Today the National Security Archive is posting a collection of documents that seek to provide some historical context for the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula, now entering its second week. In response primarily to new UN economic sanctions placed on Pyongyang for its continued nuclear weapons program, the young and relatively inexperienced Kim Jong Un has dialed up the rhetoric of invective against the United States and South Korea. He has also taken concrete steps to demonstrate his seriousness, declaring the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War null and void, declared the Korean peninsula in a state of war, closed the Kaesong inter-Korean industrial complex, warned other governments to evacuate their embassies in Pyongyang due to the threat of war, announced it is restarting nuclear processing facilities to support production of nuclear weapons, and moved missiles to its east coast for an anticipated new test, possibly timed to coincide with the anniversary of his grandfather’s birthday.
As always, the dilemma is to determine how much of North Korea’s rhetoric to take seriously, how far they are willing to go in stoking tensions, and what are their ultimate goals? These and similar questions confronted the U.S. in the early 1990s, as Washington and its allies dealt with a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions that led the U.S. to consider, however briefly, possible military action to take out Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities. The situation then, as now, was further complicated by the death of Kim Il Sung in the summer of 1994 even as the Agreed Framework to end the nuclear crisis was brokered by former president Jimmy Carter. As the documents posted today demonstrate, there are notable recurring patterns in these periodic episodes of deliberately heightened tensions: Pyongyang’s need to be taken seriously, the desire for the United States to deal directly with North Korea on an agreement to bring peace to the peninsula, a related desire to secure economic and financial assistance from the West, and the conviction that only its acceptance as a nuclear state will bring true security to a regime that at times seems unwilling to be reassured. Likewise, following the death of Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il faced a protracted period before his leadership position was consolidated, and as one of the documents posted today suggest, Kim Jong Un has likely faced his own challenges in working to consolidate his position, especially with the military. Finally, a key factor in how the current crisis plays out will be the role played by China, a question that is addressed by a DIA analysis of Bejing’s possible reactions to different contingencies on the Korea peninsula in1994, ranging from new sanctions to all-out war, included with today’s posting.
It is hoped that these documents, which likely have their counterparts in reports being made to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry today, provide an appreciation of the many unknowns and hard-to-predict contingencies that have perennially surrounded efforts to understand and deal rationally with the Hermit Kingdom. Also, they provide something of a benchmark for what in the past was seen as “normal” for North Korea, and thus a marker against which Kim Jung Un’s rhetoric and actions may be compared.
This post can also be found on ForeignPolicy.com.
By Tom Blanton, Svetlana Savranskaya
If there was one instance in which a foreign policy I pursued met with unambiguous failure, it was my policy on German reunification.
– Margaret Thatcher
The late prime minister of Great Britain published her memoirs in 1993, under the title Downing Street Years, full of scores settled (almost as much with her own Conservatives, who spurned her at the end, as with the Laborites she fought her whole career) and few admissions of doubt or defeat.
Except for her effort to prevent German reunification — her “unambiguous failure.”
The most remarkable documents on the Thatcher campaign against unification come from former top Gorbachev aide Anatoly Chernyaev, who was the designated notetaker at the British prime minister’s meeting with the Soviet general secretary on September 23, 1989 in the Kremlin. A translation of his handwritten notes is presented here in extended form for the first time. Chernyaev also wrote several diary entries analyzing Thatcher’s motivations.
In retrospect, reunification seems almost over-determined, but that is not at all how it looked at the time. Thatcher’s opposition echoed in Washington, with the Bush administration’s emphasis on stability and prudence. But the rapid collapse of the East German regime in the fall of 1989, the incompetence and ultimate resignation of the communist leaders in Berlin, the mobilization of East German public opinion, the lure of the West German deutschmark, and the adroit maneuvering of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl all culminated in the victory of pro-unification forces in East Germany’s March 1990 elections — and the October 1990 deal dissolving the country.
