FRINFORMSUM 11/7/2013: Action Plans, Bills, Budgets, and the CIA and DOD’s Baffling ‘OK-to-Torture’ Rationalization
The Open Government Partnership’s London summit concluded on November 1, with 37 members offering brand new open government commitments. For its part, the Obama administration announced the outline for the United States’ second National Action Plan (NAP), which includes a lot of potentially powerful improvements, like developing a set of common FOIA regulations, improving FOIA training across the government, and establishing a FOIA modernization committee. However, these potential improvements will only be felt if the administration puts in the hard work to make substantive improvements to how it administers FOIA –not mere lip service.
The White House rejected Edward Snowden’s request for clemency in the wake of his revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance practices this week. Both the White House and Congressional leaders argued that Snowden should return to the US to face charges, and that his unofficial disclosures damaged national interests. While Snowden’s revelations have caused a host of domestic and international problems for the administration, the White House insists that while it may be necessary to curtail some of the NSA’s surveillance practices, for now ‘there is no workable alternative to the bulk collection of huge quantities of “metadata,” including records of all telephone calls made inside the United States.’
While the White House argues the continuation of bulk collection of metadata is necessary, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy’s proposed bill, the USA Freedom Act, would “place stringent restrictions on the agency’s programs and forbid it from collecting metadata in bulk.” The bipartisan Freedom Act is getting more support, most recently from Senator Ron Wyden.
The National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the U.S. Intelligence Community released its 37-page unclassified report on Tuesday, finding that the scientific research efforts of the intelligence community are “poorly coordinated, and agencies have struggled to develop adequate defenses against emerging threats including cyberattacks.” The commission found that agencies often pursue “competing research agendas, with no overarching strategy to make sure that spending and resources are being aimed at the most critical U.S. intelligence needs…conclud[ing] that U.S. agencies are too focused on developing ways to stop cyberattacks and restore networks, rather than anticipating intrusions and protecting intellectual property.” Panelists who helped compile the report, completed before Edward Snowden’s leaks, said the recent NSA revelations “underscores a failure to develop more targeted abilities to mine data rather than assembling as much of it as possible.” There is a classified version of the report hundreds of pages long that delves deeper into the threat of cyberespionage.
One of the National Commission’s main recommendations “was to create a more powerful position within the office of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee research, redirecting money to the most promising projects and pulling the plug on others,” which hopefully made its way into the latest intelligence budget. The Senate Intelligence Committee Passed its FY 2014 intelligence budget by a vote of 13-2 this week, and the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 will soon head to the Senate floor for a vote. One of the Act’s provisions includes “[m]aking the director and inspector general of the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.” It was reported this week that the White House is considering an even larger change in leadership at the NSA, and is debating separating the leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command, presumably to “avoid an undue concentration of power in one individual and separate entities with two fundamentally different missions,” as well as discussing whether or not the NSA should be led by a civilian.
In other news this week, The Guardian reported that the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres found the CIA made doctors and psychiatrists torture suspected terrorists after 9/11. The report primarily faults the CIA and Department of Defense, which “required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.” Especially troubling, the task force found that medical staffs were told, for all intents and purposes, that their medical ethos of “first do no harm” did not apply because they were not treating people who were ill.
On a lighter note to end this week’s posting, it was reported that the U.S. intelligence agencies have their own Twitter, and it’s called eChirp. According to the Washington Post, “[i]t allows analysts to weigh in on breaking news from across several agencies, much like Twitter allows in the public sphere. The project started as a pilot program in 2009 and expanded to the entire U.S. intelligence community in 2010.”
“Near total impunity” for Mexican Cartels “in the face of compromised local security forces,” U.S. Cable
Four months before the feared Zetas drug cartel kidnapped and murdered 72 migrants in northeastern Mexico, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said that narcotrafficking organizations in that region operated with “near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces.” As the date of the massacre drew nearer, another U.S. agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), reported new evidence linking the Zetas to soldiers from the Kaibiles, an elite Guatemalan special forces known for spectacular acts of cruelty and brutality during that country’s civil war.
These records are among a set of U.S. documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and published today by the National Security Archive, providing a glimpse of what U.S. diplomats and intelligence analysts were saying about the extreme violence that has engulfed Mexico’s northern border state of Tamaulipas in recent years and the apparent complicity of Mexican officials. Just this week, a new round of violence in Tamaulipas took the lives of 13 more people, as drug-related violence flared yet again.
Some of these documents are featured in this week’s edition of Proceso magazine, in an article by award-winning investigative journalist Marcela Turati. Her report highlights the unchecked power of the Zetas in the region and the inability or unwillingness of federal, state and local officials in Mexico to provide security for citizens and migrants traveling in the region.
