FRINFORMSUM 4/17/2014: NYPD to Shut Down Unit that Labeled Entire Mosques “Terrorism Enterprises,” the FBI Accused of Meddling in 9/11 Trial, Sen. Grassley Stands Up for Whistleblowers, and More.
The New York Police Department is shutting down its Demographics Unit, which came under intense scrutiny for spying on Muslim neighborhoods and designating entire mosques “terrorism enterprises.” The “terrorism enterprises” label allowed the unit to collect the license plate numbers of every car in mosque parking lots, videotape worshipers, and record sermons using hidden microphones. The program was the brainchild of lawyer Lawrence Sanchez who worked for the NYPD while on the CIA payroll, began in 2003, and “never generated a lead.”
The Joint IED Defeat Organization’s (JIEDDO) Counter-IED Operations/Intelligence Integration Center (COIC) was recently investigated for “improper intelligence collection.” The COIC’s mission is to counter improvised bombs, but was investigated after the DOD’s inspector general received a hotline complaint that the unit “illegally or inappropriately collected info about U.S. persons” in 2011 and 2012. The DOD IG recently posted the investigation report’s title on its website, along with a note saying to file a FOIA request for a full copy of the report. A better idea, of course, would be to proactively post the document on the site.
A recent Washington Post article revealed more details about the FBI’s secret relationship with the Joint Special Operations Command overseas, specifically the bureau’s role in “hundreds of raids” in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some questioned whether participating in overseas counterterrorism programs was in the bureau’s best interest, others saw it was a “natural evolution” for the FBI’s Hostage and Rescue Team (HRT). According to the Post article, “[t]he relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.”
Defense lawyers for five men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks currently awaiting trial at Guantanamo argued that the FBI violated attorney-client confidentiality by attempting to recruit members of the defense security team –who have Top Secret clearance, advise the defense teams what information should be redacted from court filings, and “are privy to internal defense discussions and strategy”–as bureau informants. The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, agreed to look into the FBI’s conduct in order to determine how it will effect the trial.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating how classified conclusions of its CIA torture report were leaked to McClatchy news. Last week McClatchy revealed several of the report’s conclusions, which, all told, “paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program.” Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein responded to the leak saying, “[i]f someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted.”
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan rejected Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning’s request for clemency this week, approving her 35-year sentence for leaking 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 military documents to WikiLeaks. Manning’s lawyers are challenging the 35-year sentence and the six convictions under the Espionage Act of 1917, convictions that prompted one of Manning’s lawyers to argue, “the Espionage Act has essentially become a strict liability crime, that the only intent required is an intent to disclose.”
Senator Chuck Grassley delivered a speech on the 25th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act on the floor of the Senate last week, laying out “a number of ways President Obama’s Insider Threat detection program threatened whistleblowers.” Grassley also addressed the FBI’s refusal to explain if its Insider Threat Program “adequately distinguished insider threats and whistleblowers.” Grassley said that in response to his request for material, an FBI official told his staff “there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications. He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people.” Grassley noted some of the obvious problems with this attitude later in his speech, saying “[a] federal employee has every right to make protected disclosures anonymously, whether at work or off the job. Every member of this body should realize that without some safeguards, there is a chance their communications with whistleblowers may be viewed by the Executive Branch.”
The DATA Act, which would require agencies to report how they handle money, unanimously passed the Senate last Thursday. If enacted, the DATA Act would “mandate government-wide standards for federal spending data,” and require that information be placed online in fully searchable formats. The Senate and the House are expected to work speedily on approving identical versions of the bill, then giving President Obama the opportunity to sign this important legislation into law.
Marc Ambinder at The Week magazine took a closer look at the recently released “Holy Grail of Sept. 11th, 2001, documents: transcripts from the emergency conference calls initiated by the National Military Command Center.” The Pentagon release provides further details on spotty communication, the lack of Andrews fighters, and the activities of the three National Airborne Operation Center planes that day.
The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA helped publish and distribute “Doctor Zhivago” in the Soviet bloc in an effort to promote political unrest there. “Zhivago,” however, was just one of many cultural causes the CIA promoted. Voice of America recently revealed details on the agency’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, which tried to advance American ideology abroad during the 1950s by funding artistic endeavors, including Britain’s Encounter magazine, the Paris Review, and the animated film version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The Congress also “dumped millions” throughout the 1950s to subsidize NYC’s abstract expressionist movement abroad, including promoting the movement’s artists -like Jackson Pollack- who weren’t widely recognized in the US.