In her memoirs, Thatcher described the September 1989 meeting relatively accurately, but not at all vividly or forcefully, certainly not in comparison to the practically verbatim Chernyaev notes. She wrote:
I explained to him [Gorbachev] that although NATO had traditionally made statements supporting Germany’s aspiration to be reunited, in practice we were rather apprehensive. Mr Gorbachev confirmed that the Soviet Union did not want German reunification either. This reinforced me in my resolve to slow up the already heady pace of developments. Of course I did not want East Germans to live under Communism, but it seemed to me that a truly democratic East Germany would soon emerge and the question of reunification was a separate one, on which the wishes and interests of Germany’s neighbours and other powers must be fully taken into account.
In Chernyaev’s far richer account, the two leaders talked as peers and with a great deal of mutual sympathy — after all, it had been Thatcher who pronounced Gorbachev a “man we can do business with” upon their first meeting back in 1984. Gorbachev told Thatcher about internal Soviet discussions, and why he did not believe in the Chinese model: “How can you reform both the economy and politics without democratizing society, without glasnost, which incorporates individuals into an active socio-political life?”
Thatcher responded, “I noted that you calmly accepted the results of the elections in Poland [June 1989, when Solidarity won 99 of 100 contested seats] and, in general, the processes in that country and in other East European counties. I understand your position in the following way: you are in favor of each country choosing its own road of development so long as the Warsaw Treaty is intact. I understand this position perfectly.”
At this point, according to Chernyaev’s notes, Thatcher asked that note-taking be discontinued, “I would like to say something in a very confidential manner.” Of course, Chernyaev complied, but immediately following the meeting, wrote down from memory what Thatcher had said:
Britain and Western Europe are not interested in the reunification of Germany. The words written in the NATO communiqué may sound different, but disregard them. We do not want the unification of Germany. It would lead to changes in the post-war borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the entire international situation and could lead to threats to our security. We are not interested in the destabilization of Eastern Europe or the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact either…. I can tell you that this is also the position of the U.S. president.
Amazing. Disregard NATO’s words. Keep the Warsaw Pact. Prevent a unified Germany. All very comforting to the Soviet leader. Later, at the Malta summit with Gorbachev, President George H.W. Bush would use a double negative to describe the U.S. position on unification, “We cannot be asked to disapprove of German reunification.”
Soon after the Thatcher meeting, however, Chernyaev wrote in his diary about what was really going on. On October 9, after hearing from French President Francois Mitterrand and others in Europe that “nobody wants a unified Germany,” Chernyaev remembered, “Thatcher, when she asked to go off the record during the conversation with M.S. [Gorbachev], expressed her views decisively against Germany’s reunification. But, she said this is not something she can openly say at home or in NATO. In short, they want to prevent this with our hands.”
In short, Thatcher failed to prevent German unification at least in part because she did not want to get her own hands dirty — leave that to the Soviets. Perhaps she was as surprised as anyone when Gorbachev stuck to his principles and let the empire go.
by Ariel Gould
Erin Siegal, Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, recently donated one bankers-size box of documents about US citizens’ adoptions of Guatemalan children and adoption fraud to the National Security Archive.
These documents are the result of over thirty FOIA requests Ms. Siegal filed with the Department of State, Customs and Border Patrol, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the CIA. The requests asked for information as far back as 1980 and cover a variety of topics, ranging from information on the Casa Quivira issue (in which 46 babies were seized from a Guatemalan adoption agency due to accusations of adoption fraud), to US embassy communications regarding Celebrate Children International (a US organization imputed to have acted in violation of conditions the Hague Convention set regarding the adoptability of children).
Of particular interest in the declassified documents is information on the extent of adoption fraud in Guatemala, what the United States knew about it, and the US’s attempts to combat the problem. According to Department of State cables dating back as far as 1987, adoption fraud in Guatemala had been a lucrative business for some time. Lawyers in the country turned huge profits arranging the international adoptions of kidnapped children, women were paid to masquerade as mothers abandoning their “children” so that the children could be put up for adoption, and by March 2010, 29,400 Guatemalan children had found their way into American homes. That meant that one in every one hundred babies born in Guatemala was growing up in the US, and the adoption industry in Guatemala had become a $100 million industry.
