Left to Right: 2014 National Archives release with Department of Defense redactions, 1996 Foreign Relations of the United States release, and circa 1990 Department of Defense Freedom of Information Act Release.

The same page – page 5 – from the same document, released 3 different times. From Left to Right: 2014 National Archives release with Department of Defense redactions, 1996 Foreign Relations of the United States release, and circa 1990 Department of Defense Freedom of Information Act Release.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of El Salvador Jesuit murders by Salvadoran security forces. To mark the event, the Archive, which has spent the last 25 years collecting declassified U.S. documents on El Salvador, including the Jesuit murders, posted ten documents written by U.S. officials on the day of the murders and during the week that followed, showing the U.S.’s initial unwillingness to consider the Salvadoran military’s responsibility for the killings.

The Archive recently posted a collection of declassified documents on Project Sapphire, the first major success of the Nunn-Lugar program, to mark the project’s 20th anniversary. The posting includes an after-action report, analysis of HEU samples, Video of C-5 landings in Ust-Kamenogorsk, and photographs of uranium, and is part of a series on the history of the Nunn-Lugar program prepared by the Archive, building on the groundbreaking research in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy.

Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, President Gerald Ford and Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Cheney April 28, 1975.

Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, President Gerald Ford and Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Cheney April 28, 1975.

In light of the Senate’s FOIA vote, today’s #tbt document pick is a 2004 Archive posting inspired by some significant legislative FOIA history. On this day in 1974 the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (371-31) to override President Gerald Ford’s veto of H.R. 12471, a bill that would significantly strengthen the Freedom Of Information Act, which Ford – encouraged by White House chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy, Dick Cheney, and Antonin Scalia, then the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel – called “unconstitutional and unworkable.” The House, and later the Senate, disagreed, overriding the President’s veto. The amended FOIA incorporated judicial review of agency decisions, narrowing of some exemptions, restrictions on fees agencies could charge, and a time limit for agencies to comply with a request.

Happy FOIA-ing!

CIA Hides Overclassification Recommendations with “Withhold it Because you Want to” Exemption Five; Senate FOIA Exemption Five Reform Vote on Thursday

November 18, 2014
Press Managers Amendments.

Press Manager’s Amendment to the FOIA Improvement Act.

Sometimes I think there are FOIA gods.  Today was one of those days.  First, I read the hot off the press Manager’s Amendment to the 2014 FOIA Improvement Act –a Manager’s Amendment means that a committee vote is coming soon, Thursday in the Senate Judiciary to be exact.  A FOIA bill has already unanimously passed the House, which has signaled a strong willingness to work with the Senate’s bill.  Then a peculiar thing happened: I received a FOIA response from the CIA demonstrating exactly why FOIA reform is necessary.

The document was a CIA Inspector General report entitled “Evaluation Required by the Reducing Over-Classification Act.”  The vast majority of the report was correctly unredacted, even portions critical of the CIA’s overclassification procedures (only 43 percent of CIA personnel have completed a required training course on classification).1

However –bafflingly and infuriatingly– the CIA used the exemption five to redact all four of the IG’s recommendations to reduce overclassification, even as it released the reasons why CIA leadership concurred with the observations and explained what they were.


“…Demonstrating as a technical matter.”

The CIA had the legal right to censor these recommendations because of the overly broad wording in the FOIA’s exemption five which allows the withholding of “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters.”  While this exemption is often used correctly to preserve candid communications between government employees, its broad wording and ease of applicability has led to extreme (even offensive) overuse, including censoring information on DOJ Nazi hunting (and protecting), a CIA history of the Bay of Pigs invasion, documents on US policy during the Rwandan genocide, and many more.

The good news is the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on reforms that will make it harder for agencies to abuse exemption five.  As Toby McIntosh points out, the Manager’s Amendment does strip a public interest balancing test provision specifically for exemption five from the bill.  But the bill as amended does still include a new statutory provision stating that agencies cannot use Exemption 5 (or some other exemptions) to “withhold information… merely because the agency can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of an exemption” or “merely because disclosure of the information may be embarrassing to the agency or because of speculative or abstract concerns.”  If the bill becomes law, an agency must also show “that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption … or other provision of law.”2

I strongly doubt censoring CIA recommendations to reduce overclassification would pass these tests.