The latest volume of the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), National Security Policy: 1973-1976, contains 200 newly-declassified pages on Project AZORIAN and the Glomar Explorer, including new details on eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes’ role in the operation.
Finally this week, don’t miss the Archive’s #tbt document pick -a 2001 posting, entitled “Solidarity’s Comic Victory: Big or Too Big,” on the 1989 Polish Round Table Agreements.
Senator Feinstein’s quest to declassify her committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program has increased attention on the agency’s illegal –and decades-old– interrogation techniques. Now, newly-declassified portions of the CIA’s infamous 1963 KUBARK manual, a comprehensive guide for teaching interrogators how to effectively create “a world of fear, terror, anxiety, [and] dread,” helps to further contextualize the agency’s long-standing interrogation practices.
The fear of Communist expansion into the Western Hemisphere after Fidel Castro’s 1959 victory in the Cuban Revolution was the geo-political background for the 1963 KUBARK manual. Castro’s victory not only encouraged the 1964 U.S.-supported overthrow of democratically elected Brazilian President Joao Goulart; it also encouraged the CIA to spread KUBARK across the continent to help prop up pro-U.S. governments. After the Brazilian coup, right-wing military leaders across Latin America began seizing control from democratically elected governments with US encouragement, School of the Americas degrees, and a copy of the KUBARK manual.
The Secret, 127-page KUBARK manual, first declassified (with redactions) in 1997 thanks to a Baltimore Sun FOIA request, is a comprehensive guide for training interrogators in obtaining intelligence from “resistant sources.” According to the National Security Archive’s 2004 posting, Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past, KUBARK –a CIA cryptonym for itself– “describes the qualifications of a successful interrogator, and reviews the theory of non-coercive and coercive techniques for breaking a prisoner.”
The report contains veiled references to the use of electric shock, saying that when choosing an interrogation site “the electric current should be known in advance, so that transformers and other modifying devices will be on hand if needed.” The manual also notes “the threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself. The threat to inflict pain, for example, can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain.” Under the subheading “Pain,” the manual’s guidelines discusses theories behind various thresholds of pain, and recommends that a subject’s “resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself” rather than by direct torture. According to Alfred McCoy, author of A Question of Torture, self-inflicted pain, like stress positions, “causes victims to feel responsible for their suffering and thus capitulate more readily to their torturers.”
Now, thanks to a mandatory declassification review request (MDR) filed by MuckRock user Jeffrey Kaye, a less-redacted version of the KUBARK manual is available. Revelations from the new release include the CIA’s admission to doctoring detainees’ interrogations tapes, a practice it considered “effective” in making it seem as though the detainee had confessed, and using foreign intelligence services for detention and interrogation purposes. The references to foreign intelligence services mean that rendition is not a product of the post-9/11 world; it is a practice at least 50 years old. Supporting this, CIA ex-Deputy Counsel John Rizzo said in a recent Democracy Now interview that “[r]enditions were not a product of the post-9/11 era… renditions, in and of themselves, are actually a fairly well-established fact in American and world, actually, intelligence organizations.”
It was only after congressional committees began questioning the CIA’s interrogation techniques in Latin America in the early 1980s, particularly in Honduras, that the agency began to revise its practices, if only temporarily. The result of the congressional attention was an editing –by hand– of the CIA’s “Human Resource Exploitation” manual, based largely off of the earlier KUBARK manual, to alter passages that appeared to advocate coercion and stress techniques to be used on prisoners. CIA officials also attached a new prologue page to the manual stating: “The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults or exposure to inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation is prohibited by law, both international and domestic; it is neither authorized nor condoned,” but with the caveat that forms of torture and coercive techniques “always require prior [headquarters] approval” first.
Even though Feinstein’s report does not recommend any further inquiries into the CIA’s interrogation practices, I hope it will generate more resistance to torture than the CIA’s own secret 1985 handwritten changes have.
FRINFORMSUM 4/10/2014: Feinstein Asks WH to Declassify CIA torture Report instead of CIA, USAID’s Sham “Cuban Twitter” Account, the CIA’s Role in Publishing “Doctor Zhivago” in USSR during Cold War, and Much More.