The turf war between the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel and other criminal organizations for control of drug trafficking, human smuggling and other illicit enterprises in northern Mexico produced unimaginable scenes of carnage, including the August 2010 massacre of 72 migrants travelers in San Fernando and the discovery, the following year, of graves containing the remains of hundreds more.
In August, we published the first set of cables on the San Fernando massacres, including one in which U.S. diplomats say that Mexican authorities wanted to minimize “the state’s responsibility” for the massacres in the region. Government authorities sought to cover up information on the violence, according to U.S. officials, and jeopardized investigations into the killings by splitting up corpses of the victims “to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming.”
Check out the full report over at the National Security Archive.
Recently, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published a piece I wrote in which I attempted to convey the link between the danger of the 1983 Able Archer nuclear war scare (read the 1,000-plus page set of annotated documents here), and how the “US classification system creates crippling and utterly unnecessary obstacles to a clearer public understanding of historical events, including the potential danger of nuclear miscalculation that occurred during Able Archer 83.”
The withholding of information about close brushes with nuclear war is more difficult to justify in the United States, ostensibly a representative democracy then fighting a Cold War against totalitarian communism to preserve its citizens’ democratic way of life, relative freedom, and open society. Were these values expressed when events suggesting that there had been a real risk of accidental nuclear war were concealed from the public through the classification system?
Indeed, immediately after the first Special National Intelligence Estimate on Able Archer 83 was produced, the US government sanitized all mention of the possibility that the Soviets viewed it as a possible first strike vehicle from reports to its NATO allies. Part of the reason for this sanitization was to protect the MI6 source inside the KGB, Gordievsky. But clearly, some US policy makers also did not want to tell their NATO allies that Able Archer 83 may have increased the risk of nuclear war, because doing so might have caused some of those allies to reconsider decisions to deploy nuclear-armed US cruise and Pershing II missiles on their territory.
In the early 1980s, the decision to conceal the risks created by Able Archer 83 may have seemed necessary to US national security. One can at least understand the belief that the forward-basing of US nuclear missiles was amore important concern than abstract notions of open government. The continued classification of significant documents related to Able Archer 83, 30 years after the fact, is much harder to defend. Documents that deal with this exercise –including the most comprehensive report ever written about it– contain information of interest not only to scholars of the Cold War, but also to all concerned about the danger of nuclear weapons. If, as some within the US intelligence community have claimed, there was an increased danger of nuclear war through miscalculation in 1983, the documents detailing the danger of Able Archer 83 could help avert current and future nuclear standoffs and reduce the probability of accidental war. Furthermore, revelations about the risk and possibility
of nuclear miscalculation complicate the argument that nuclear deterrence has gifted humanity with a “long peace” and undermine the contention that the danger of worldwide nuclear war ended with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Now, the Soviet SS-20s and American Pershing IIs have been removed and retired, the Cold War has ended, and the Soviet Union no longer exists. After the fact, a fuller picture of the dangers of Able Archer 83 has emerged. But due to failures of the US declassification system, honest and malicious, the most important documents about this potentially dangerous nuclear episode remain unavailable to the public, locked in secure facilities, under the rubric that their release “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” when, in fact, their declassification could help protect the United States and the rest of the world from the gravest of all security threats: nuclear war.
British Ministry of Defence documents obtained by Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service confirm that British intelligence observed “an unprecedented Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83 and other reports of alleged concern about a surprise NATO attack.” This led senior British ministers and intelligence chiefs to “urgently consider how to approach the Americans on the question of possible Soviet misapprehensions about a surprise NATO attack.”
This information from the British Archives squares with a May 28, 1983 memo to the US Secretary of State, posted by the National Security Archive earlier this year, in which the Bureau of Intelligence and Research revealed that the US did not draft its Special National Intelligence Estimate on the War Scare until after it was made aware of “British concerns” of “Soviet military and political moves beginning with exercise Able Archer 83.”
The memo also revealed that the United States provided the original, top secret version of the SNIE to its British allies, but created a “sanitized” version –which removed all mentions of “Able Archer 83,” the very reason it was created– to provide to other NATO allies that participated in the NATO war game. As I write in “Countdown to Declassification,” the US classification system was used to restrict information about the increased risk or nuclear war from our NATO allies for two reasons. The first was to protect the UK’s double agent with the KGB, Oleg Gordievsky. The second, and more nefarious, was to ensure that NATO (specifically West Germany) would not waver in its decision to host the newly deployed US Pershing II nuclear missiles, which could reach Russia in 10 minutes –upsetting the previous nuclear strategic balance in Europe, and leading directly to hair trigger alerts, Operation RYaN, and the danger of Able Archer 83.
