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FBI Creates Fake Bomb Story and Attributes it to AP, Post-Snowden Leaker, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 10/30/2014

October 30, 2014
American Civil Liberties Union chief technologist Christopher Soghoian tweets the link to the phony documents.

American Civil Liberties Union chief technologist Christopher Soghoian tweets the link to documents on the phony story.

In 2007 the FBI created a fake story on bomb threats made at a Seattle-area high school, attributed it to the Associated Press (AP), and then sent it in a private MySpace message to the student suspected of making the threats against the school. “By clicking on the link, the suspect unwittingly downloaded a piece of malware, a computer bug that enabled agents to identify his Internet protocol address.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained hundreds of pages of documents on the story through the FOIA, and the AP has since issued a statement saying that the FBI’s actions “violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.” This revelation comes on the heels of reports that a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent impersonated a young woman on Facebook, posted racy photos of her and pictures of her underage son and niece on the social media site, all as part of a drug investigation.

The FBI recently searched a Northern Virginia home in connection to a “second leaker” who leaked classified information on the government’s terror watch list to the news media. The leaked information appeared in an August 5 Intercept article, which cites classified government documents on the National Counterterrorism Center’s databases that “provides a statistical breakdown of the types of people whose names and personal information appear on two government data networks listing people with supposed connections to militants.” The documents 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; they are permitted to travel through American airspace but receive extra scrutiny at security checkpoints.”

Postal workers in Virginia. Photo: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times.

Postal workers in Virginia. Photo: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times.

A recent United States Postal Service Inspector General audit reveals the agency approved 50,000 requests from law enforcement and its own inspectors to monitor Americans’ mail service last year. Though the postal service’s program, called “mail covers,” has played an important, if largely unnoticed, surveillance role since 9/11, the numbers are higher than expected. Combined with documents the New York Times obtained under the FOIA, the audit depicts a generally lax attitude towards the program’s oversight, and “that in many cases the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual’s mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization.”

Dutch prosecutors investigating the crash of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine this July are still waiting for the promised US intelligence reports on the incident, which killed 298 people. The US previously asserted it had intelligence on the crash, and “said its satellite imagery proved it was shot down with a ground-to-air missile by Russian-backed rebels.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigator who led the 2012 internal investigation of the Secret Service’s prostitution scandal has resigned amid his own prostitution scandal. Investigator David Nieland, who “has been at the center of a dispute over whether the Obama administration tried to cover up the involvement of a volunteer member of a White House advance team in the scandal that resulted in the firing of eight Secret Service agents who were on assignment in Cartagena, Colombia,” was recently identified by his local sheriff’s department as having visited a building under surveillance as part of a prostitution sting. When sheriff deputies stopped him afterwards, Nieland said his visit was part of a DHS undercover human trafficking investigation. DHS contacted the sheriff’s office after learning Nieland had been stopped by police, when they were informed by the sheriff’s office that Nieland had been identified by one of the prostitutes under surveillance as having paid for sex. Nieland resigned from his post in August citing health problems.

Undated image obtained by the AP shows the cover sheet of a slide presentation prepared by Russell Richardson, who was the science adviser to the Army Intelligence and Security Command.

Undated image obtained by the AP shows the cover sheet of a slide presentation prepared by Russell Richardson, who was the science adviser to the Army Intelligence and Security Command.

A recent AP expose argued the revolving door between the military and defense companies participating in the Army’s $5 billion Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) “perpetuates a culture of failure.” DCGS was “conceived a decade ago as a way to link the military’s disparate sensors and databases, allowing troops to process and integrate intelligence from electronic intercepts, overhead imagery, spy reports and other sources.” Instead, however, the system has largely failed to make data accessible to those working in the field, and was described as “crash-prone, unwieldy and ‘not survivable,’ in the words of one memorable 2012 testing report.” Defense contracting companies have made millions off the program, however, and the military continues to amply fund the system.

The British Archive has declassified the first page of a paramount Able Archer 83 report in response to Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones’ FOI request, but withheld the remainder of “The Detection of Soviet Preparations for War Against NATO,” leaving key questions about the nuclear war scare – at least for now – unanswered. Jones has already appealed the denial in hopes to unseal information “on the specific ‘unprecedented’ Soviet reaction to a NATO command post nuclear release exercise that utilized ‘new nuclear weapons release procedures’ at the height of the Era of Renewed Confrontation.”