The documents also contain information on the involvement of US-based organizations in the problem. Certain US adoption agencies with operations or relationships in Guatemala became involved in the scandal, including International Adoption Resources, which was implicated in smuggling Guatemalan children out of the country, after three mothers came forward and attested to selling their children for 750 dollars apiece.
Some documents of note in the files include:
- A 9 August 2005 cable discussing a major Guatemalan newspaper’s critique of the adoption system in Guatemala, including the means of adoption fraud and abusing the system (see image)
- A 5 November 1996 cable discussing the increase in the number of cases using impostor mothers as a means of perpetrating adoption fraud
- Emails dating from March to May 2008 discussing fraud in DNA testing, including a prospective adoptive family’s insight on their case
- A 16 December 1991 cable discussing the role of Guatemalan attorneys in the adoption problem in Guatemala
- A 21 July 2004 cable discussing a Florida-based organization called Adoption Resources, Inc, which the Florida State’s Attorney concluded was “apparently working through an internationally-known child smuggler, [in an attempt] to process Guatemalan children for international adoption”
For more information on the documents or the story behind Erin Siegal’s investigation, you can read her book Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth and her published volume of more than 700 pages of US Embassy documents relating to adoptions in Guatemala: The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala: 1987–2010. Further information on this topic and Erin Seigal’s two publications are available on the Brandeis University website.
UPDATE: “The Heat from Destroying [The Torture Videos] is Nothing Compared to what it Would be if the Tapes Ever Got into the Public Domain” Plus, I Need that Promotion!!
UPDATE 27 March 2013. This morning the Washington Post reports that the as yet unnamed woman who “signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy video tapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture” has become acting chief of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, responsible for launching drone strikes and running spies overseas. The unnamed woman is described by the Post as “in her 50s” and a “home run from a diversity standpoint.” She has served “multiple tours in Moscow” and has held “top positions in London and New York.”
The Post also reports that the new acting director of the Clandestine Service and its former director Jose Rodriguez repeatedly sought permission to destroy the torture tapes, but were denied permission.
The two sent instructions to destroy the tapes anyway, infamously (and sadly, perhaps correctly) noting: “The heat from destroying [the torture videos] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into the public domain.” The order carried only two names: Rodriguez and the new acting director of the Clandestine Service.
The careers of both appear to be thriving. Rodriguez has published a widely promoted book justifying the agency’s actions. And said in an interview with 60 minutes, “We needed to get everybody in government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed.”
For more ruminations on the link between destroying documents and being held accountable for torture, see here.
UPDATE 10 November 2010: Federal prosecutor John Durham will not charge former CIA Director of Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez for authorizing the destruction of videotapes that recorded torture. The statute of limitations for the destruction of tapes expired this week. Durham may still bring charges against CIA agents and contractors who allegedly participated in the torture of detainees in secret “black sites.” Rodriguez’s attorney lauded the decision, stating, “Jose Rodriguez is an American hero, a true patriot who only wanted to protect his people and his country.”
In 2002 an alleged Al-Qaeda member Abu Zabaydah was transferred to a “black prison” in Thailand. There, the CIA waterboarded him 83 times in one month, kept him naked in his cell, subjected him to extreme cold, deprived him from sleep for days, and forced him to listen to extremely loud music. On 9 November 2005 the 92 videos of this “enhanced interrogation” were destroyed. One email shows that Jose Rodriguez Jr., the CIA’s Director of Clandestine Service justified the destruction by saying, “the heat from destroying [the torture videos] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into the public domain.” Read more…
The National Security Archive staffers have seen all sorts of responses from U.S. government agencies, often routine, sometimes extraordinarily helpful, but once in a while absurd. A recent Pentagon mandatory declassification review action falls into the “absurd” category: Pentagon reviewers censored language from a U.S. public law and a unclassified report to Congress.