Earlier this week, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein asked the White House to oversee the declassification of her committee’s report on the CIA torture program rather than the CIA itself. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to declassify portions of the report, which accuses the CIA of misleading the Senate about the program, with the condition that the executive branch redact information that compromises national security. In what the Senate and others have called a clear conflict of interest, however, the White House announced last week that the CIA would lead this declassification effort.
Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood posits that the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) could help in the declassification process if the White House accepted Feinstein’s request. The PIDB’s mandate is to “review and make recommendations to the President…with respect to any congressional request, made by the committee of jurisdiction, to declassify certain records or to reconsider a declination to declassify specific records.” The PIDB is made up of non-governmental personnel and does not have the authority to declassify the report on its own, but could provide support to the White House, which would be “unlikely to possess the detailed knowledge of the underlying records that would be needed to do so independently.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) –overseen by the State Department and best known for delivering billions of dollars in humanitarian aid– secretly built a sham “Cuban Twitter” account to stir political unrest in the communist country. Documents obtained by the AP show the agency intended to build a large subscriber base through innocuous messages only to transition them to overtly political ones once the platform obtained enough followers. The messages would be meant to inspire ‘Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”’ USAID officials said the program had been “debated” by Congress, but wasn’t covert and therefore didn’t require the administration’s approval. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy, however, called the program “cockamamie,” and said that it had not been described adequately to Congress. A sham social media platform is only a drop in the bucket when compared to other sordid chapters in the USAID’s history, including: its Office of Public Safety’s role in training local police torture techniques in countries like Brazil and Uruguay; funding dictator Alberto Fujimori’s mass sterilization program in Peru; and secretly funding Russian oligarch Anatoly Chubais, “who oversaw the complete destruction of Russia’s social welfare system.”
Declassified documents show the CIA played an instrumental role in publishing and distributing Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” in the Soviet Union in 1958 in an effort to stir political unrest. 130 newly declassified documents show the operation to publish the book was led by the CIA’s “Soviet Russia Division, monitored by CIA Director Allen Dulles and sanctioned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Operations Coordinating Board.” One document notes, “[t]his book has great propaganda value, not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”
The CIA has changed course –in at least one case– after a federal judge decided last month that the agency’s common practice of refusing to release electronic versions of its records might be illegal. IT expert Jeffrey Scudder sued the agency for refusing to release 419 Studies in Intelligence articles in electronic format in response to his FOIA request. Scudder contended that the CIA was frustrating his efforts to obtain the documents –and charging him double for doing so– by claiming the documents could only be released in paper form–ostensibly for security reasons– even though the documents were already in electronic format. After District Court judge Beryl Howell agreed with Scudder, writing “[a] FOIA request for records in an existing format should not be frustrated due to the agency’s decision to adopt a production process that nonetheless renders release in that format highly burdensome,” the CIA and Scudder found a “creative” solution: putting PDF copies of the requested records on its website where they can be freely downloaded.
The State Department’s inspector general issued a “management alert” –the second in the agency’s 224-year history– over $6 billion in contracting money that can’t be accounted for. The alert cited “significant financial risk and . . . a lack of internal control.” Inspector General Steve Linick issued both this and the preceding management alert, which addressed “significant and recurring weaknesses in the Department of State Information System Security Program” in the wake of Chelsea Manning’s leaks.
Declassified documents show the Clinton administration refused to label the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda as a genocide. One State Department document read: “Be careful … Genocide finding could commit U.S.G. to actually ‘do something.’” Archivist Emily Willard spoke to Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman earlier this week about this document and others, published as part of the Archive’s “Rwanda 20 Years Later” project. The Archive also published the complete series of daily and weekly situation reports written by UN peacekeepers in Rwanda at the time of the genocide as part of the project.
Government Attic recently posted the State Department’s September 2012 “Guide for Exemption from Automatic Declassification” to its website. The guide explains the State Department’s criteria for exempting documents that are 25 years old, 50 years old, and older –“information of permanent historical value”– from automatic declassification. The document does not disclose why some of the material “of permanent historical value” cannot be declassified.
