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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.

Pentagon Sees Climate Change as Immediate National Security Risk, CIA Rebel Training Largely Unhelpful, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 10/16/2014

October 16, 2014
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday at a meeting in Peru. Credit Paolo Aguilar/European Pressphoto Agency

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, whose views on climate change have changed considerably since 1997, on Monday at a meeting in Peru. Credit Paolo Aguilar/European Pressphoto Agency

This week the Pentagon released an unclassified report definitively stating climate change poses an immediate risk to U.S. national security, and announced plans to integrate climate change risks across all aspects of Pentagon operations. This report marks a shift from earlier Pentagon analyses, which addressed the future, rather than immediate, risks of climate change. The emphasis on current climate change issues “is aimed in part at building support for a United Nations agreement, to be signed next year in Paris, that would require the world’s largest producers of planet-warming carbon pollution to slash their emissions.” The report also signifies a shift in Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s views on climate change – as a Republican Senator for Nebraska he helped write a bipartisan resolution urging the Senate not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Rebel fighters in Nicaragua in 1987. Credit John Hopper/Associated Press

Rebel fighters in Nicaragua in 1987. Credit John Hopper/Associated Press

A classified CIA review commissioned by the Obama administration to help determine whether or not the U.S. should intervene in the Syrian civil war has found that covertly arming and training rebel groups rarely works, and that the training is often less effective than “when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.” The CIA has been training and arming rebel groups “from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba” throughout its history, and the classified review found that the rare successful exception was the 1989 training of mujahedeen rebels – some of whom went on to be instrumental in the forming of Al Qaeda – to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The report attributed the 1989 success largely to the “Pakistani intelligence officers working with the rebels in Afghanistan.”

Trials are beginning this month concerning the Pentagon’s Navy intelligence office, the Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration. The case concerns a civilian Navy intelligence official from the little-known office, which consists mostly of retired military personnel that are characterized by other Navy officials as “wanna-be spook-cops,” and a California auto mechanic “who prosecutors allege conspired to manufacture an untraceable batch of automatic-rifle silencers.” While most of the case documents are withheld to prevent damage to national security, “According to the records that have been made public, the crux of the case is whether the silencers were properly purchased for an authorized secret mission or were assembled for a rogue operation.”

A FOIA request submitted by the New York Times (NYT) has garnered the release of intelligence documents revealing U.S. troops found more than 4,990 chemical weapons in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Information about the chemical weapons stockpiles has largely been withheld, from both Congress and the public, with Army soldiers ordered to be evasive when recounting what chemical weapons they uncovered. In the course of investigating the weapons stockpiles, NYT found “In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.”

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos has asked the government to provide a written argument why it should not “have to publicly explain its reasons for invoking the state secrets privilege” in a private defamation lawsuit brought by Greek shipping mogul Victor Restis against United Against Nuclear Iran. The Department of Justice invoked the state secrets privilege in the Restis case last month, a privilege normally reserved for cases involving government surveillance and espionage, and if granted this would mark the first time the privilege will be used without a public explanation for it.

The National Security Agency (NSA) said in response to a FOIA request that a report on authorized disclosures of classified intelligence to the media is classified. The FY2013 Intelligence Authorization Act requires the intelligence community to notify Congress in the event of “authorized disclosure[s] of national intelligence” to help intelligence committees distinguish between authorized disclosures – a common practice in national security reporting – and leaks. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists notes, “If something is classified, how can its disclosure be authorized (without declassification)? And if something is disclosed by an official who is authorized to do so, how can it still be classified? And yet, it seems that there is such a thing.”

Former NSA head Michael Hayden told CBS’ 60 Minutes he was “conflicted” about whether or not NYT reporter James Risen should be compelled to reveal his source for a story on a CIA plot to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Hayden said that ultimately, however, it would be wrong to compel Risen to reveal his sources if “the method of redressing that actually harms the broad freedom of the press.” At issue is Risen’s refusal to testify in former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling’s leaks trial that resulted from his disclosures regarding Operation Merlin, a Clinton-era CIA effort to sabotage Iranian nuclear research, which was the subject of a chapter in Risen’s 2006 book, State of War. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Risen in June over his refusal to testify, and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder sent mixed messages on whether or not the government will pursue jailing Risen for his refusal to testify.

