FRINFORMSUM 3/6/2014: Battle Rages Between CIA and Senate Intel Committee over Torture Report, Conflicting Intelligence Analysis of the Ukraine Crisis, and More.
The battle between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s scathing 6,000-page report on the CIA’s defunct detention and interrogation program escalated this week after complaints that the CIA was “inappropriately monitoring” Committee staff while it completed its report. The complaints from Congress compelled the CIA’s inspector general (IG) to begin an inquiry, and the CIA’s IG has reportedly already referred the matter to the Department of Justice for action. The 6,000-page Committee report has yet to be declassified, despite pressure from the White House that it be disclosed, “in part because of a continuing dispute with the C.I.A. over some of its conclusions.” The report has taken more than four years to complete, and has cost more than $40 million –partially because the CIA insisted that Committee staff only be allowed to review classified materials pertinent to the investigation at the agency’s secure facility in Northern Virginia, “[a]nd only after a group of outside contractors had reviewed the documents first.” According to government officials, CIA officers gained access to the computer networks used by the Committee after the CIA became concerned that the Committee itself had inappropriately gained access to parts of the CIA’s computer network it was not authorized to view.
The House Intelligence Committee is seeking explanations for conflicting intelligence reports from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the CIA, and the Office of National Intelligence on the Ukraine crisis. Lawmakers reported that a classified DIA report issued earlier this week concluded that Russia’s troop movements near the Ukrainian border would not lead to military intervention, while a classified CIA report found that while there was a possibility that Russia would intervene in Ukraine, an invasion was unlikely. A closed-door briefing to members of Congress last Thursday by Robert Cardillo, Deputy Director of National Intelligence, further reported that military action in Ukraine was not imminent. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, told POLITICO that, “[w]e have to better deploy our resources… because we have large resources and it should not be possible for Russia to walk in and take over the Crimea and it’s a done deal by the time we know about it.”
While intelligence officials said it was possible that Putin’s decision to take military action was a spontaneous one, a former CIA officer speaking on the condition of anonymity argued that “the agency’s focus on counter-terrorism over the last 13 years has undermined its ability to conduct traditional espionage against key adversaries, including Russia.” The former officer further noted that the agency’s office in Kiev could not be larger than two or three agents.
The White House released an overview of Obama’s FY2015 budget request earlier this week, revealing that the administration is asking for $45.6 billion to fund the National Intelligence Budget. Matthew Aid points out that the proposal sets the goal of enhancing transparency and reforming signals intelligence programs, specifically stating that the intelligence community “will use its signals intelligence capabilities in a way that protects national security while supporting foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.”
According to the agency’s inspector general report, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which oversees the US’ intelligence satellites, makes frequent mistakes when making classification decisions. The IG report revealed that out of a sample of 134 documents, 114 contained classification mistakes. The report, which was conducted in response to the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010 and obtained in response to a FOIA request, found that NRO classification officials “lack sufficient knowledge of classification principles and procedures necessary to perform their duties…One OCA [original classification authority] had almost no knowledge of his responsibilities.” Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood notes that, like other reports completed for the Reducing Over-Classification Act, “the NRO Inspector General review does not allow for the possibility that an agency could be in full compliance with classification rules and nevertheless be overclassifying information.”
The National Security Agency (NSA) recently released its fourth installment of documents on the 1968 capture of the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence collection ship, by North Korean forces. The 61 documents “comprise 236 pages of material, including maps, NSA memoranda, analytic assessments, chronologies, North Korean press releases, and other miscellaneous documents.” A previously declassified 1992 NSA report of the incident claimed that the massive amounts of classified material on board, as well as cipher equipment, were confiscated by the North Koreans and likely passed on to the Soviet Union and China. Despite the compromise of enormous amounts of sensitive information, LBJ conceded that “[p]robably the luckiest thing that happened to us was that we did not send people in there and have another Bay of Pigs.” The USS Pueblo is currently on display at the renovated Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.
FRINFORMSUM 2/27/2014: House Unanimously Passes FOIA Bill, DOJ will try to Inform Media Orgs if it Intends to Seize their Records in Leak Investigations, and More.
The bipartisan Freedom of Information Act Implementation Act (H.R. 1211), co-sponsored by Representatives Darrell Issa (R), Elijah Cummings (D), and Mike Quigley (D) unanimously passed the House earlier this week, leaving FOIA reforms in the hands of the Senate. As written, the bill would: allow the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to submit reports and testimony directly to the Congress and the President rather than through the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy; require each agency to update its FOIA regulations “not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act;” codify the Obama administration’s “presumption of disclosure” language into law; advance an online, one-stop FOIA portal for requesters; and spur Inspectors General to monitor their agencies’ FOIA compliance. The bill is a good first step, and the Archive supports further strengthening the bill as it heads towards the Senate by: reforming the (b)(5) exemption; mandating a public interest test for (b)(3) statutory exemptions; and requiring that agencies post disclosed documents online to ensure that a “release to one is a release to all.”