In an excellent article accompanying the posting of these documents, Burt reveals the existence of another comprehensive British report on Able Archer 83 that has not yet been released. The March 23, 1984, report, “JIC(84)(N)45 “Soviet Union: Concern About a Surprise NATO Attack,” reached “no firm conclusion,” but warned that “we cannot discount the possibility that at least some Soviet officials / officers may have misinterpreted Able Archer 83 and possibly other nuclear CPXs [command post exercises] as posing a real threat.” The information contained within this still-classified, JIC led Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong to advise Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that the evidence available “shows the concern of the Soviet Union over a possible NATO surprise attack mounted under cover of exercises.” Mirroring a similar assessment by Director of the CIA William Casey, he argued that the Soviet response to Able Archer “does not appear to have formed part of the Soviet exercise programme … it took place over a major Soviet holiday, it had the form of actual military activity and alerts, not just war-gaming, and it was limited geographically to the area, Central Europe, covered by the NATO exercise which the Soviet Union was monitoring.”
This JIC report has similarities to a still-classified comprehensive 100-page US President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board report on Able Archer which the National Security Archive is still fighting to get released.
The reports of possible Soviet miscalculation of Western nuclear intentions convinced Thatcher to attempt to compel the United States to “consider what could be done to remove the danger that, by mis-calculating Western intentions, the Soviet Union would over-react [to Western war games],” and ordered British officials to “urgently consider how to approach the Americans on the question of possible Soviet misapprehensions about a surprise NATO attack”.
In response, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence drafted a joint paper for discussion with the Americans in May 1984 which proposed that “NATO should inform the Soviet Union on a routine basis of proposed NATO exercise activity involving nuclear play.”
“Whatever the reliability of the specific JIC assessment,” one official concluded, “its paper has served as a catalyst for consideration of the inherent advantages of agreeing some confidence building measures relating to nuclear command post exercises.” These concerns were likely discussed during Reagan’s June 5, 1984, meeting with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other officials at 10 Downing Street.
British warnings may indeed have reached and affected one US official– Colin Powell, then serving as military assistant to the Secretary of Defense. In April of 1984 (before the Reagan and Thatcher’s meeting), he wrote a memo about another upcoming nuclear exercise, the US-Canadian military exercise Night Train 84, conducted from 5-13 April 1984. In it, Powell warned that, ”Conduct of a worldwide nuclear exercise could show strength of purpose. On the other hand, it could be perceived as showing an intent for use of nuclear weapons. It could have the potential to affect US/USSR strategic arms reduction negotiations or bilateral US/USSR strategic arms reduction negotiations or bilateral US/USSR summit preparations should either of these be in progress.”
No analogous brief has been found for Able Archer 83.
Below are the documents originally posted by Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service.
In November 1975 while Angola was battling for independence and internal and external forces were competing for primacy, Cuban forces militarily intervened in support of the leftist MPLA movement and against US-supported movements.“By the end of 1975 the Cuban military in Angola numbered more than 25,000 troops. Following the retreat of Zaire and South Africa, Cuban forces remained in Angola to support the MPLA government against UNITA in the continuing Angolan Civil War.” Cuban forces intervened again in 1988, leading to the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, and “[t]his turn of events is considered to have been the major impetus to the success of the ongoing peace talks leading to the New York Accords, the agreement by which Cuban and South African forces withdrew from Angola while South West Africa gained its independence from South Africa. Cuban military engagement in Angola ended in 1991.”
For over 25 years the Archive has been submitting targeted FOIA requests to federal agencies to learn more about Cuban intervention in Angola, and the collection of documents posted below have been our reward. Please take a look at the documents for yourself!
[This posting is part of an ongoing crowdsourcing initiative where we will provide documents newly-released through the Freedom of Information Act to the public, and give you the first crack at the documents so you can tell us what is significant about them. Please enjoy!]
FRINFORMSUM 10/31/2013: NSA Talking Points Use Fear as Surveillance Justification (Despite Director’s Admission of Lying to Congress About Results), and Much More.
The National Security Agency (NSA) “and its partners must make sure we connect the dots so that the nation is never attacked like it was on 9/11,” and NSA officials should profess to prefer explaining the agency’s surveillance programs rather “than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.” These talking points and “sound bites that resonate” were obtained by Al Jazeera thanks to a FOIA request and are a boon for critics who have “long noted the tendency of senior U.S. politicians and security officials to use the fear of attacks like the one that killed almost 3,000 Americans to justify policies ranging from increased defense spending to the invasion of Iraq.” Of course, despite using increased safety as a catchall justification for surveillance, NSA head Keith Alexander has already admitted that the dragnet NSA programs didn’t actually prevent the 54 attempted terrorist attacks touted by the agency in the immediate aftermath of Snowden’s leaks, and that only one or two attacks “were identified as a result of bulk phone record collection.”