A recently declassified CIA Studies in Intelligence article shows the U.S. was “largely in the dark about something that might have been central to the Shah’s calculations during the critical final years of his rule” – the extent of his lymphatic cancer. The author notes, “Had we known the Shah was suffering from cancer of the lymph nodes since 1973, our government’s judgements as to his ability to deal with the revolutionary forces that swept through Iran would probably have been quite different. Serious doubts would have replaced the guarded optimism concerning his ability to weather the storm.”

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)

David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother who admitted to lying in his testimony in the Rosenberg espionage trial to protect his wife Ruth, died earlier this week at the age of 92. To commemorate the central lie behind the “trial of the century,” this week’s #tbt document picks are the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg grand jury transcripts, released in 2008 thanks to legal action brought by the National Security Archive and a coalition of historians. The transcripts support David’s post-trial claim, with FBI records showing David and Ruth only mentioned that Ethel –not Ruth – typed the information David obtained from his job at the Los Alamos nuclear installation for passing to Julius Rosenberg and the Soviet Union. Stay tuned, because the Archive will have more on the Greenglass case very soon.

Happy FOIA-ing!


Declassified U.S. Documents Help Fill Void Left by Thailand’s Silence on 38th Anniversary of Thammasat University Massacre

October 10, 2014
Still from Financial Times footage of Thammasat students protesting the coup and cancellation of commemorative events for the anniversary of the October 6, 1976 student massacre.

Still from Financial Times footage of Thammasat students protesting the coup and cancellation of commemorative events for the anniversary of the October 6, 1976 student massacre.

This week marks the 38th anniversary of the student massacre at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand on October 6, 1976, which saw between 50 and 100 leftist student protesters tortured and killed, hundreds more injured, and thousands arrested.1 Now, thanks to the declassification efforts of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), over 75 previously classified documents are available, helping fill the void left by the Thai government’s silence on the event.

On October 6, 1976, right-wing and left-wing protesters clashed at the Thammasat University, resulting in a massacre of leftist students by Thai police and paramilitary forces. On that same day, the minister of defense, Admiral Sa-ngad Chaloryu, seized power in a coup. Much of the correspondence between the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. regarding that day’s incidents focuses on the political turmoil and threat of communism. Limited coverage focuses on the brutality of the massacre as U.S. embassy officials attempted to understand the complex and shifting political situation.

One of the first October 6, 1976, U.S. Embassy cables from Bangkok reports:

“Initial announcement describes danger facing country as coming from group of students who have committed acts of lèse-majesté [speaking against the royal family] (reference to mock hanging at Thammasat University Oct. 4 at which students acted as hanging victim bore superficial resemblance to crown prince). Students aim state to destroy monarchy as part of communist scheme. Students resisted arrest and fought back with weapons ‘in league with Vietnamese communist terrorists.’”

danger faces the country

“danger faces the country”

The next day, on October 7th, a U.S. embassy official writes of the “auspicious timing of the coup” which allowed the brutal killings to take place, “effectively neutralizing the activists.” [Read full document here.]

"brutal killings...effectively neutralized the activists."

“brutal killings…effectively neutralized the activists.”

Days later, on October 18th, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Charles Whitehouse, reports of a conversation with the King’s personal secretary, Mom Luang Thawisan Ladawan, providing rare insight into Thai royalty’s political views (one of the stipulations of the lèse-majesté law is the prohibition of speaking about the King’s political views):2

“He [the King’s secretary] said that the Thai need for US support had increased owing to the more positive anti-communist stance being taken by the new government. This position would doubtless aggravate Thailand’s relations with its communist neighbors and increase the risks to the kingdom…the King hoped that there was some way by which the US could explain that the change of government had been brought about as a result of the weakness of the Seni government and the provocative actions of communist-inspired students. I said frankly I could see no way of overcoming the worldwide impact of the photo and television coverage of the events of October 6th at Thammasat University.”

Conversation with King's private secretary

Conversation with King’s private secretary

An October 14, 1976, cable from Ambassador Whitehouse reports on the National Administrative Reform Council’s (NARC) “establishment of re-education centers for ‘individuals dangerous to society.’” He comments that “while such announcements have the sound of Germany in the 30’s, it is difficult at this point to determine the true intentions of the NARC.” In another October 14 cable, he expresses “concern over book burning, brainwashing camps, and the quite evident shortcomings of military rule.” Ambassador Whitehouse also reports a conversation with two university professors who “thought that the government would begin cracking down on university teachers with liberal or leftist views, and that it would be difficult or impossible for them to continue teaching.”