Using Exemption 5 to prevent embarrassment?

Using Exemption 5 to prevent embarrassment?

Furthermore, agencies will no longer be allowed to use b5 to withhold information older that 25 years.  This means the CIA can longer use b5 to argue that the release of its history of the Bay of Pigs debacle should be withheld because, to the CIA, its release could “confuse the public.

And one more sweetener that I did not see coming: the Manager’s Amendment also requires a GAO report on the misuse of  Exemption 3 statutory exemptions (there is one on watermelon production) as well as Exemption 5 misuse.

That is just my analysis of Exemption 5.  I’ve barely touched the other improvements in this bill which include improvements to the FOIA Ombuds Office; a fee fix that will (actually, this time) eliminate the majority of fees when an agency misses its deadline; codification of the presumption of openness; a requirement to update agency FOIA regulations to follow the improved law; and steps toward a 21st century platform to submit (and hopefully track!) requests.

1. [Steve Aftergood and Bill Burr have pointed out that these required reports on overclassification have fallen short of their potential. Rather than address the root problems of vast withholding of information that the public should have access to, they largely focus on the minutia of classification markings.]

2. [These statutory "harm test" improvements clearly *do* apply to Exemption 5.  Further reporting language on Congressional intent will make this even clearer for judges weighing b5 redactions to understand.]

Annals of Overclassification

November 18, 2014
The same page – page 5 – from the same document, released 3 different times. From Left to Right: 2014 National Archives release with Department of Defense redactions, 1996 Foreign Relations of the United States release, and circa 1996 Department of Defense Freedom of Information Act Release.

The same page – page 5 – from the same document, released 3 different times. From Left to Right: 2014 National Archives release with Department of Defense redactions, 1996 Foreign Relations of the United States release, and circa 1990 Department of Defense Freedom of Information Act Release. Image by Lauren Harper.

A recent National Archives response to a 2004 mandatory declassification review (MDR) request shows that much is wrong with the declassification process at the Pentagon. The MDR request was for file 471.6 (29 Aug 61), held in the records of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. According to the old War Department decimal file system, as modified during the Cold War, 471.6 is a file about nuclear missile systems. After a ten-year wait for a response to the MDR request (itself a problem!), the file was reviewed by a variety of civilian and military organizations and finally opened up.

A review of the opened file at the National Archives in College Park showed that some of its contents were heavily excised despite their historic age…and previous declassification and publication.  A long memorandum from McNamara to President Kennedy dated 23 September 1961 on “Recommended Long-Range Nuclear Delivery Forces, 1963-1967” was massively excised when the Office of Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff redacted nearly 20 entire pages of text. Another document in the file was a memorandum from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer to Secretary McNamara, with the same title, dated 17 November 1961. From this item, the Joint Staff withheld two paragraphs in their entirety.

Yet both documents, especially the McNamara memorandum, will be familiar to some readers because they were published in full or nearly in full nearly twenty years ago, in 1996. They appeared in the State Department’s historical series Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume VIII National Security Policy (documents 46 and 54).  Moreover, years before its appearance in the FRUS publication, the Defense Department declassified the McNamara memorandum in response to a FOIA request. That earlier release has a few details that were excised in the FRUS version and vice versa, but both were substantially declassified. That makes it instructive to make a side-by-side comparison of the FOIA release, with the version released at the National Archives.