At issue in the decision was an April 1983 Pentagon report to Congress on “Direct Communications Links and Other Measures to Enhance Stability.” The report, by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, was in response to Section 1123 of Public Law 97-252 calling for a study of measures to prevent U.S.-Soviet crises from getting out of hand so as to minimize risks of nuclear war. The law asked for a study of various proposals, such as crisis control centers and improvements in the Moscow-Washington hotline. According to section (a) (3) (c) of the law, the Defense Department study should examine “measures to reduce the vulnerability of command, control, and communications of both nations.” In its release the Defense Department withheld that language, treating it as if it were a state secret (see page 5 of PDF). While the excerpt from the public law is included in the top secret section, it is in an unclassified (u) paragraph and it is evident that it is statutory and not secret.
Following the top secret version of the report is the unclassified report to Congress (see pages 40-60 of PDF). In keeping with its excision of a public law, the Defense Department redacted portions of the unclassified report, which can be found in the Congressional Record. Admittedly security reviewers cannot know everything that is in the public record, yet the final section of the report, as released by the Pentagon, has no classification markings and the cover memo described it as the “unclassified version.” That should have encouraged the reviewers to leave it untouched but they did not.
From the unclassified report, the reviewers made a number of excisions which can be discerned by interspersing the Congressional Record material in the redacted areas. One of the excisions is stereotypical Cold War language: that the Soviet Union “encourages and takes advantage of political and military instabilities throughout the world and is likely to exploit any ambiguities in a negotiated agreement.” Another redaction is in the last section [60-61 of PDF) relating to “measures to reduce vulnerability of command, control, and communications (C3) on both sides.” Other excisions have to do with concern that that the Soviet Union could use “confidence building measures” and a proposed “Information Sharing Facility” as covers for intelligence operations.
Next to each of the excisions in the Pentagon release are references to the provisions of Executive Order 13526 used to justify them. The Defense Department decision letter spells out the references. Next to the paragraphs on command and control in the unclassified report and the public law are citations to section 3.3. (b) (8) which is designed to protect information that would “reveal current vulnerabilities of systems … relating to national security.” The readers can make up their own minds whether the unclassified language represents a danger in that respect. Section 3.3 (b) (6) was used to excise the references to the former Soviet Union on the grounds that releasing the information would “cause serious harm to relations between the United States and a foreign government.” This does not make sense; not only does the Soviet Union no longer exist the information has no sensitivity 30 years later.
From the Archive’s experience, the FOIA and the mandatory review office at the Defense Department operate with great professionalism even if we do not always agree with their declassification decisions. Nevertheless that officials in the defense bureaucracy, including the Joint Staff, redacted a public law and other public information is more evidence that something has gone awry with the declassification review system. Perhaps the review was the result of out- of-control automatic data processing, but whatever happened it points to the need for better quality control. Certainly in this period of sequesteration it is important that officials responsible for declassification review do not waste time and resources by trying to classify the unclassifiable.
The documents are now before the Interagency Security Classification Appeal Panel, where other government agencies can review and overrule the Defense Department’s decisions.
The end of Sunshine Week seems like a fitting time to cross post (with a few updates) this column I wrote for the Brechner Report. The original can be found here.
In 2007, the Freedom of Information Act was updated so that FOIA requesters did not have to pay search fees if agencies did not respond to requests within the 20 working days required by the law.
In 2009, Jim Bensman filed a FOIA request with the National Park Service for topographical data to make his own digital maps. After 20 days had passed, the Park Service informed Bensman that their FOIA regulations still required him to pay an estimated $1,387.20 in fees, despite the new FOIA law. Bensman went to court, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) defended the Park Service’s illegal FOIA practice until the bitter end.
Fortunately, the judge ruled in Bensman’s favor. The ruling noted that the agency’s FOIA fee regulations “had not been altered since five years before Congress passed the 2007 Amendments substantially revamping several sections of FOIA.”
To study why improvements to the FOIA were not being followed by agencies, the National Security Archive conducted its first FOIA Regulations Audit.