Usually, Thailand marks the anniversary of this massacre with commemorations and memorial events at Thammasat Univeristy. This year, however, commemoration ceremonies were cancelled, as a newspaper reports, to “comply with the military junta’s ban on all political activities.” Some students and professors protested the cancellation of the ceremony and limitations to free speech and assembly, to little avail. Space to have larger public conversations about Thai politics do not exist, and many political books are banned. Quiet conversations take place on social media, but in the face of great risk, and many controversial pieces end up getting taken down or blocked inside Thailand.

Image that appears in Thailand when trying to access information blocked by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, from August 2014.

Image that appears in Thailand when trying to access information blocked by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, from August 2014.

In the void left by the Thai government, the U.S. government’s continuing disclosure of information about the massacre is essential for the historical record. For a complete picture, however, the Thai government must open its own archives on the massacre.


In many cases, the U.S. government has declassified records on foreign atrocities, encouraging other governments to provide public access to important human rights information in the search for justice. Such instances include:

1968 Student Massacre – Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Mexico

1980s disappearances in El Salvador – the Yellow Book

1994 Forced Disappearance in the Dominican Republic

Declassified U.S. Documents support Truth Commission Efforts in Brazil, and Diplomacy

Right to Information Movement in Latin America

Find this information and more at the National Security Archive’s website.

1. [The official number of dead is 46, though other estimates put the number well over 100. [Leifer, Michael. Dictionary of Modern Politics of South-East Asia. New York: Routledge, 1995. Pg. 233-234]]

2. [This document was posted on a social media webpage accompanied by a full translation into Thai, however was removed a short time later, proving the great interest in access to this information in Thailand, but also the intense restrictions of freedom of speech and expression still plaguing the country.]

DEA Uses Woman’s Intimate Photos for Fake Facebook Page in Drug Investigation, the FBI’s National Security Letters Under Judicial Scrutiny Again, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 10/10/2014

October 10, 2014
Images from the fraudulent Facebook page created by the DEA, which has since been shut down.

Images from the fraudulent Facebook page created by the DEA, which has since been shut down.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that it will review federal law enforcement practices after reports surfaced that a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent impersonated a young woman on Facebook, posting racy photos of her and pictures of her underage son and niece on the social media site as part of a drug investigation. DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen created the fake Facebook profile after obtaining photos from Sondra Arquiett’s cell phone while she was awaiting trial for her participation in a drug ring (she was ultimately placed on probation), and even sent a “friend request” to a wanted fugitive from the fake account. Arquiett is now suing Sinnigen for violating her privacy and placing her and her family in danger. The DOJ contends, however, that even though Arquiett did not give express permission for her photos to be used in the face Facebook page, she “implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in . . . ongoing criminal investigations.” Facebook has taken down the fraudulent page for violating the site’s “community standards” policy.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering 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. The NSLs, which demand business records from a wide array of organizations for national security investigations, have been a long-standing concern for privacy advocates in part because of their insufficient judicial oversight and draconian nondisclosure agreements. In 2004 Judge Victor Marrero ruled in Doe v. Ashcroft that the NSLs violate the Fourth Amendment, which led to revisions of the USA Patriot Act that allowed for greater judicial review and clarifications to the non-disclosure clauses. However, there are still no requirements to seek approval or judicial review when sending an NSL, and the non-disclosure provisions prevent the full extent of the NSL program from becoming known.

Twitter is suing the U.S. government for the right to disclose more information about the government requests for user data it receives. The U.S. government relaxed some data disclosure rules for technology companies at the beginning of this year, prompting Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook to drop their lawsuits arguing for the right to disclose “the volume and types of national security requests” they received before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The new rules allow technology companies to disclose the existence of the FISC orders they receive (though not the exact numbers), publish that information every six months (with a six-month delay), and release the number of “selectors” (user names, email addresses or Internet addresses) the government requested information about. Twitter, however, “opted not to participate in that agreement,” choosing instead to fight to share more specific data on the number and types of requests it receives.

Agron Hasbajrami may reverse his guilty plea in light of the NSAs warrantless surveillance notice. DOJ image.