These documents, especially the McNamara memorandum, are historically important. McNamara sent his long memorandum  to President Kennedy at a crucial moment in the history of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War nuclear arms race.  Even though the U.S. government had just learned from CORONA spy satellite photography that the Soviet Union had only a handful of nuclear-tipped ICBMs (compared to over 160 on the US side), McNamara endorsed the continued build-up of Minuteman ICBMs and Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles.  Although he argued against a “full first strike capability,” because it would “risk the provocation of an arms race,” the very decision described here meant that the Kennedy administration was engaging in a one-sided arms race in which the Soviet Union would eventually decide to participate massively. It was the recommendations in this document, among others, that McNamara would deeply regret many years later.

Their publicly available status notwithstanding, Department of Defense reviewers (ostensibly with NARA supervision at the National Declassification Center) treated the McNamara and the Lemnitzer memos as if they had never been declassified before and cited 6 different exemptions from Executive Order 13526 to justify the excisions. The exemptions include: (b) (2) weapons of mass destruction, (b) (4) state of the art weapons technologies, (b) (5) war plans in effect, (b) (6) foreign relations, and (b) (8) national emergency preparedness plans, as well as statutory exemptions (Atomic Energy Act). For example, under the (b) (6) exemption, information was withheld that could impair ongoing diplomatic relations with another country.   That would make it sound as if the declassification of these documents would be a seriously damaging transgression, yet declassification reviewers during the 1990s and even earlier did not see any such risks to U.S. national security or foreign relations. How could, as DoD declassifiers claim, the release of information about Soviet military installations targeted for destruction impair foreign relations with a country that no longer exists?  In any event, the record of declassified evidence on Cold War military targeting continues to pile up and could not possibly damage relations with the successor governments to the Soviet Union.

This preposterous situation raises questions about the quality of the declassification review conducted by DOD reviewers of documents held by the National Archives.  For example, what kind of guidance was the reviewer following? One possibility is improper application of declassification guidance (whatever it may be).  Another, greater, possibility is that the guidance is so loose that overzealous reviewers can find anything to be properly classified.  One more, most likely, possibility is that declassification guidance since the 1990s, has become unreasonably exacting and what could be routinely declassified then is now regarded as properly classified. There may be other explanations, but what happened cannot produce confidence in the DOD’s declassification process, and NARA’s approval of it.  Indeed, the massive redactions are classic examples of all-too-often knee-jerk reactions by DOD reviewers against declassifying any substantive nuclear information.

These redactions also raise the question of whether or not reviewers of historical documents consult the FRUS? And if they don’t, why not? And if they did consult the FRUS, what was the point of the excisions? Plainly, declassification reviewers cannot know everything that has been declassified, but when they are reviewing historical records they ought to consult the FRUS.  It is, of course, possible that they did and decided they disagreed with the decision taken in the 1990s and made a futile protest by excising the document.  But the reviewers should be aware that no matter how sensitive these documents were during the Cold War, the same or similar information on U.S. nuclear delivery systems and their targets during the early 1960s has been declassified in a variety of places by the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Department over the years.

This is not a particularly extreme case; examples from the recent past suggest that over-classification is a characteristic of the Pentagon secrecy system. Yet it is difficult to know what can be done to fix that problem. A few years ago, the Department’s Inspector General’s Office conducted a study of over-classification but it eschewed a close look at declassification outcomes and instead focused on small bore issues. But even a hard-hitting IG report might not have enough traction to spur reform of the Pentagon’s entrenched secrecy culture.  Congress could help by imposing legislative requirements, such as the proposal to codify Attorney General Holder’s 2009 memorandum to the agencies. A sensible reform would be to empower the National Archives to oversee agencies’ review processes of historic documents, and ensure that declassification decisions do not fail the “laugh test;” that, however, the Pentagon (not to mention other agencies) would probably resist.  In all likelihood, more declassification travesties will occur before such reforms take place.