The Pentagon released a proposal on Monday that would shift the Army to pre-WWII levels and see the Air Force “completely eliminate its A-10 attack airplane fleet” in an attempt to shift the military off the “war footing” it adopted after 9/11. Officials argue the budget cuts reflect both fiscal constraints and the political reality of a President “who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars.” The Department of Defense also announced that its counter-IED program, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), will be scaled down to a third of its size over the next fiscal year (from 3,000 personnel to 1,000), with additional guidance that could bring the final personnel count to as low as 400.
The Inspector General for the National Security Agency (NSA), Dr. George Ellard, recently spoke publicly for the first time about Edward Snowden’s leaks. Ellard compared Snowden to Robert Hanssen, the FBI Supervisory Special Agent who sold secrets to the Soviets, saying that while Hanssen’s motives were clearly economic, “Snowden, in contrast, was manic in his thievery, which was exponentially larger than Hanssen’s. Hanssen’s theft was in a sense finite whereas Snowden is open-ended, as his agents decide daily which documents to disclose. Snowden had no background in intelligence and is likely unaware of the significance of the documents he stole.”
After his NSA reform speech last month, President Obama tasked the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to report possible ways to restructure the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program to him not later than March 28. A month ahead of schedule, and the agencies have already presented the President with four options. The first two, “storing the data with phone companies or another government agency,” are the most feasible, but private phone companies are resistant to such a shift, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Mike Rogers, recently said the panel does not support transferring the NSA data to private phone companies at this point. Another proposal is to turn the data over to the FBI or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, though the FBI is already “intertwined” with the surveillance program. The final option is, of course, doing away with the program altogether. Meanwhile, the NSA is asking to keep its phone records for longer than five years in case the agency needs to use them as evidence in the “slew of privacy lawsuits filed in the wake of the Edward Snowden’s leaks” about its surveillance practices.
The Justice Department recently informed a New York man, Agron Hasbajrami, sentenced last January to a 15-year prison term for supporting terrorism, that evidence in his case was obtained from surveillance conducted without an individual warrant. This makes Hasbajrami the third criminal defendant since last fall “to be told that his prosecution involved surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.” Jamshid Muhtorov, the first criminal defendant who was charged under the provision, is already challenging the law.
The American Bar Association asked the NSA how it deals with attorney-client privilege in the wake of reports that the agency spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute with the US. ABA President, James R. Silkenat, said that “[w]hether or not those press reports are accurate, given the principles of ‘minimization’ under the law, we request your support in preserving fundamental attorney-client privilege protections for all clients and ensuring that the proper policies and procedures are in place at NSA to prevent the erosion of this important legal principle.”
The Justice Department announced last week that it will revise its rules for obtaining news media records during leak investigations, promising it will inform news organizations “in most instances” beforehand if it intends to seize their records. The rule change comes after the Justice Department came under fire for secretly subpoenaing two months of Associated Press records, and now states that “members of the Justice Department may apply for a search warrant to obtain a journalist’s materials only when that person is a focus of a criminal probe for conduct outside the scope of ordinary news-gathering.”
Finally this week, Slate magazine analyzed the CIA’s 1961 “personality sketch” of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a 15-page document that was part of a dossier given to JFK by the CIA prior to Kennedy’s meeting the Khrushchev later that year in Vienna (and available online at the Kennedy Library’s digital archives). According to the CIA document, Khrushchev had been working on refining his public persona, including giving up “his public drinking bouts.” Despite the dossier, by Kennedy’s own admission the meeting was a disaster, and afterwards Khrushchev threatened to isolate West Berlin, eventually building the Berlin Wall later that year. Take a look at the National Security Archive’s posts ‘The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963,’ and ‘Dubious Secrets of the Cuban Missile Crisis‘ for more on Kennedy’s relationship with the Soviet leader.
The bipartisan Freedom of Information Act Implementation Act (H.R. 1211), co-sponsored by Representatives Darrell Issa (R), Elijah Cummings (D), and Mike Quigley (D) unanimously passed the House tonight with a staggering 410 votes. It is now up to the Senate to enact Freedom of Information Act reform.
The National Security Archive supports this bill and has signed onto a letter with 28 other organizations lauding the bill’s upgrades to FOIA, including:
- Providing the “FOIA Ombudsman,” the Office of Government Information Services, the ability to submit reports and testimony directly to the Congress and the President. (Currently, OGIS often must clear its activities with the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy– entities that may temper OGIS’s mission to review compliance of and improve the Freedom of Information Act.)