Agron Hasbajrami may reverse his guilty plea in light of warrantless surveillance notice. DOJ image.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson ruled that an Albanian man who pled guilty in 2012 to a terrorism charge for sending money to a militant group in Pakistan may withdraw his guilty plea after the Justice Department provided him a notice of warrantless surveillance. This is the fifth case the DOJ has issued such a notice for after the department determined last year that criminal defendants should be notified of such surveillance.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler recently ordered the government to prepare 28 videos showing Guantanamo detainee Abi Wa’el Dhiab being force-fed for public release. Kessler found the government’s argument that the tapes needed to be kept secret to protect national security “unacceptably vague, speculative, lack[ing] specificity or are just plain implausible,” and said the government’s assertion that the release of the tapes would help detainees develop “countermeasures” to the feedings “strains credulity.” Kessler also wrote that the government’s argument that the release of the tapes would violate the third Geneva convention to “protect detainees from public curiosity” turns “the third Geneva convention on its head.” The Department of Defense admitted in May it has video recordings of force-feeding Guantanamo Bay detainees, at the same time detainees accused the U.S. of manipulating data on inmates’ hunger strikes, including how many times inmates are subjected to force feedings to keep strike numbers artificially low.

The U.S. Cyber Command announced its plan to recruit “6,000 cyber professionals and create 133 teams across the country to support the Pentagon in defending the nation’s cyber infrastructure,” even though it’s still unclear which branch of the military is primarily responsible for responding to cyber threats. The recruitment notice comes shortly after a recent Washington Post report found an “exodus” of top-level employees at the Department of Homeland Security, noting specifically that cybersecurity professionals at the agency had the highest turnover rates due to more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.

The Air Force is fighting back against a recent Pentagon Inspector General report that accuses the Air Force of possibly wasting $8.8 billion on unnecessary Reaper drones. The IG report “said that officials did not receive appropriate approval for an increase in quantity. The Air Force also failed to perform a proper analysis to justify the amount needed.” In a rare rebuttal of a DOD IG report, the Air Force posted a response on its website arguing the IG report relied on year-old data.

J. Robert Oppenheimer Personnel Hearings. DOE image.

J. Robert Oppenheimer Personnel Hearings. DOE image.

The Department of Energy has, for the first time, declassified the full transcript of the 1954 J. Robert Oppenheimer Atomic Energy Commission hearing. The hearing – triggered by concerns over his loyalty – ultimately stripped Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan Project in producing the first atomic bomb, of his security clearance. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists noted that the hearing “represented a breakdown in relations between scientists and the U.S. government and within the scientific community itself.” The DOE had previously released redacted portions of the hearing in response to FOIA requests, and has finally declassified it in full as part of “a continuing series of DOE declassifications of historical records of documents of particular historic value and public interest.”

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Archive’s lawsuit to save Reagan administration White House emails from destruction. To celebrate, this week’s #tbt (ed note: my bad we’re late!) document pick is a collection of the intriguing excerpts of the highest-level White House communications on the most secret national security affairs of the United States during the 1980s – that never would have seen the light of day without the suit brought by the Archive and allied historians, librarians, and public interest lawyers. The excerpts capture candid thoughts from National Security Council member from Oliver North on his “depressing” April 1986 trip to El Salvador, a June 26, 1986, note from National Security Adviser John Poindexter on how to ensure Iraq’s success in the Iran-Iraq war, and much more.

R: Weinberger and Reagan 1-10-83, L: Regan, Reagan, Bush, McFarlane (daily national security briefing) 6-20-85

R: Weinberger and Reagan 1-10-83, L: Regan, Reagan, Bush, McFarlane (daily national security briefing) 6-20-85

Happy FOIA-ing!

Declassified Documents Play Important Role in Legal Proceedings Against “Baby Doc” and Associates

October 8, 2014

By Alexandra Smith

Jean-Claude Duvalier escorted by police upon his return to Haiti in 2011. Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa/AP

Jean-Claude Duvalier escorted by police upon his return to Haiti in 2011. Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa/AP

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as “Baby Doc,” died on October 4, 2014, at the age of 63, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He returned to Haiti in 2011 after living in France in self-imposed exile for 25 years, and died never having apologized for the atrocities committed by his regime.

In April 1971, nineteen-year-old Jean-Claude was named “Papa Doc” Francois Duvalier’s successor as President-for-Life. He ruled Haiti for fifteen years, during which time he continued his father’s practices of arresting, detaining, torturing, and murdering dissidents. While in power, the “State of Siege” proclaimed in 1958 was never lifted, Haiti’s Anti Communist Law was cited in numerous brutal crackdowns on press and political parties, and the ubiquitous Ton Ton Macoutes had a free hand to intimidate opponents of the regime. Duvalier is also known for his lavish spending at the expense of the Haitian people (including marrying Michele Bennett in what the Guiness Book of World Records labels “the most expensive” wedding ever).