Movement on FOIA Improvement Act, US Ramping up National Security Reviews of Chinese Investments, US Ratification of Treaty Banning Torture Leaves Open Possible Loopholes, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 11/13/2014

November 13, 2014
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) and Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-CT) (R).  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) and Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-CT) (R). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Exciting news regarding the FOIA Improvement Act this week, as Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) office recently announced that the Senate Judiciary will vote on the bill next week. A statement issued by Leahy’s office says, “I have worked with Senator Cornyn for months on the FOIA Improvement Act. It has broad bipartisan support, including the support of Ranking Member Grassley.  Because of scheduling challenges in the Senate this Thursday, we are likely to hold the Committee markup off the floor this week. This FOIA bill should be debated in full public view, and so we will hold over our legislation this week so all members and the public can participate in this important debate. I expect the Judiciary Committee will approve our bipartisan legislation next week when the Committee meets at its regularly-scheduled time.” The Archive looks forward to the Judiciary vote next week, and thanks the Senators for continuing to support such an important piece of bipartisan (and bicameral) legislation.

The famed Waldorf Astoria hotel, whose purchase by a Chinese investment firm will be investigated by CFIUS. WikiImage.

The famed Waldorf Astoria hotel, whose purchase by a Chinese investment firm will be investigated by CFIUS. WikiImage.

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the D.C. Circuit ordered the Obama administration and the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is responsible for vetting foreign companies’ purchase of American ones, to explain why it denied a Chinese firm’s bid to purchase several Oregon wind farms. The ruling comes two years after Obama voided the initial sale on national security grounds “after the Navy objected that power windmills … would interfere with its test flights for drones and bomber squadrons at a naval site in northern Oregon.” An appeals court later ruled the action had violated the Chinese company’s constitutional due process rights.

CFIUS is also expected to investigate a Chinese insurance company’s planned purchase of New York City’s legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which routinely serves as a “home-away-from-home for presidents visiting New York.” The CFIUS noted in its last annual report to Congress in 2012 that “China surpassed Great Britain for the first time as the country with the most foreign investments subject to national security review.”

Obama administration delegates met with the UN committee that monitors international compliance with a treaty banning cruel treatment of prisoners this week. The Obama administration pivoted away from the Bush-era DOJ interpretation of the treaty that argued the treaty’s obligations do not apply to US actions abroad and that the US is not obligated “to bar cruelty outside its borders.” Instead, the Obama administration took the position that the treaty applies to anywhere the US exercises governmental authority. This, however, still appears to exclude “black site” prisons and American military detention centers that exist “on the sovereign territory of other governments.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants her committee's CIA torture report declassified this month. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants her committee’s CIA torture report declassified this month. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release the executive summary of its scathing report on the CIA’s torture program this month. While this is not the first time the Committee has announced its plans to release the summary, it’s likely Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wants to declassify it while she maintains the committee chair. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who is poised replace Feinstein in the new congressional session and has an ACLU score of 0%, commented after Senator Feinstein’s blistering Senate-floor attack on the CIA’s spying on committee staff while it completed its report this March that, “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly.”

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled last week that the military does not need to modify the way it force-feeds Guantanamo detainee Abi Wa’el Dhiab. Dhiab is appealing the ruling, arguing that the military’s techniques are torturous. It is unclear what role the 28 videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, which Kessler ordered be released in October, had on her ruling, or if they were released at all.

A recent New York Times editorial chided the Obama administration for continuing its failed efforts to promote regime change in Cuba – efforts that have cost $264 million over the last 18 years. Two such campaigns include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plan to employ Costa Rican, Peruvian, and Venezuelan youths to participate in Cuban HIV prevention programs (called the “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists) as a cover for US-sponsored anti-Cuban activism that was revealed in an August 4, 2014, Associated Press story, and the USAID’s  sham “Cuban Twitter” account intended to stir political unrest in the communist country, a plan that Senate Judiciary Committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy called cockamamie and said had not been described adequately to Congress after the story broke this April.

Loretta Lynch, reportedly Obama’s candidate for replacing Attorney General Eric Holder, has “little to no” background in national security law. It’s an interesting choice considering Holder’s tenure was rife with national security debates, including targeted drone killing of American citizens, the legal obstacles surrounding closing Guantanamo, and defending the legality of the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance of American citizens.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  November, 1964.

Hoover’s “abnormal beast,” Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. November, 1964.