Be sure to read the memo the National Security Archive gave to Associate Attorney General Tony West on the steps the DOJ needs to take to fix its sizable FOIA credibility gap. Hopefully AAG West reads it as well.
Finally this week, don’t miss the Archive’s #tbt document pick -a 2004 posting on the declassification of the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief, “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.”
Jose Rodriguez Destroys Key Evidence of CIA Torture Program, then Condemns Senate Report for being “Flawed,” Biased, and Incomplete
Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official in charge of the agency’s defunct torture program, is arguing that it was both effective and authorized, and that the Senate Intelligence Committee report that is highly critical of the program is biased and incorrect. It is, of course, hard to believe Rodriguez’s assertions, much less reconstruct the exact nature of the CIA’s interrogation program, after Rodriguez himself ordered the destruction of key videos documenting it in 2005.
In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Rodriguez strongly condemned the Senate Intelligence Committee’s vote to declassify portions of a report critical of the CIA’s torture program, writing “[p]eople might think it is wrong for me to condemn a report I haven’t read. But since the report condemns a program I ran, I think I have justification.” Rodriguez is the same man who authorized the destruction of 92 video recordings of Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded 83 times in one month in a black prison site back in 2005. Rodriguez justified the destruction by writing that “the heat from destroying [the torture videos] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into the public domain.” Unsurprisingly, Rodriquez doesn’t mention destroying key evidence of the torture program in his op-ed, but his history of doing so makes it hard to read his article as anything more than another attempt to whitewash evidence of the agency’s wrongdoing.In his op-ed, Rodriguez argues that the torture program was effective, saying, “I know what I saw in real time: a program that provided critical information about the operations and leadership of al-Qaeda.” This assertion is firmly rejected by the Senate report, which accuses the agency of “overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.”
Rodriguez also claims that the program was authorized and “approved at the highest levels of the government, judged legal by the Justice Department and regularly briefed to the leaders of our congressional oversight committees. There was never any effort to mislead the administration or Congress about the program.” The long-awaited Senate report, on the other hand, argues that the CIA concealed “details about the severity of its methods,” and the Washington Post reported that Rodriguez and a colleague “repeatedly sought permission to have the [Zubaydah] tapes destroyed but were denied,” though ultimately destroying them anyway. Rodriguez argues, however, that “[i]t is a travesty that [the CIA’s] efforts at transparency are now branded insufficient and misleading.”
Exactly how the declassification process will work for the portions of the Senate report approved for declassification is unclear, though the CIA, in what Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein calls a conflict of interest, “is expected to play a major role in approving material for release.” It’s worth mentioning that the Senate report does not recommend any new punishments or further criminal inquiries into the program, that Jose Rodriguez was never charged for his involvement or destruction of evidence, and that to date, John Kiriakou is the only government official who has faced jail time for his role in the torture program –for exposing it, that is.
Today, the National Security Archive had its first meeting with the Department of Justice’s Chief FOIA Officer and Associate Attorney General, Tony West. At the meeting, West said he looked forward to working with the Archive and other open government groups on the US Open Government Partnership’s National Action Plan.
The Archive also said it was looking forward to working with West and the rest of the DOJ Office of Information Policy, but warned of an extreme DOJ “FOIA credibility gap” and of a “poor FOIA track record” at the Department.
The Archive presented West with a memo describing four action items the Department of Justice could do to immediately establish its FOIA bona fides.
April 8, 2014
TO: Tony West, Chief FOIA Officer/Associate Attorney General, US Department of Justice
FR: Tom Blanton/Nate Jones, National Security Archive
Thank you for meeting with Freedom of Information advocates about the Department of Justice’s role in encouraging and overseeing agency implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, five years after the Attorney General instructed agencies to instill a “presumption of openness” into their FOIA processes, DOJ’s track record leaves much to be desired. We strongly recommend that you implement the following action items:
- Conduct a full FOIA litigation review. The Department of Justice’s “defend everything” litigation stance undermines its commitment to the Freedom of Information Act. 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. To date, 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 Director of Information Policy Melanie Pustay to provide a list of all FOIA cases that the DOJ has refused to defend to the Senate Judiciary Committee, no such list has been presented to the public.