Jean-Claude Duvalier delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Por-au-Prince on January 2, 1976. Photo By Afp_AFP_Getty Images

Jean-Claude Duvalier delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Por-au-Prince on January 2, 1976. Photo credit: AFP/Getty images

Legal proceedings began against the former President-for-Life after his 2011 return to, and subsequent arrest in, Haiti on charges of human rights violations. According to Lawyers Without Borders of Canada, trial preparations will continue. The organization’s October 4 press release states: “The death of […] Jean-Claude Duvalier does not put an end to the prosecution of those most responsible for serious human rights violations committed under the Duvalier regime.”

Duvalier’s associates named in the legal proceedings include Jean Valmé, Chief of the Service Detectif, Duvalier’s secret civilian police group, and Emmanuel Orcel, a Service Detectif commander. Both Valmé and Orcel are known to have participated in interrogations at the infamous prison Casernes Dessalines.

National Security Archive Senior Analyst Kate Doyle and her research assistant Alexandra Smith have worked with Lawyers Without Borders and the plaintiff coalition Collectif contre l’impunité to provide declassified U.S. documents that will act as evidence in the case against the ex-dictator’s accomplices.

The documents provided by the Archive help show the regime’s numerous attempts to hide or deny the systematic rights abuses that occurred under Jean-Claude Duvalier, while the regime simultaneously disregarded and flouted international human rights standards. For example, an Unclassified December 19, 1980, report from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince describes Duvalier’s coy response to questions from the U.S. Ambassador regarding use of torture, in which he states that yes, some of the prisoners were “spanked a bit.” An earlier September 8, 1977, Top Secret Sensitive Codeword White House memo recounts the assertion by a top Haitian official that foreign human rights investigators “will see nothing contrary to their standards because ‘we will hide what has to be hidden.’” The author of the memo goes on to explain, “Duvalier does not intend to introduce any significant reforms or to refrain from using arrests or the threat of arrests to remove people he views as political threats.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.50.41 PM

Opponents were “spanked a bit.”

Danièle Magloire, Coordinator for Collectif contre l’impunité, explains that beyond their function as evidence, documents unearthed by the Archive contribute to the important process of building a collective memory: “The documents uncovered, the testimony collected, the words exchanged, are all part of the struggle against impunity, and contribute to the creation of a democratic society in Haiti, one that is able to confront its past in order to build a better future.”

“Did your fruit fund terrorists?” New Report Asks Why Chiquita Blocked 9/11 Victims Bill

October 8, 2014
A March 2000 Chiquita memo says that illegal payments were "for info on guerrilla movements."

A March 2000 Chiquita memo says that illegal payments were “for info on guerrilla movements.”

A new story from the Fusion television network looks into reports that Chiquita Brands International, the famous banana producer, this year poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to block a bill in the U.S. Congress meant to support the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

So why is Chiquita taking a stand against 9/11 victims? Perhaps because the bill would make it easier for victims of terrorism to sue companies—like Chiquita—who have funded terrorist groups.

It’s easy to forget that the company that spawned Miss Chiquita also admitted to making more than $1.7 million in security payments to a terrorist organization known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The AUC was a drug-trafficking militia group responsible for thousands of murders and forced displacements during years of conflict in Colombia.

A 2007 sentencing agreement between U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) prosecutors and Chiquita memorialized the company’s admission that it had funded a “Specially-Designated Global Terrorist” group. On top of that, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we now have thousands of pages of the company’s own records describing the various payment schemes used by the company to make and hide transactions not just with the AUC, but also with an array of other illegal groups in Colombia, including at least three Communist insurgent groups.

Despite these findings, the DOJ went very easy on Chiquita, leveling a measly $25 million fine and declining to prosecute a single individual for the crimes. Chiquita’s attorneys, including a guy by the name of Eric H. Holder, Jr., had managed to get the company a good deal by convincing prosecutors that Chiquita was the victim in this case and, importantly, that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments.”