History professor Beverly Gage recently uncovered an uncensored letter from an unnamed author, later revealed to be FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to Martin Luther King, Jr. “tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives.” The letter, previously only available in heavily redacted form, is commonly referred to as the “suicide letter” for its vague warning that King should kill himself. The uncensored version contains “explicit allegations about King’s sex life, rendered in the racially charged language of the Jim Crow era” and “offers a potent warning for readers today about the danger of domestic surveillance in an age with less reserved mass media.”

This week the Archive is proud to announce the publication of two new documents sets through the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) with the help of our partners at ProQuest. Electronic Surveillance and the National Security Agency: From Shamrock to Snowden, represents the most comprehensive collection of leaked and declassified records on the controversial subject of electronic surveillance, and The Kissinger Conversations updates the Archive’s substantial body of documents focusing on Kissinger’s roles in policymaking and diplomacy under presidents Nixon and Ford.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Archive posted a collection of formerly secret documents from Soviet, German, U.S., Czechoslovak and Hungarian files to its website this week. The documents show “the historic events of the night of November 9, 1989, came about from accident and contingency, rather than conspiracy or strategy,” and that the Wall’s actual collapse “began with Hungarian Communist reformers who proposed in early 1989 to open their borders to the West, while seeking particularly West German foreign investment to solve Hungary’s economic crisis. Hungarian Communist leaders checked in with Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1989, letting him know they planned to take down the barbed wire; and Gorbachev — true to his ‘common European home’ rhetoric — responded only that ‘we have a strict regime on our borders, but we are also becoming more open.’ The Hungarian decision sparked a stream and then a flood of East German refugees.”

Morris Childs, photo circa 1940s. WikiImage.

Morris Childs, photo circa 1940s. WikiImage.

This week’s #tbt document pick is chosen with Hoover’s hatred of MLK in mind, and highlights brothers Morris and Jack Childs, together codenamed SOLO, who were the “FBI’s most valued secret agents of the Cold War.” This week’s pick is the SOLO file, nearly 7,000 pages cataloging the Childs brothers’ reports to J. Edgar Hoover dating back to 1958, which include “the origins of Hoover’s hatred for Martin Luther King, some convincing reasons for Dwight Eisenhower’s decision to hold off on the CIA’s plans to invade Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and the beginnings of Richard Nixon’s thoughts about a détente with the Soviets.”

Happy FOIA-ing!

The Kissinger Conversations: New Compilation to Update Archive’s Substantial Collection of Kissinger Documents

November 10, 2014
US News and World Report Collection, Library of Congress

US News and World Report Collection, Library of Congress

On November 12, 2014, the National Security Archive will publish a new compilation of documents on Henry Kissinger, the larger-than-life statesman who remains one of the most controversial figures in the history of modern U.S. foreign relations and whose tenure as national security advisor and secretary of state continues to be seen as a defining moment for America’s global position. The collection is being published through the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) with the help of our partners at ProQuest.

The new collection, The Kissinger Conversations, Supplement: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977, totals more than 600 documents and updates the National Security Archive’s substantial body of documents focusing on Kissinger’s roles in policymaking and diplomacy under presidents Nixon and Ford.

The collection includes freshly declassified memoranda of telephone conversation (telcons) and memoranda of conversations (memcons) of National Security Council and State Department meetings and overseas trips. Most of the telcons and many of the memcons were declassified at the specific request of the National Security Archive, which has earned far-reaching praise for its work on the Kissinger period. A substantial number of the telcons from the Ford administration are the result of a Freedom of Information appeal filed in 2007 (over 600 more remain to be released). The topics discussed in the documents cover a wide range of Nixon and Ford administration concerns, including the Vietnam War and related military actions in Laos and Cambodia; Middle East peace talks; conflicts in Jordan, Cyprus, and Angola; the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks; international terrorism; and U.S. government surveillance of American citizens. Other topics include economic warfare against Chile during the Allende years; Kissinger’s trips to Latin America; and the 1971 South Asia crisis.