The NSA has repeated time and again that Snowden’s revelations are making the agency’s job collecting overseas intelligence to thwart espionage attempts more difficult. However, revelations that the agency spied on German chancellor Angela Merkel since as early as 2002 “from the United States Embassy in the heart of Berlin” have murkier counter-espionage bona fides, and are creating a public relations nightmare for the Obama administration. The White House professed ignorance in response to reports that the NSA spied on Merkel’s cell and “monitored the phone conversations of at least 35 world leaders,” with officials saying that ‘Obama never knew that the program targeted American allies… he was aware of collection efforts aimed at leaders of “adversarial countries.”’ Unfortunately for President Obama, the administration is plagued by credibility problems on the surveillance subject after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney assured reporters last week that the NSA wasn’t currently monitoring Merkel’s communications, and Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper, admitted to lying to Congress this summer about NSA surveillance practices.
Despite the mar on his testimonial record, Clapper again testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, arguing that the agency did keep senior officials informed of the surveillance, and that the White House had been aware in general terms of the NSA’s overseas eavesdropping for some time. According to other intelligence officials, the White House and State Department approved surveillance targeting phone conversations of allied leaders, and even if “Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications… certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”
The constant NSA revelations are forcing members of Congress to reposition themselves and their stance on the agency’s activities. Perhaps the NSA’s strongest congressional supporter –until now– was Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein, who recently said that ‘she was “totally opposed” to gathering intelligence on foreign leaders and said it was “a big problem” if President Obama didn’t know the NSA was monitoring the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said the United States should only be spying on foreign leaders with hostile countries, or in an emergency, and even then the president should personally approve the surveillance.’ Feinstein also promised to “initiate a review into all intelligence collection programs,” leaving NSA officials increasingly isolated on Capitol Hill.
Senator Feinstein’s statements come at the same time Senator Leahy, in partnership with congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, co-author of the Patriot Act, introduced the USA Freedom Act. The Act “aims to ban the National Security Agency from using the Patriot Act to collect bulk telephone records in the US and close a similar loophole in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) which has allowed the content of American communications to be targeted.” But the ban would be unlikely to curtail the NSA’s surveillance of email communications of Americans and others –considering the latest bombshell from the Washington Post, reporting that despite having front-door access to tech giants Google and Yahoo thanks to their PRISM program, the NSA also broke into the companies’ global data centers. This back-door access allows the NSA “to collect [data] at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans,” and “to intercept communications in real time and to take “a retrospective look at target activity.”’ This project, called MUSCUALR, “appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies.” No kidding.
In non-NSA news, there is a new issue of the CIA’s in-house journal Studies in Intelligence available online. The journal includes “an interesting article by intelligence historian Tom Boghardt on U.S. Army intelligence collection operations in Germany in the years immediately after the end of World War II.” The CIA also recently declassified revelations about its U-2 spy plane, which reignited enormous public interest in the U-2′s secret test site at Area 51, but documents posted this week by the Archive show that Area 51 played an even larger role in the Air Force’s top secret stealth programs in the 1970s and 1980s, and hosted secretly obtained Soviet MiG fighters during the Cold War.
Certainly some scary stuff this Halloween. Happy FOIA-ing!
As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the National Security Archive is utilizing formerly classified documents released by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to help bring accountability for and inform the public of the atrocity. The only problem is, the DIA released these documents nearly a decade ago –and is now redacting the information they once released.
Back in 2004, the Archive submitted a FOIA request about the Rwandan genocide, and the DIA released 14 responsive documents. In 2013, the Archive submitted a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request for the re-review and release of information withheld in the 2004 case (a common technique to compel agencies to disclose more information). Usually agencies release more information, as the passage of time has made its protection no longer necessary, but in this case, the DIA attempted to retroactively classify information. Of the 16 documents, 6 are nearly fully redacted, even though they were released with only limited redactions in 2004.
In addition to the DIA’s retroactive classification, the information contained in the documents already exists in the public domain thanks to many other important declassifications on the Rwandan Genocide, including documents that were used by the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the trend of increased declassification on the tragedy should not be reversed.
Take a look at the document below for one egregious example. The document refers to Uganda’s support of the Tutsi majority Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a fact found in scholarly books, other declassified documents, and in news reports. The document reports that, “attacks in the northeastern sector near the [(b)(1),1.4(b)] border reflect a recent change in the tactics of the RPF, which previously had mostly attacked military targets.” Even by looking at a map, a person unfamiliar with the conflict could discern that Uganda is on the northeastern border of Rwanda, yet this is information, according to the DIA reviewers, is a threat to national security as “foreign government information”.
Here is a table comparing the 2004 and 2013 releases, with examples of “newly” redacted information: Table of 2004 vs 2013 Releases. The Archive recently filed an administrative appeal in this case.
These kinds of declassification reversals beg the question of whether the DIA took President Obama’s January 21, 2009 FOIA Memorandum directing all agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure” and apply this presumption “to all decisions involving FOIA” seriously. The DIA’s latest disclosure makes me think not.