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.