Some of the telcons from 1976 stem from Kissinger’s search for legal advice against a lawsuit filed by former NSC staffer Morton Halperin who had been wiretapped on Kissinger’s instructions. The nearly verbatim nature of Kissinger’s telephone conversations and meetings provides unparalleled insights into the U.S. policy process, notably presidential decision-making, and the extensive interaction between Kissinger and his high-level interlocutors make the memcons a critically important source not only for the study of U.S. diplomatic and military history but also for other fields of history and the social sciences, including:

  • Wars in Indochina: not only Vietnam, but also Laos and Cambodia, and the White House’s role in managing United States military operations in these countries, including the final stages of these conflicts
  • U.S.-Soviet détente and Kissinger’s conduct of “back channel” diplomacy with the Soviet leadership
  • U.S.-China rapprochement and attempts to normalize diplomatic relations
  • developments in South Asia, including the 1971 India-Pakistan war and the Nixon/Kissinger tilt to Pakistan during that crisis
  • the Middle East, including U.S. conduct during the 1973 October War and Kissinger’s role in shuttle diplomacy during 1974-1975
  • revolutions in Portugal and its colonies and U.S. policy toward the ensuing political crisis in Portugal and the civil war in Angola
  • Latin America, including Kissinger’s meetings with regional leaders during 1976 visits
  • U.S.-European relations, including policy coordination and consultations on a variety of “hot spots” and “hot issues,” including the rise of Euro-Communism
  • the 1974 Cyprus crisis and U.S. relations with Greece and Turkey
  • international economic, energy, and raw materials policies

The Archive has previously published two massive collections documenting Kissinger’s interaction with foreign leaders and diplomats as well as U.S. government officials. The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1976 includes 2,163 transcripts of Kissinger’s meetings and The Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977 comprises 15,502 detailed records of his telephone conversations. These two collections represent an invaluable source for research on U.S. diplomatic and military history during the late 1960s and the 1970s.

If you don’t already have DNSA, sign up for a free trial today

The CIA’s Plan to Destroy its Email Records, Judge Scolds Govt. for Redacting Portions of Drone Doc Containing “Not a Whit of Classified Material,” and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 11/6/2014

November 6, 2014

NARA’s appraisal of the CIA’s request to destroy large portions of its email records. The determination? Approved.

The National Security Archive joined 16 other groups this week in asking the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to deny the CIA’s request for increased authority to destroy its email records. Steven Aftergood first reported the CIA proposal, and NARA’s tentative agreement, to allow the agency the authority to destroy all emails sent by non-senior officials at the agency this October. The proposal, now open for public comment, was announced in the Federal Register on September 17  — just one day before the agency posted a trove of articles to its website only after a District Court judge admonished it for erecting needless and lengthy hurdles to its electronic records. The Archive and its colleagues ask NARA to postpone a final decision on the CIA’s request until, at the very least, NARA reviews a sample of CIA emails to ensure that no unique, historically valuable material will be destroyed; the CIA finally answers NARA’s requests to account for its 2005 destruction of videotapes showing waterboarding and other torture methods, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence publishes the Executive Summary of its study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The Southern District Court of New York reached a partial decision in a pair of concurrent FOIA lawsuits for government documents on drone killings this week, and ordered a set of legal opinions from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel to be released (the remaining documents will be ruled on later). Presiding Judge Colleen McMahon said in a memo accompanying the order “I disagree with the Government’s redaction of the bulk of the first full paragraph and the second and third paragraphs on page 9, which as drafted by this court contain not a whit of classified material (the Government does not suggest otherwise), and which I do not believe would tend to reveal any classified information.”

Anwar al-Awlaki (left) and editor Samir Khan (right). Photo: ABC News.

Anwar al-Awlaki (left) and editor Samir Khan (right). Photo: ABC News.