- Embrace the best practice recommendations for FOIA regulations that have been developed by the Office of Government Information Service and the requester community. The National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership commits the Obama administration to implement new government-wide FOIA regulations, and apparently DOJ has the lead role in coordinating that process. However, the Department has a serious credibility gap on this issue, since DOJ’s previous efforts at new FOIA regulations met across-the-board criticism and rejection from both Congress and civil society. A good first step would include publishing the draft Department FOIA regulations that apparently are waiting for approval at the Office of Management and Budget, so that we and others can review them. A good second step would be to include the OGIS and requester recommendations in a new draft.
- Support a legislative fix to the b(5) “deliberative process” FOIA exemption, the evocation of which is now at an all-time high, up 44 percent between FY 2011 and 2013 government wide. Agencies have flouted the Attorney General’s March 2009 call for b(5) restraint and discretionary release. Agencies need to know that, contrary to DOJ’s recent Congressional testimony, “attorney work product” and “attorney client information” are subject to discretionary release.
- Produce an updated report on the State Secrets reforms announced by Attorney General Holder in September 2009 but unreported upon since the DOJ’s April 2011 letter to Congress.
Implementing these action items will demonstrate that the Attorney General’s Sunshine Week 2009 pledges were not merely empty words, and that he, the Office of Information Policy, and the Department of Justice are indeed working toward President Obama’s Freedom of Information Act and transparency instructions.
Nelson Mandela was found guilty of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow South Africa’s apartheid government on June 12, 1964, served 27 years in prison, and stayed on the US’ terror watch list until 2008 –including while he was president of South Africa. While the US joined the international community in condemning Mandela’s arrest in 1962, it has long been believed that American intelligence agencies played a key, behind-the-scenes role in the event, and a recent Democracy Now! exclusive with the FBI’s “most prolific” FOIA requester, Ryan Shapiro, adds more to this murky chapter in American history.
US involvement in Mandela’s arrest has been widely suspected after a 1990 Cox News Service report quoted a former U.S. official saying –hours after Mandela’s 1962 arrest– that senior CIA operative, Paul Eckel, told the official, “[w]e have turned Mandela over to the South African security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be. They have picked him up. It is one of our greatest coups.” Despite the report, no US agency has officially admitted to any involvement.
In his interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Shapiro discussed his FOIA lawsuit against the NSA, FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency for their records on any participation in Mandela’s capture. Shapiro, who has a separate case against the CIA for records on Mandela’s arrest, said he filed FOIA requests with the NSA, FBI, and DIA to help determine why the US viewed Mandela as a threat to American security; what role the US intelligence community played in thwarting racial justice in South Africa; and the reasoning for keeping Mandela on the US terror watch list until 2008.
Mind-bogglingly, the NSA glomared (neither confirmed or denied the existence or non-existence of records) Shapiro’s request on the basis that performing a search would compromise both US national security and the Espionage Act of 1917. While discussing the FOIA suit, Shapiro graciously referred to the NSA as a “very difficult nut to crack as far as FOIA is concerned,” further noting that the only times the spy agency “complies with the Freedom of Information Act is when it wants to, which is when the release of records will make the NSA look good.” Which is also not often, it would seem.
In response to Goodman’s question why the Mandela records are so important to him, Shapiro eloquently says, “I want to know why. Nelson Mandela is now almost universally hailed as a tremendous freedom fighter, this heroic figure, and yet the United States actively suppressed his movement, was very likely involved in putting him in prison for decades, and supported both covertly and openly the apartheid state until near its end. Why? And the answer has to do with this blinkered understanding of national security; this myopic understanding that places crass military alliances and corporate profits over human rights and civil liberties. And I’m interested in—I’m interested in highlighting how we as a nation need to foster a broader understanding of national security. And I think by trying to get records on why Nelson Mandela was on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008 is a good opportunity to do that.”
While US involvement in Mandela’s arrest is currently unconfirmed, it is clear that at the time of his arrest U.S. policy towards South Africa was more concerned with preserving access to South Africa’s natural resources than directly confronting apartheid. The Archive will be watching Shapiro’s case very closely in the hopes that judicial review will successfully spur the release of seminal documents on Nelson Mandela’s legacy from these intransigent agencies, and encourage them to more fully uphold their FOIA responsibilities.