But Chiquita’s own records belie the notion that there was not a quid pro quo with illegal groups in Colombia. Years of FOIA requests, appeals and a lawsuit brought by the National Security Archive have wrenched loose thousands of corporate records turned over by Chiquita to the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during their investigations of the paramilitary payments.

One of these Chiquita documents, a draft legal memo from 1994 marked “Privileged Client-Attorney Information,” said that “the Guerrilla Groups are used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” Panicked, handwritten annotations on the margins of the document suggest why we haven’t found more documents of this kind: “Why is this relevant?” “Who needs to get this info?” “Why is this being written?” Throughout the document, every instance of the word “transaction” is crossed out and replaced with the seemingly more neutral term, “payment.”

A Chiquita “Audit Memo” from December 1993 recommended that the company conceal payments to guerrilla groups “to maintain the appearance of a responsible corporate citizen.” By 1995, the company had a “one-inch high binder” of “Boys in the Hills,” according to annotations on another Chiquita accounting record. (“Boys in the hills” is a relatively common expression for guerrilla insurgent groups.) A handwritten memo from 1996 explained how payments to the FARC, ELN and EPL guerrilla groups worked. “We negotiate with all of them,” according to the memo. The EPL, in particular, “helped us out a lot with [the] labor union issue.”

Another document shows that Chiquita also paid right-wing paramilitary forces for security services–including intelligence on guerrilla operations–after the AUC wrested control of the region from guerrillas in the mid-1990s. The March 2000 memo, written by Chiquita Senior Counsel Robert Thomas and based on a conversation with managers from Chiquita’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Banadex, indicate that Santa Marta-based paramilitaries formed a front company, Inversiones Manglar, to disguise “the real purpose of providing security.”

Set up to look like an agricultural export business, Inversiones Manglar actually produced “info on guerrilla movements,” according to the memo. Banadex officials told Thomas that “all other banana companies are contributing in Santa Marta” and that Chiquita “should continue making the payments” as they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.”

Just as damning are the statements of a former AUC paramilitary commander who said that, “We would also get calls from the Chiquita and Dole plantations identifying specific people as ‘security problems’ or just ‘problems.’ Everyone knew that this meant we were to execute the identified individual person.”

Even now, Chiquita continues to try to hide the truth. In April 2013, Chiquita filed a “reverse” Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to prevent the SEC from releasing some 9,600 additional pages to the Archive on the company’s already-well-documented history of supporting the most violent illegal groups in Colombia.

Chiquita is clearly concerned that the release of these documents—including a pair of memoranda where the company tries to explain to DOJ why it should not be prosecuted—might help plaintiffs representing thousands of victims of AUC violence who have brought lawsuits against the company in U.S. Federal Court. Chiquita probably figures that the legal costs associated with fighting the “reverse” FOIA case pale in comparison what might end up being billions of dollars in damages were it to lose the civil lawsuits.

Chiquita found out the hard way about the financial, legal, ethical and human costs of setting up shop in areas of the world under the de facto control of guerrilla and paramilitary warlords. To do so is inherently risky, both to the company’s bottom line and to the lives of its own employees. As one of Chiquita’s lawyers wrote on his notepad as he pored over a list of so-called “sensitive payments”: “Cost of doing business in Colombia – Maybe the question is not why are we doing this but rather, we are in Colombia and do we want to ship bananas from Colombia? … Need to keep this very confidential – People can get killed.”

Check out the new report below:

Kissinger “Apoplectic” Over Castro’s Intervention in Angola, EO12333 Governs Most NSA Spying, CIA Says it Only Misused FOIA Exemption Because it was in a Hurry, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 10/2/2014

October 2, 2014

backchannel-final-jacket-3-18-14A new book co-authored by Archivist Peter Kornbluh and American University professor William M. LeoGrande reveals that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was so “irked” by Fidel Castro’s intervention in Angola in 1975, that he drew up plans to possibly “smash” and “clobber” Cuba. Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana uses documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to show, among other revelations, that Kissinger ordered a series of secret contingency plans, which included airstrikes and mining of Cuban harbors, in the aftermath of Cuba’s decision to intervene militarily in Angola. The book describes Kissinger as “apoplectic” with Castro — in oval office meetings Kissinger referred to the Cuban leader as a “pipsqueak.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently posted documents obtained through FOIA litigation to its website showing that the legal basis for most of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance is the Reagan-era EO 12333. Although the new documents show the NSA relies on EO 12333 more than either section 215 or the FISA Amendment Acts for its spying, to date, congressional reform intended to curtail the NSA’s bulk surveillance has not addressed the Order. The ACLU notes, “Because the executive branch issued and now implements the executive order all on its own, the programs operating under the order are subject to essentially no oversight from Congress or the courts.”