Declassified CIA and FBI documents obtained through the FOIA and other sources show that the US government relied more on Nazis as Cold War spies than previously thought, working with as many as 1,000 Nazis, including one former SS official the CIA recruited as a spy in the 1950s despite knowing he was probably guilty of “minor war crimes.” The effort to declassify these documents was led by “Richard Breitman, a Holocaust scholar at American University who was on a government-appointed team that declassified war-crime records.”

nytleakWith these recent declassifications in mind, today’s #tbt document pick is the DOJ’s Office of Special Investigations 2006 candid history of the US government’s Nazi-hunting (and Nazi-protecting) – the leaked version, that is. In 2010 the Department of Justice used the b(5) “withhold it because you want to” FOIA exemption to censor dozens of pages of the history “to such a self-defeating extent that former officials leaked the entire document to the New York Times.” The Archive had submitted a FOIA request for the history in November 2009, only to be denied by the Justice Department on grounds that the document – although completed in 2006 and never revised since then – was only a draft and was “predecisional” and therefore withholdable under the b(5) exemption. Only after the Archive filed its lawsuit did the Justice Department begin to “process” the document for release –though ultimately making the document incomprehensible with the extensive misapplication of b(5). Fortunately, a Department of Justice employee leaked a copy of this history to the public.

Happy FOIA-ing!

25 Years after the Berlin Wall:  GWU Panel to Examine Challenges of Scholarship Since Communism’s Collapse

October 30, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 11.07.16 AMNational Security Archive Executive Director Tom Blanton will moderate an exciting panel on the research challenges scholars face studying Russia/the former Soviet Union and Central/Eastern Europe in the years since the collapse of communism. The panel, which will include Archive Senior Analyst Svetlana Savranskaya and professors Jim Hershberg, Sharon Wolchik, and Robert W. Orttung, will be held on November 6 at GWU’s Gelman Library.

The panel coincides with the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet-led communist bloc in Eastern Europe – 1989 was the annis mirabilis, the year of miracles, that witnessed political revolutions in several countries whose populations demanded a change from decades of one-party rule to more representative multiparty systems.  Poland was the first to hold partially free elections (in June), followed by similar expressions of independence in Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania.  Only Romania experienced violent upheaval as a defining element of its transformation.

Political change soon led to dramatic, if in some cases short-lived, access to the previously hidden history of the region. A wave of international scholarly and public interest in every aspect of life under the old regimes helped uncover archival jewels few ever expected would see daylight. Former representatives of the powers-that-were joined in the act, giving interviews and pumping out memoirs that tended to be self-serving but inevitably added important perspective to the world’s attempts to understand the communist period. In some instances, such as East Germany, the need to be rid of historical burdens prompted extraordinary feats of openness – the laying bare of the Stasi files, for example. Elsewhere, as in Russia, reflexive political instincts snapped back into place, slamming shut key archives before they could be fully explored.

This incomplete and uneven access has been a nagging frustration for scholars. Even the most open governments shield their particular secrets, including those dating from the Cold War. But the most critical gaps and questions that still loom from that period tend to relate to the Soviet bloc and to the attitudes and policy choices of those regimes’ elites.  Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the distinguished scholars named above will look back at the experiences of the past generation of scholarship about the Communist era, and offer their first-hand assessments of its successes, shortfalls, impact and evolution since the demise of that system.

The event promises to be an eye-opening journey through history, the politics of memory, and the challenges of academic inquiry in a part of the world that in some respects is still finding its way out of its past.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Gelman Library, Room 702

The George Washington University

In Second Meeting, FOIA Advisory Committee Tackles Litigation Review, 508 Compliance, and Fee Issues

October 29, 2014
Image from FOIA Advisory Committees second Meeting. Video for meeting found here:, note that audio begins around the 32 minute mark.

Image from FOIA Advisory Committee’s second Meeting. Video for meeting found here:, note that audio begins around the 32 minute mark.

The FOIA Advisory Committee, established by the second Open Government National Action Plan and tasked to “advise on improvements to FOIA administration,” held its second meeting last week. The Committee consists of ten government and ten non-governmental FOIA experts – including the Archive’s FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones – and previously identified FOIA oversight and accountability, proactive disclosures, and fee issues as their primary focus areas. Their latest meeting was dedicated to subcommittee reports on these issues, including the alluring possibilities of  conducting a litigation review, easing 508 compliance, and addressing FOIA fee issues and fee-related animosity. Now that the Committee has accurately assessed the greatest areas of concern, the coming months and meetings will tell if the Committee has the tools to fix them.