Jason Leopold has posted a new batch of FBI documents on Samir Khan, the North Carolina man killed in the same 2011 CIA drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, to his new FOIA blog for Vice News, Primary Sources. One document detailing the bureau’s Charlotte field office request to monitor Kahn via Closed Circuit Television from a location where “there would not be a reasonable expectation of privacy” argues that because the monitoring would be done in public and “because Khan was the subject of a criminal investigation ‘the provisions of the Attorney General’s Guidelines for Foreign Intelligence and Foreign Counterintelligence investigations do not apply,’” and the FBI therefore wouldn’t need a warrant from a surveillance court to monitor Khan. The 250 pages of heavily redacted documents further “reveal that the bureau had grown increasingly concerned over Khan’s anti-American screeds posted to his blog and determined he was a serious threat.” The FBI withheld the remaining 700 pages on the grounds that their release would harm national security.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is reporting, in a move some advocates call religious profiling, that Muslim communities nationwide are facing increased pressure by the FBI to produce informants to help the law enforcement agency fight Islamic extremism. While an FBI spokesperson says the bureau is operating under standard procedure, attorney Jennifer Wicks with CAIR’s civil rights department counters “the FBI’s over-broad and coercive use of informants in mosques, reports of outreach meetings being used for intelligence gathering and other acts of abuse demonstrate that community leaders should engage legal professionals to ensure the protection of their rights and those of their congregations.”

Facebook’s latest transparency report reveals government requests worldwide for the site’s user data increased 24% in the last six months, with U.S. government requests accounting for nearly half. The company reported it complied with 80% of requests for user information.

Do as I say Not as I do: Leon Panetta holds a copy of The Washington Post reporting Osama bin Laden's death. Courtesy of the Panetta Institute

Do as I say Not as I do: Leon Panetta holds a copy of The Washington Post reporting Osama bin Laden’s death.
Courtesy of the Panetta Institute

In the wake of former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette’s publication of his book of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, “No Easy Day,” which is still being investigated for its possible disclosure of classified material, the SEALs are warning its members “not to disclose classified information for publicity or cash.” Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently “scolded” Bissonnette for publishing his account of the raid, even though while he was CIA director Panetta gave his “full approval/support” to granting Hollywood filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal extensive access to CIA files and personnel for their film on the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, despite the fact most of these files remain classified and shielded from the public.

U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Ted Branch, head of Naval intelligence, hasn’t been allowed to view classified information for over a year in connection to bribery scandal concerning the contracting firm Glenn Defense Marine Asia. This means that Branch cannot attend intelligence briefs, that he must leave the room if classified intelligence is discussed, and that subordinates’ offices must be scrubbed of classified material before he visits. According to Defense News, “In the year since, no charges have been filed and there is no sense of when they might be, leaving the Navy in an untenable situation.”

The DOD has been forced to scale back its plans to assemble an overseas spy agency, the Defense Clandestine Service, initially intended to rival the CIA. Plans for the service “called for moving as many as 1,000 undercover case officers overseas to work alongside the CIA and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command on counterterrorism missions and other targets of broad national security concern.” That number has been cut to 500 after opposition from lawmakers who found such a large program uneconomical and unnecessary.

In a recent posting for Unredacted, Archive Deputy Director Malcolm Byrne addresses one of the lingering mysteries from the Iran-Contra scandal: who leaked the original story of the Reagan administration’s secret negotiations with Iran over the fate of American hostages being held by forces in Lebanon? In the posting Byrne debunks a recently declassified CIA Studies in Intelligence article that theorized the Syrian regime was responsible for the leaks.



This week’s #tbt document pick is chosen to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the animated version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which the CIA helped fund as part of its anti-Communist propaganda campaign. Specifically, this week’s #tbt pick is a CIA article excerpted from a larger classified draft study that documents the agency’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, which, along with helping fund Animal Farm, tried to advance American ideology abroad during the 1950s by funding artistic endeavors, including Britain’s Encounter magazine, the Paris Review, and spending millions to subsidize NYC’s abstract expressionist movement.

Happy FOIA-ing!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 474 other followers