FRINFORMSUM 4/3/2014: Senate Intel Committee to Vote on Declassifying Small Portion of Torture Report, WH Considers Releasing Spy Jonathan Pollard, and Much More.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote today to release the 400-page executive summary of its scathing 6,300-page report on the CIA’s defunct torture program. The long-awaited report shows the CIA misled the public and its congressional overseers for years regarding the nature of the program, “concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.” Exactly how the declassification process will work for the executive summary is unclear, though the CIA, in what Steven Aftergood calls a conflict of interest, “is expected to play a major role in approving material for release.” The report does not recommend any new punishments or further criminal inquiries into the program.
The White House is considering releasing Jonathan Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, to revive the floundering Middle East peace negotiations. Israel has petitioned successive presidents for Pollard’s release (Clinton only dropped the idea after CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if he did), and the case now appears to be gaining momentum. The move is strongly opposed by the intelligence community, and Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said, “[i]n an era of leaks and surveillance and Snowden, the idea that the administration is going to trade Jonathan Pollard makes absolutely no sense.” The National Security Archive recently published an Electronic Briefing Book (EBB) on the Pollard case, including a declassified 1987 CIA damage assessment that details the specifics subjects Pollard’s Israeli handlers requested he steal, including documents on Syrian drones and central communications, Egyptian missile programs, and Soviet air defenses.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers announced last week that he will not be seeking re-election. Defense News reports that even though Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas is next in line for the chair, he will be pursuing the chairmanship of the House Arms Services Committee instead, making Rep. Jeff Miller Rogers’ most likely successor.
General Keith Alexander retired last week as head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. Cyber Command. He avoided direct mention of Edward Snowden in his retirement speech, even though the former NSA contractor’s leaks about the agency’s dragnet surveillance practices will dominate Alexander’s legacy, and thanked agency employees for “protecting our civil liberties and privacy.” In June 2013 Alexander defended the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program by saying that it had disrupted 54 terrorist activities. During an October 15, 2013, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, however, Alexander admitted that claim was a lie. Senate Judiciary Chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, emphasized the lie, saying “only 13 of the 54 cases were connected to the United States…[and] only one or two suspected plots were identified as a result of bulk phone record collection.”
The NSA’s top civilian, John C. Inglis, who referred to the NSA’s bulk surveillance as an “insurance policy,” also stepped down last week. While discussing Alexander’s legacy, Inglis revealed that “[i]n Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time.” This is a remarkable comment in part because it reveals that Iraq is the country where MYSTIC –a surveillance program so powerful that it can swallow a “nation’s telephone program whole” – is currently fully operational. It is perhaps even more remarkable, however, because only two weeks ago the NSA asked the Washington Post not to disclose any details of operation MYSTIC “that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned,” ostensibly for national security reasons. Yet, when it comes time to aggrandize Alexander’s legacy, the disclosure is acceptable.
In declassification news, NARA deserves credit for taking another step forward in placing major State Department document databases and indexes on-line as they are declassified. NARA posted 300,000 State Department telegrams from 1977 — the first year of the Jimmy Carter administration — on its Access to Archival Databases system this week. As Archivist William Burr points out, however, “the collection of telegrams is only a segment of the State Department record for that year; still to be declassified and processed for 1977 is the index to the P-reels, the microfilmed record of the non-telegram paper documentation. Moreover, top secret telegrams are not yet available for any year since 1973 and collections of “Nodis” telegrams from the mid-1970s remain unavailable.” Burr says that NARA’s inadequate funding is an important cause of the delay, and its “austerity budget” is a serious problem. “In real terms (adjusted for inflation), the NARA budget has been declining since FY 2009, despite the agency’s ever-growing responsibility for billions of pages of paper and electronic records. Consistent with the policy of forced austerity, OMB has cut NARA’s budget for the next fiscal year by $10 million.”
Finally this week, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-supported overthrow of Brazilian President Joao Goulart, Peter Kornbluh –director of the Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project– calls for the US government to embrace “declassification diplomacy,” and declassify still-secret U.S. documents on the covert operations that contributed to that dramatic coup d’tat. The Archive also posted newly-released JFK tape transcripts on the plotting of the event to its website to mark the event. According to the transcripts, Robert Kennedy reported to his brother that Goulart struck him as a “wily politician who’s not the smartest man in the world … he figures that he’s got us by the—and that he can play it both ways.” Read all of the documents here.