The subcommittee on FOIA oversight and accountability reported several steps would need to be taken to determine how to improve both, including identifying what current authorities for oversight exist, and areas where there are opportunities for additional oversight. Most importantly, however, the FOIA oversight and accountability subcommittee suggested evaluating past litigation review efforts to determine if another review is necessary to cut down on litigation and increase administrative solutions to FOIA disputes. This is a crucial step as the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) current stance on FOIA disputes is a “defend everything” one. While the 1993 FOIA litigation review “of the merits of all pending and prospective FOIA litigation cases in accordance with the Department’s new FOIA policy standards” conducted by Attorney General Janet Reno led to the “complete resolution” of more than a dozen FOIA lawsuits, there has been no evidence that the Department of Justice has conducted a similar review since the beginning of the Obama administration. Additionally, despite a pledge from DOJ Office of Information Policy (OIP) director Melanie Pustay to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee a list of all FOIA cases that the DOJ has refused to defend, no such list has been presented to the public. Conducting a full litigation review would go a long way to strengthen the government’s and the Department of Justice’s commitment to FOIA.

The State Departments Electronic Reading Room.

The State Department’s Electronic Reading Room.

The proactive disclosure subcommittee, which is interested in finding a data set of raw requests to help determine how agencies can best “preemptively post[] sought-after government information online,” noted the FOIA already requires two kinds of proactive disclosures. The first concerns various types of information agencies must publish in their federal register chapters, and the second details information agencies must publish in their electronic reading rooms – including “frequently requested records,” which OIP defines  as records that have been requested three or more times. It is understandably time-consuming for agencies to develop a system that keeps track of how often a record has been released, which is in part why agencies rarely do so and are often in breech of the law. Posting FOIA releases online after the first release would solve this problem. There are several agencies that do this to different degrees; the Environmental Protection Agency and several other agencies post their FOIA releases to FOIAonline, and the Department of State posts documents released in response to FOIA requests quarterly.

According to many inside the government, one of the primary challenges to improving proactive disclosures across the government is ensuring that the posted documents are “508 compliant,” which refers to a 1998 statute requiring federal agencies “to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.” While many agencies argue that making documents 508 compliant is too burdensome, all documents posted to FOIAonline are 508 compliant, as are the documents posted by the Department of State, and every document created electronically by the US government after 1998 should already be 508 compliant. A 2010 Department of Homeland Security guide also shows that making documents 508 compliant is not taxing, and even old paper records that are scanned to be processed through FOIA can be made 508 compliant with just a few clicks in Adobe Acrobat.  If it’s possible to make older documents that were scanned from paper 508 compliant, there should be, at the very least, no such excuse with digital records.

From OIPs FY2013 FOIA Summary.

From OIP’s FY2013 FOIA Summary.

Finally, the subcommittee addressing fee issues reinforced the need to reduce fee-related animosity. OIP’s Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2013 noted that the amount agencies recouped through FOIA fees in FY2013 “amounts to just less than 1% of the total costs related to the government’s FOIA activities,” which begs the obvious question of how necessary fees are in the first place. From the perspective of the requester community, charging fees can be seen as a ploy to discourage FOIA requests, while FOIA officers argue fees are a necessary tool to encourage requesters to narrow the scope of their requests.

A brief debate took place during this subcommittee report concerning agencies charging fees when they’ve missed their 20-day deadline to process a FOIA request. The 2007 OPEN Government Act mandates that agencies are not allowed to charge search and reproduction fees if an agency misses their deadline to process a FOIA request — something that some argue agencies should explicitly state in their communication with requesters –, however many agencies have eluded this fee improvement simply by labeling requests as “unusual” and claiming that these “unusual” requests are unprotected by Congress’s legislation.  Anne Weismann from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) astutely noted that the debate was symptomatic of precisely the kind of frequent animosity that occurs over fees before agencies even begin processing FOIA requests. At the very least, this subcommittee has pledged to find ways to reduce disputes over fees by clarifying several issues, including the practice of charging FOIA fees if agencies miss their response deadlines.