FOIA regulations have been described at FOIA training conferences as the key tool FOIA officers must have at their desk to ensure they are processing requests correctly. Disturbingly, our audit found that the Park Service, part of the Department of the Interior, was not alone in its negligence.
Fifty-three agencies have not updated their Freedom of Information Act regulations since the OPEN Government Act of 2007; fifty-nine agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued his March 19, 2009 memorandum on improved FOIA practices.
So who is responsible for ensuring that regulations are up to-date and reflect recent iprovements to FOIA? The DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), at least in theory. But the DOJ has not updated its own regulations since 2003. Worse, the DOJ OIP recently proposed new regulations that would have been misleading to FOIA requesters about the existence of some documents, exempted online publications from being considered news media, and disqualified most students from receiving FOIA fee waivers. New regulations do not necessarily mean good regulations.
After public outcry, DOJ OIP Director Melanie Pustay testified that she thought “people
misinterpreted,” “misconstrued,” “didn’t necessarily understand” the new regulations.
As Bensman’s case shows, DOJ OIP’s role as a constant defender of agency FOIA practices, even if they are illegal, leaves it ill-suited to serve requesters by pressuring agencies to update their regulations to reflect FOIA improvement. This means that the White House must play this role.
Lisa Ellmann, President Barack Obama’s Chief Counselor for the Open Government Partnership, recently stated that she views Obama’s second term as an opportunity to “chart a new course toward open and responsive government.” She was quick to point out, though, that “FOIA is not my area of expertise.” Apparently, it’s no one’s.
The White House has issued excellent proclamations and declaratory policies on FOIA. But, as the dreadful results of our Regulations Audit show, no one is exerting any effort to force agencies to implement these policies to improve FOIA. No one is even at the ship’s wheel, much less charting a “new course.”
The good news is that the White House can compel agencies to improve how they follow FOIA. The day after our 2010 FOIA Audit, Rahm Emmanuel and Bob Bauer sent a sharply worded memo to every federal agency instructing them to improve their FOIA shops. The next year, our 2011 FOIA Audit showed that half of all agencies had followed the memo’s instructions.
Early in Obama’s first term, Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform, Norm Eisen successfully played the role of FOIA enforcer, using a near constant barrage of emails to ensure that FOIA shops government-wide were improving. His departure to the Czech ambassadorship in early 2011 has left a void in the administration that has not been filled.
For Obama’s inspiring FOIA visions to become concrete FOIA realities in his second term, he must install a new FOIA beat cop. That beat cop’s first task should be to require that all agencies update their FOIA regulations to match the Obama administration’s FOIA expectations. Americans should be able to turn their government’s data into maps without being intimidated.
Archive Director Tom Blanton Testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee, Rebuts DOJ’s FOIA “Pinocchios”
This morning, National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Hearing on “We the People: Fulfilling the Promise of Open Government Five Years After the OPEN Government Act of 2007.” The Committee held the Hearing, spurred by the Archive’s latest Freedom of Information Act Audit, to examine the implementation of the OPEN Government Act and freedom of information issues. Government witnesses were Melanie Pustay, director of the Office of Information Policy, Department of Justice; and Miriam Nisbet, director of the Office of Government Information Services, National Archives and Records Administration. The representatives of the Open Government community were Sean Moulton Director, Open Government Policy, Center For Effective Government, Kevin M. Goldberg, American Society of News Editors and the Sunshine in Government Initiative, and National Security Archive Director, Tom Blanton.
We are providing the webcast of the Hearing for your Sunshine Week viewing pleasure. Be sure to watch Melanie Pustay describe her rosy outlook on the state of FOIA at 55:21. The senators’ blistering questioning of her occurs at 1:07:00. Blanton rebuts her “Pinocchios” at 1:48:50. For Mr. Blanton’s more detailed rebuttal of the DOJ’s assessment of the state-of-FOIA, read his incisive written testimony, which includes our “top ten” suggestions for “best practice” FOIA regulations.