- Requiring each agency to update its FOIA regulations “not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act.” As the National Security Archive has previously reported, a majority of the 101 federal agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations to incorporate Attorney General Eric Holder’s declaration of a “presumption of disclosure,” encouragement of discretionary releases, and order to remove “unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.” The Federal Trade Commission has not updated its regulations since 1975. While the idea of common, government-wide FOIA regulations –proposed in the White House’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan– may also be a good idea, the National Security Archive believes a statutory requirement trumps a non-binding White House instruction. In either case, the devil will be in the details, and open government watchdogs must be vigilant to ensure that the regulations are progressive rather than regressive.
- Codifying the Obama administration’s “presumption of disclosure” language into law, rather than memo, which can be (and often is) replaced with the change of administrations. (See: John Ashcroft’s infamous FOIA memo.)
- And lastly, the advancement of the online, one-stop FOIA portal for requesters. Sadly, the language in this legislation that requires this portal does not take the final, logical step and require that agencies join the 21st century and post released documents online.
The National Security Archive lauds the House for taking this good first step to begin the process of much needed FOIA upgrades.
We now look toward the Senate to introduce legislation that will build upon the House bill’s advancements and improve the quantity, quality, and efficiency of public access to its government’s information. Further improvements needed in a landmark FOIA law include:
- Reform to the “withhold it because you want to withhold it” b(5) FOIA exemption. The b(5) exemption is used to withhold predecisional information and “inter-agency or intra-agency” communication. Think about that. That’s a lot of information that is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act requests, if an agency wants it to be. Even Attorney General Holder recognized the potential for b(5) misuse when he wrote his memorandum on FOIA, instructing that agencies “should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally.” The problem is… they still do. Two relevantly simple tweaks to the b(5) exemption language would substantially improve this problem. First, model the b(5) exemption on the “p(5)” exemption of the Presidential Records Act which limits the withholding the highest levels of deliberations to 12 years. The second tweak is to treat the b(5) exemption like other exemptions including b(2) “internal practice” and b(6) “personal privacy” exemptions and build in a harm test to determine, case by case, if the government’s claims of predecisional or confidential secrecy outweigh the requester’s claims of value to the public’s interest.
- As other open government groups have argued, a public interest test is also needed for b(3) statutory exemptions. Statutory exemptions are backdoor exemptions that are often secretly snuck into other laws. There are at least 170 statutory exemptions which include the prohibition of release on such things as: cigarette additive information, “obscene matter,” or even information on watermelon growers. While some b(3) exemptions are proper, the statutory exemption was not written into the FOIA so that Congress could provide blanket denials about the special interests of their constituencies. Adding a harm test to b(3) will fix this.
- Finally, the Senate must advance the Freedom of Information Act into the internet era by truly ensuring that a “release to one is a release to all.” It must do this by requiring that agencies post (at some point, not necessarily in realtime) non-first person FOIA releases onto their FOIA reading rooms, or FOIAOnline. As we have explained in this post, posting documents as they’re released underscores that these documents belong to the public; enriches debates on important policy issues; eliminates processing of duplicate FOIA requests; and –perhaps most importantly in this era of austerity– saves money.
I am hopeful that representatives and senators will follow up on the excellent first step by Reps Issa, Cummings, and Quigley and create a law that fundamentally shifts the Freedom of Information Act toward greater openness.
I’m also wary. Remember: the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed the Faster FOIA Act three times since 2005 without it becoming law. In 2010 the Faster FOIA bill passed the entire Senate by unanimous consent, only to die in the House. A year later, the 2011 Faster FOIA bill again passed out of the Senate by unanimous consent; but this time –in an act that still stings to sunshiners like me– Speaker Boehner gutted it and replaced it with the last-minute, secretly-drafted “Budget Control Act of 2011″ to ensure quicker passage in the Senate.
But if you look on the sunshiny side… now that now that the House has finally passed a FOIA Bill, the Senate has its elusive shot to improve the law.
Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been the subject of concern for the US from its inception. However, a recent unclassified extract in the CIA’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, entitled “Iraqi Human Intelligence Collection on Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program, 1980–2003,” gives a glimpse of the Iraqi perspective on Tehran’s program. While illuminating both intelligence methods under Saddam Hussein’s regime and Iraq’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the Iraqi records contain significant inaccuracies and ambiguities. Luckily, declassified US documents from the Digital National Security Archive’s (DNSA) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) collection help to contextualize some of them.