The FOIA Advisory Committee has aptly identified the key areas in need of fixing. Hopefully it will be able to discuss these solutions in the open online and subsequently “deliver solutions,” –not just discuss them. The Committee’s next meeting will be held January 27, 2015, and will be live-streamed.

First Page of Paramount Able Archer 83 Report Declassified by British Archive; Remainder of “The Detection of Soviet Preparations for War Against NATO” Withheld.

October 27, 2014


I recently ripped open a package shipped across the pond (for considerable pounds) from the British National Archive.  My heart accelerated as I read the title of the first page, “The Detection of Soviet Preparations for War Against NATO.”  This was it; the first comprehensive report of the Soviet response to Able Archer 83; information on the specific “unprecedented” Soviet reaction to a NATO command post nuclear release exercise that utilized “new nuclear weapons release procedures” at the height of the Era of Renewed Confrontation.  I flipped the page to read the specific evidence on just how dangerous what is now called the 1983 Able Archer Nuclear War Scare actually was.  Did the newly declassified evidence confirm that the Soviets “believe[d] that the situation was very dangerous?”  Or were they just “rattling their pots and pans?

My racing heart sank as I turned the page and realized that these questions would, at least for now, remain unanswered.  The British National Archive had released only the cover page of the report.  The rest of this key historic document –despite its age of over thirty years and the British government’s professed and lauded “Thirty-Year Rule”– remains censored by the British Cabinet Office.

Despite the Cabinet Office’s attempt to obscure Britain’s role in alerting the United States to the nuclear danger that Able Archer 83 may have provoked, documents released last year by the British Ministry of Defence to Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service show that the above JIC report was drafted in response to “an unprecedented Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83 and other reports of alleged concern about a surprise NATO attack.”

“…urgently consider how to approach the Americans on the question of possible Soviet misapprehensions about a surprise NATO attack.”

This evidence was crafted into a Joint Intelligence Committee report labeled JIC84)(N)451.  The indications and warnings of Soviet fear of a Western attack were then discussed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, head of the Ministry of Defence Michael Heseltine, and Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary Geoffrey Howe in early May of 1984.  At the conclusion of the meeting, Thatcher “said that officials should urgently consider how to approach the Americans on the question of possible Soviet misapprehensions about a surprise NATO attack.”


“In response to  British concerns…”

A May 28, 1984, US Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research memo to Secretary of State George Shultz confirms that the warning reached US officials: “In response to British concerns, the Intelligence Community undertook a detailed review of recent Soviet military and political moves beginning with exercise ‘Able Archer 83.’  The result was a Special National Intelligence Estimate addressing these developments.”2

This top secret SNIE 11-10-84/JX, now largely declassified, used British and US intelligence to report the “elaborate” Soviet reaction to this exercise included “increased intelligence collection flights, and the placing of Soviet air units in East Germany and Poland on heightened readiness in what was declared to be a threat of possible aggression against the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries.”  The US SNIE acknowledged that “since November 1983 there has been a high level of Soviet military activity, with new deployments of weapons and strike forces” but concluded that “[w]e believe strongly that Soviet actions are not inspired by, and Soviet leaders do not perceive, a genuine danger of imminent conflict or confrontation with the United States.”


…”A rather stunning array of indicators”

A memo for the President and key cabinet officials written less than a month after the SNIE by the Director of the CIA William Casey included a different and more concerning conclusion.  He, again likely drawing from the still-classified JIC report, warned of “a rather stunning array of indicators of an increasing aggressiveness in Soviet policy and activities.”  He concluded that “[t]he behavior of the armed forces is perhaps the most disturbing. From the operational deployment of submarines to the termination of harvest support to the delayed troop rotation there is a central theme of not being strategically vulnerable, even if it means taking some risks… The military behaviors we have observed involve high military costs … adding thereby a dimension of genuineness to the Soviet expressions of concern that is often not reflected in intelligence issuances.”

The same debate within the US and British governments over the extent of the Soviet “dimension of genuineness” of fear of a NATO attack is now continued by historians.  To answer criticisms that the study of the Able Archer War Scare was “an echo chamber of inadequate research and misguided analysis” and “circle reference dependency,” with an over reliance upon “the same scanty evidence,” the National Security Archive has posted and analyzed more than 1,000 pages of declassified documents on the topic.

