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Sunshine Week Document Friday! Kissinger Says, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer. But since the FOIA, I’m afraid to say things like that.”

March 15, 2012

Updated for Sunshine Week 2012.  An oldie but a goodie.  I wonder if President Obama is beginning to feel a bit like Dr. Kissinger.  At any rate, a “meta-tribute” to the power of FOIA.  

In 1975 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Turkish Foreign Minister, “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter]  But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”

He then explained how he would facilitate the illegal circumvention of a Congressional arms embargo.

No wonder he fought so hard against allowing the public to access his papers...

This bombshell of a quote (even for Kissinger) comes midway through his conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Melih Esenbel.  The vast majority of the fifty-minute conversation –held in Turkey at the Foreign Minister’s office– focused on the FM’s displeasure with the US Congress’s decision to pass an arms embargo against Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus.

Esenbel explained that the prevailing mood in Turkey was that one NATO ally should not enact a military embargo upon another.  He even stated that the US embargo could endanger his party’s government, explaining the he, not Kissinger or the US Congress was being criticized for the lack of aid.

Kissinger quipped, “If someone has to be criticized, that is a good solution.”

Eventually, Kissinger explained to the Turkish FM that he was against the embargo and proposed three options:

  • One: Get Congress to change the law.
  • Two: Use a military “waiver.”  A loophole that allowed “spare parts” to be provided for one year.
  • or Three: maintain the status quo or, as Kissinger put it “find substantial progress under the existing law.”

The “illegal” action Kissinger referred to was Esenbel’s suggestion that the United States “make a deal” with European countries to sneak US goods to Turkey despite the embargo.

The US Ambassador to Turkey observered, “That is illegal.”

Kissinger, on the other hand, delivered his FOIA solique and promised:

“We’ll make a major effort.”

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