Joseph W. Lambert, Director of CIA Information Management Services, said the CIA made an error when it redacted how much the agency paid for its first Amiga computer in 1987. The CIA initially redacted the information from a Studies in Intelligence article it released in response to a FOIA lawsuit brought by former agency employee and IT expert, Jeffrey Scudder. To redact the information the CIA cited the b(3) “black hole” FOIA exemption, which concerns “intelligence sources and methods.” The Moynihan Commission noted the exemption was invoked too broadly and required clarification in 1997, a recommendation reiterated by the Public Interest Declassification Board in its 2012 report to the president. After receiving significant press attention for the needless redaction, however, Lambert said the agency was just in a rush to meet the court deadline in the Scudder case and would re-post the document without the b(3) redaction.


NARA appraisal of CIA email destruction proposal.

The CIA proposed, and NARA “tentatively” agreed, to be granted the authority to destroy all emails sent by non-senior officials at the agency. 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 NARA appraisal that accompanies the proposal to destroy the records notes, “any permanently valuable material in the emails would almost certainly be captured in other permanent CIA records.” The CIA’s current policy is to print and manually file valuable emails, rather than simply save them in their current, electronic format.

An interagency review is underway of a White House directive that would require all federal agencies to disclose where in the U.S. they fly drones and what they do with the data the drones collect. The directive would have the biggest impact on the Pentagon, which conducts drone-training flights over most states, and the Department of Homeland Security, whose drones constantly survey the U.S. border.

The FBI recently released hundreds of pages of records on Samir Khan, a North Carolina man killed in the same 2011 CIA drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. The documents were released in response to Jason Leopold’s FOIA request, and show the FBI began monitoring Khan in the mid-2000s for making extremist comments and posts on his blog, Inshallahshaheed. Former bureau agent Michael German said the files “give us an idea of the [intelligence collection capabilities] the FBI has at its fingertips…They had access to his wage and employment records. It’s certainly interesting in terms of shedding light on the type of information the FBI can obtain. It raises more questions than answers.”

Photo courtesy of Foreign Policy.

Photo courtesy of Foreign Policy.

Despite claims the al-Qaeda cell Khorasan poses a “credible” threat to the U.S., the Obama administration’s National Terrorism Advisory System (NATS) has issued no security warnings. In fact, the two-tiered warning system, which replaced the Bush-era five-tone color-coded system and is tasked with providing “the American public with information about credible threats so that they can better protect themselves, their families, and their communities,” has never issued a warning. A report by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance noted, “It is particularly advisable to review whether the narrow focus on counterterrorism and the high threshold for issuance makes the NTAS an ineffective tool for communicating useful information to the public.”

Open government advocates sent a letter to the White House asking for clarification on the Craig Memorandum, a 2009 memo that demands agencies “consult with White House counsel before releasing any [FOIA] documents that might involve ‘White House equities,’” though it did not specify what White House equities are.

McClatchy obtained a new Director of National Intelligence policy that orders agencies conducting polygraph tests to ask interviewees to disclose if they have ever leaked classified information to the media. The policy, obtained through the FOIA, is “striking because it elevates leaking of classified information to the same level as espionage and sabotage.”

Archivist Kate Doyle, in collaboration with the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), has posted the Libro Amarillo, or Yellow Book, along with related analysis and declassified U.S. documents. The Yellow Book is “the first-ever confidential Salvadoran military document to be made public, and the only evidence to appear from the Salvadoran Army’s own files of the surveillance methods used by security forces to target Salvadoran citizens during the country’s 12-year civil war.” The Book “identifies almost two thousand Salvadoran citizens who were considered ‘delinquent terrorists’ by the Armed Forces,” including the current president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, as well as human rights advocates, labor leaders, and political figures, many of whom were subject to illegal detention and torture.


Today’s #tbt document pick is chosen to honor both President Carter’s 90th birthday and to celebrate the release of Back Channel to Cuba. Today’s document is the Secret March 15, 1977, Presidential Directive/NSC-6, in which Carter wrote, “I have concluded that we should attempt to achieve normalization of our relations with Cuba.”

Happy FOIA-ing!


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