But this key document’s withholding3 continues to obscure understanding of one of the most important nuclear episodes in our history.  As we wrote in our pending appeal to the British Information Commissioner, the British Cabinet Office’s decision to continue withholding this thirty year document –especially considering the multitude of other British, American, Russian, German, and former Eastern Bloc releases– harms the public interest and obscures history.

It’s sadly ironic that the government which first alerted the US to the potential nuclear danger of Able Archer 83 is now leading in its concealment.

1. There is a discrepancy between the titles reference in these documents.  The MOD documents, released last year refer to a document entitled”JIC(84)(N)45 Soviet Union: Concern About a Surprise NATO Attack,” while the cover page released from the National Archive is “JIC(84)5 The Detection of Soviet Preparations for War Against NATO.” I postulate that the two titles evolved over the drafting process but refer to the same document.  Of course, despite the similarity of the titles and date ranges it is possible that two distinct documents exist.  Only declassification will answer this question.

2. In “Countdown to Declassification” for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, I wrote that this same document described the creation of an additional “sanitized version” of this SNIE, marked “secret” rather than “top secret,” for circulation among “NATO ministerial colleagues.”   This sanitized version removed all mentions of Able Archer 83 and the Soviet response to that exercise –the very reason the estimate was drafted– and hid the increased danger the NATO exercise had engendered from the very countries that participated in it.  Part of the reason for this sanitization was to protect the MI6 source inside the KGB, Oleg Gordievsky. But clearly, some US policy makers also did not want to tell their NATO allies that Able Archer 83 may have increased the risk of nuclear war, because doing so might have caused some of those allies to reconsider decisions to deploy nuclear-armed US cruise and Pershing II missiles on their territory.

3. There is one additional document which may be as important as this JIC report.  It is the most comprehensive known US government evaluation of the War Scare, a 110-page report produced by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and authored by Nina Stewart. It was completed on February 15, 1990, and forwarded to President George H.W. Bush. Despite the public historical debate over the 1983 War Scare, declassification of other War Scare documents, and repeated FOIA and MDR requests (dating back to 2006) for the document, this illuminating PFIAB report remains locked from public view, a victim of the United States’ broken declassification system.  The National Security Archive is anxiously waiting for this case to come before the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), housed at NARA, which we sometimes call (in the spirit of gallows’ humor) “the secrecy court of last resort.” Fritz Ermarth, the primary author of the CIA’s 1984 initial Special National Intelligence Estimate on the War Scare has written, “If it hasn’t already been, [the PFIAB] report should be declassified as much as possible … the historical work done since then suggests [it] had a point, and it is worth pursuing further.” The Archive has posted an interview with one of this elusive PFIAB report’s authors, describing that the “retrospective view of the PFIAB, [was] that [the] war scare was an expression of a genuine belief on the part of Soviet leaders that US was planning a nuclear first strike, causing Sov[iet] military to prepare for this eventuality, for example by readying forces for a Sov[iet] preemptive strike. If so, war scare a cause for concern.”

Leon Panetta Flouts CIA Review Board Over $3 Million Book Deal, Moonlighting at the NSA, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 10/23/2014

October 23, 2014
Leon Panetta holds a copy of The Washington Post reporting Osama bin Laden's death. Courtesy of the Panetta Institute

Leon Panetta holds a copy of The Washington Post reporting Osama bin Laden’s death.
Courtesy of the Panetta Institute

Former CIA director Leon Panetta, in what appears to be a violation of the secrecy agreement that requires all past and present CIA employees to submit any agency-related material that they “contemplate disclosing publicly” to the CIA’s Publications Review Board for approval, allowed his publisher to begin making copies of his memoir before it cleared the review process. Panetta was willing to challenge the agency review process over his book, Worthy Fights, which he received a $3 million book deal for, despite the fact that while serving as Secretary of Defense he “scolded” ex-SEAL Matt Bissonnette for publishing his account of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and said of a book written by a former CIA official against agency wishes that “CIA officers are duty-bound to observe the terms of their secrecy agreement with the agency.” Despite being “duty-bound” to secrecy, while 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, even though most of these files remain shielded from the public.

Panetta allegedly grew “so frustrated with CIA delays and demands for redactions that he appealed to CIA Director John Brennan and threatened to proceed with publication without clearance from the agency.” Panetta’s frustration likely had something to do with Publications Review Board’s nonsensical ban on “references to CIA operations, including drone strikes, even when they have been mentioned by the president and documented extensively in the news media.” For example, even though Panetta publically commented on the CIA’s lethal drone campaign while manning the agency, comments that were so extensive that the American Civil Liberties Union argued in court the program could no longer be considered a government secret, “CIA drone strikes and other operations are described only obliquely” in his memoir.

Former NSA director Alexander, seen here in a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, June 2, 2014, did everything right but is going to stop doing it anyway because he might get in trouble...Photo Credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS

Former NSA director Alexander, seen here in a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, June 2, 2014, did everything right but is going to stop doing it anyway because he might get in trouble…Photo Credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS

IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, led by the former head of the National Security Agency (NSA), Keith Alexander, has ended its moonlighting agreement with a current agency official after the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it would investigate the arrangement. The Committee specifically wanted to examine the NSA’s “internal review” of the agreement that would have allowed Patrick Dowd, the NSA’s chief technical officer, to work 20 hours a week for Alexander’s company. Alexander announced the decision to end the arrangement by saying, “While we understand we did everything right, I think there’s still enough issues out there that create problems for Dr. Dowd, for NSA, for my company.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program does not address the oversight role of the White House and or Bush “administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture,” according to recent McClatcy reporting. Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said that if this is the case it is “then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report.” The Senate report also does not recommend any new punishments or further criminal inquiries into the program.

Poland is appealing the European Court of Human Rights ruling that it violated its human rights commitments by allowing the CIA to maintain a secret “black prison” site on Polish territory as part of the CIA’s post-9/11 extraordinary rendition program. Poland continues to insist it never allowed the CIA to operate such a facility, despite the 2008 admission by CIA officials to the AP that a prison operated in Poland “from December 2002 until the fall of 2003.” Human rights groups believe more than a handful of terror suspects were held there, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

In a significant reversal from the stance President Obama took as a Senator, the White House may reaffirm a Bush-era interpretation of a torture treaty arguing that its obligations do not apply to US actions abroad, and that the US is not obligated “to bar cruelty outside its borders.” The administration will be forced to declare a position on the treaty before it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture next month. Debate surrounding the limitations of the torture treaty trace back to a leaked 2005 Department of Justice memo addressed to then White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales “that narrowly interpreted a statute banning torture. The memo’s focus on determining exactly what constituted torture was puzzling because the treaty made cruelty short of torture illegal, too. The mystery was solved when Mr. Gonzales revealed that Justice Department lawyers had concluded that the treaty’s cruelty ban did not protect noncitizens in American custody abroad.”

Bradlee and WaPo publisher Katharine Graham leave the U.S. District Court in D.C. on June 21, 1971. The newspaper got the go-ahead to print the Pentagon Papers. AP photo

Bradlee and WaPo publisher Katharine Graham leave the U.S. District Court in D.C. on June 21, 1971. The newspaper got the go-ahead to print the Pentagon Papers. AP photo

Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post who directed the paper’s Watergate coverage and ran the Pentagon Papers, died at the age of 93. Years after former solicitor general Erwin Griswold argued before the Supreme Court that publishing the Pentagon Papers could harm national security, a case the government lost 6-3, Griswold admitted, “I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication.”

The FOIA Advisory Committee, established by the second Open Government National Action Plan and charged to improve FOIA administration, met for the second time earlier this week. The committee is comprised of ten government officials and ten non-government experts, including the Archive’s FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones, and discussed fee issues, a FOIA litigation review, and proactive disclosures. Unredacted will post a more thorough analysis of this second meeting next week.

Arhivist Jeff Richelson’s latest posting for the Nuclear Vault examines documents detailing the origins and functions of the NSA’s Defense Special Missile and Aerospace Center (DEFSMAC), which was created to cover Soviet missile launches and now tracks missile launches worldwide 24/7. DEFSMAC, “little known to the public,” provides alerts on missile launches ranging from Chinese ICBMs to Iraqi short-range ballistic missiles during the first Gulf War.

nytHolzerSunday’s issue of T: The New York Times Style Magazine features a spectacular orange page designed by the artist Jenny Holzer showcasing the National Security Archive. The Times asked Holzer and 14 other prominent artists to produce a page apiece in an “Advertisements for Myself” series. Holzer devoted her page to a Malevich-style block of orange color with only the words “The National Security Archive” and URLs for the Archive’s main Web site and online donation site.

Today’s #tbt document pick, chosen with Leon Panetta’s lucrative book deal and support for the makers of Zero Dark Thirty in mind, is a June 15, 2011, email from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson to Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes assuring Rhodes that the ZD30 project had the “full knowledge and full approval/support” of CIA Director Leon Panetta. As Nate Jones notes, “The U.S. government’s recalcitrance over releasing information directly to the public about the twenty-first century’s most important intelligence search and military raid, and its decision instead to grant the film’s producers exclusive and unprecedented access to classified information about the operation, means that for the time being – for bad or good – Hollywood has become the public’s ‘account of record’ for Operation Neptune Spear.” Today’s #tbt pick is part of a collection of emails and memos released in response to a Judicial Watch FOIA request, and collectively detail ZD30 filmmakers’ privileged access to “CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, DOD Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, and five CIA and military operatives involved in the raid.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 8.53.46 AM

Happy FOIA-ing!

Gough Whitlam, Former Australian PM who Criticized 1972 US Bombing of Hanoi, Dies at 98

October 22, 2014

Gough Whitlam meets Richard Nixon at the White House for the first time in July 1973. Source: The Australian.

Gough Whitlam, who served as the Australian Prime Minister from 1972 until 1975 when the Queen’s Governor-General dismissed him at the height of Australia’s constitutional crisis – a move Whitlam later inferred was supported by the CIA –, died this week at the age of 98. During his truncated term, Whitlam finished withdrawing Australian troops from Vietnam, criticized the Nixon administration for Operation Linebacker II and the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi, and ultimately supported Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor. His position on Vietnam did nothing to endear him to the Nixon administration, particularly to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, but declassified Kissinger telephone conversations (telcons) previously published through the Digital National Security Archive help depict a more complicated relationship with the man Kissinger once called a “bastard.”

B-52 Stratofortress, US Air Force Photo.

B-52 Stratofortress, US Air Force Photo.

A December 20, 1972, telcon of unknown classification records Henry Kissinger’s conversation with Australian Chargé d’Affaires, Roy Fernandez, regarding a letter newly-elected Whitlam sent President Nixon condemning Linebacker II (the most aggressive aerial bombardment of the Vietnam War that killed as many as 1,600 civilians in what the Washington Post called “the most savage and senseless act of war ever visited, over a scant 10 days, by one sovereign people over another”). Whitlam’s letter, which urged the US to return to peace talks, infuriated Kissinger, who told Fernandez “to convey that we are not particularly amused” by Whitlam’s comments, and that they were “no way to start a relationship” with the Nixon administration. During the conversation Kissinger explicitly says he wants to prevent the discussion of – much less criticism of US action in – Vietnam from becoming part of the “official record.” A seemingly terrified Fernandez readily agrees, saying “Yep. Yes,” Kissinger’s threat was not an “official communication.”

On December 29, Kissinger, still fuming, told Nixon the Australian letter was “a cheap little maneuver,” and both men agreed to freeze-out Whitlam until he got the point it was not his place to chastise the US. When asked during a March 16, 1973, phone conversation why Kissinger refused to ever dignify Whitlam’s letter with an answer, Kissinger said, “there wasn’t much point to it,” since he had conveyed a verbal official communication through the US Ambassador.

"We are not particularly amused"

“We are not particularly amused”

In an ongoing series of chilly conversations regarding Whitlam, on July 31, 1973, Kissinger told New York Times reporter Bernard Gwertzman that Whitlam’s upcoming first visit to Washington was not a “world-shaking” event, though one that was ultimately necessary to “keep Whitlam in line” on Asia policy (in the same conversation, Gwertzman asked Kissinger why the National Security Advisor would consider being the Secretary of State during the Nixon administration, and Kissinger replied, “Everyone is fighting for the number two oar in the lifeboat”). A telcon dated August 10, 1973, shows Kissinger quipping that Whitlam’s difficulties scheduling an audience with President Nixon “were not uncharacteristic.”

American-Australian relations were not much improved by January 8, 1974. An Unclassified telcon from that day records Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger complaining about both Whitlam and Australian Ambassador James Plimsoll. Irked at being snubbed a dinner invitation from Plimsoll, who had previously told Kissinger he wanted “to straighten out the [American-Australian] relationship,” Kissinger called Whitlam a “bastard.”

K: He is a bastard. S: Yes.

K: He is a bastard. S: Yes.

Whitlam again visited Washington on October 5, 1974, before visiting Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, this time finding more common cause with the Ford administration. Discussions revolved around Indonesia, whose conditions Kissinger said were ripe for a “built-in revolution” (on a tangent discussing student protestors, President Ford remarked that his second son “could have become a Communist or a John Bircher but he turned out to be a middle-of-the-roader”).

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CIA Weekly Review article on Whitlam and Portuguese Timor.

A later Top Secret Umbra April 11, 1975, CIA article details Australian fears that Indonesia was preparing “an imminent move against Timor” in the wake of Portugal granting Timor independence. Whitlam, who championed the rights of indigenous Australians, was initially against intervention, though he ultimately supported Indonesian annexation to maintain stability in the region and to prevent an opening for further American or Soviet intervention in Southeast Asia.

On May 7, 1975, during his final trip to Washington and on the heels of the end of the Vietnam War, Whitlam assured Kissinger and President Ford that Australia would do its part accepting Vietnamese refugees. In a Confidential memorandum of conversation from the same day, the President concedes that Whitlam and the Australians were “helpful in [the evacuation of] Danang,” Vietnam, and both Whitlam and Kissinger agreed on the need to maintain stability in Indonesia and the Philippines.

By 1975 it appeared that Whitlam had achieved a common, if not entirely friendly, ground with Kissinger and the Ford administration. It was not ground he was able to hold, however, and he was dismissed six months after his final visit to Washington.

Several years after Whitlam’s dismissal, Christopher Boyce, an American contractor affiliated with the CIA who spent a quarter-century in prison for selling secrets to the Soviets, claimed the agency played a central role in what was effectively a coup to remove Whitlam from power. Boyce, echoed by investigative journalist John Pilger and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Jonathan Kwitny, argued Whitlam’s removal was primarily over US concerns Whitlam would withdraw Australia from the Pine Gap Agreement – a pact that allowed the US to maintain a military base in central Australia. One day before he dismissed Whitlam, the Governor-General – a man Kwitny notes continually “went to the CIA for money” – was advised of the “security crisis” Whitlam’s stance on Pine Gap posed. Whitlam was out of office the next day.

David Greenglass’ False Grand Jury Testimony Against his Sister Ethel Rosenberg “The Smoking Gun” in Espionage Case, Still Classified

October 16, 2014
Police photos of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Source: Exhibits from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case File, 03/13/1951 - 03/27/1951)

Police photos of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Source: Exhibits from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case File, 03/13/1951 – 03/27/1951)

On the condition that he be paid for his story, David Greenglass agreed to give New York Times reporter Sam Roberts an interview for what would become Roberts’ 2001 book, “The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair.” During the course of their sessions, Greenglass admitted to Roberts “he had lied on the witness stand about the single most incriminating evidence against his sister — that she typed his handwritten notes for delivery to the Soviets. Without that testimony, Ethel Rosenberg might well have never been convicted, much less executed.”

Greenglass, who justified providing false testimony against his sister in order to protect his wife Ruth for her minor role in the conspiracy, died earlier this week at the age of 92.

Page from Ethel Rosenbergs August 7, 1950, testimony.

Page from Ethel Rosenberg’s August 7, 1950, testimony.

In 2008, the National Security Archive – represented by David Vladeck who was then with Public Citizen and is now at Georgetown Law School – and a coalition of historians brought legal action against the federal government to obtain copies of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg grand jury transcripts. The action won the release of most of the transcripts, which “cast significant doubt on the key prosecution charge used to convict Ethel Rosenberg at the trial and sentence her to death.”

FBI records support the case for doubt, and show David and Ruth Greenglass waited until just ten days before to trial to report that Ethel typed up the information David obtained from his job at the Los Alamos for passing to Julius Rosenberg.  This omission raised questions as to why Greenglass did not report Ethel’s treasonous behavior earlier.

ethelarrestDavid Greenglass’ testimony, which was described as “the smoking gun” in his sister’s conviction, was withheld from the 2008 release and is still secret.

For more information on the Rosenberg spy case and the Archive’s work to release the case’s grand just testimonies, see the Archive’s postings, Rosenberg Grand Jury Files Released and More Cold War Espionage Transcripts Unsealed.


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