The Iraqi records analyzed in the Studies in Intelligence article contain some interesting insights into Iraq’s intelligence methods and capabilities during the Hussein regime. For example, at the outset of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, Iraq had just three analysts collecting Iranian intelligence, only one of which spoke Farsi. However, by the end of the war in 1988, Iraq had assigned more than 2,500 analysts to the task. The majority of these analysts gathered their intelligence through human sources, predominately high-ranking Iranian officials whose motives were often uncorroborated. One Iraqi general even noted that when recruiting an Iranian air force officer as an informant, the Iraqi general simply “provided him with money, took pictures, did some recordings, and told him our future information needs.” The fact that Iraqi analysts routinely used Iranian sources whose motives were not verified is especially curious, considering Saddam’s well-known anti-Persian sentiments. Saddam even went so far as to promote his uncle’s book, entitled “Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies,” begging the question what would motivate any Iranian source to betray his country to Saddam’s regime?
The Iraqi records also reveal that in addition to regular use of uncorroborated sources, the responsibilities of Iraq’s five intelligence agencies routinely overlapped, leading to extensive inter and intra-agency competition that was prioritized above trade-craft, encouraging rushed, incomplete, and blatantly incorrect reporting.
Despite collection and bureaucratic problems, Iraqi analysts correctly noted that by the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Iran was paying increased attention to its nuclear program, and courting nations including North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union, for nuclear technology. A March 1995 CIA report of unknown classification from the DNSA’s WMD collection supports this finding, noting that Iran was aggressively pursuing its nuclear ambitions and had “turned to Asia as its principal source of special weapons and weapons technology.”
When crafting reports, Iraqi analysts contended with the daunting task of presenting Hussein -who flippantly rewarded or punished subordinates- with the intelligence he wanted, which led to intentionally ambiguous or one-sided reporting. The caution many Iraqi analysts took in their intelligence reports is exemplified by the claim that Iran “had three motives for acquiring a nuclear weapons capability: to prevent American interference in the region, to challenge Israel, and to protect the religious integrity and demonstrate the strength of Islam.” While this is partly true, it neglects the obvious: that Iran was also seeking the ultimate defense in the aftermath of its eight-year war with Iraq.
A January 3, 2003, Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from the same DNSA WMD collection, “Iran: Arms and Weapons of Mass Destruction Suppliers,” supports the argument that the devastating effects of the Iran-Iraq War -in addition to a desire to keep the US at bay- motivated Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, noting that “Iran attributed its loss in that war partly to Iraq’s superior WMD capabilities,” arguing that possible fears of dangers from its neighbors led to “virtually all” of Iran’s WMD developments. The CRS report states that Iran turned to the Soviet Union in particular because the recent conflict with Iraq “left Iran’s conventional arsenal devastated, and the need for rearmament provided Iran and the Soviet Union an opportunity to pursue mutual interests…Iran, partly because of U.S. efforts during the Iran-Iraq war to shut off worldwide arms sales to Iran, lacked a wide choice of willing suppliers, and the Soviet Union saw arms sales to Iran as one way to broaden its influence in the Gulf.”
The Anonymous author of the Studies in Intelligence article, a Georgetown graduate student at the time of writing the article, notes that Iraqi intelligence reports were “often inflated,” and events were regularly cited as “top secret” despite being open source intelligence at the time. It’s worth noting that while this is a problematic practice, it’s certainly not one Iraq practiced alone. A June 5, 2008, Senate Intelligence Committee report argued that the Bush administration repeatedly exaggerated “what they knew about Iraq’s weapons and its ties to terrorist groups.” Portions of “Iraqi Human Intelligence Collection on Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program, 1980–2003” are still classified, even though the article itself is based on documents ostensibly open to the public (some of which can be accessed online here, or in person at the Conflict Records Research Center at the National Defense University).
While both US and Iraqi accounts of Iran’s nuclear programs reflect a certain amount of ambiguity and bias, the declassified US documents help contextualize and verify the fascinating Iraqi records, which are available to researchers at the Conflict Records Research Center at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. For more of the declassified record on both Iraq and Iran’s nuclear programs, or the Iran-Iraq War, please visit the National Security Archive.
FRINFORMSUM 2/20/2014: Snowden Docs Reveal NSA Spied on American Law Firm and Targeted WikiLeaks, DHS Scraps Plan to Build National License Plate Tracking System, and More.
A Top Secret document leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, reveals that the agency spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute against the US. The document raises both concerns for US lawyers with clients overseas and accusations of economic espionage. While the NSA is prohibited from targeting American organizations, including law firms, attorney-client conversations “do not get special protections under American law from N.S.A. eavesdropping,” and the agency “can intercept the communications of Americans if they are in contact with a foreign intelligence target abroad, such as Indonesian officials.”
Other Top Secret documents provided by Edward Snowden and posted on The Intercept (the new website edited by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill) disclose the agency’s strategic targeting of WikiLeaks, its supporters, and other activist groups –including Pirate Bay and Anonymous. The documents confirm that the NSA’s British counterpart, GCHQ, electronically monitored WikiLeaks website visitors; that the Obama administration urged foreign governments to file criminal charges against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, over publication of Afghanistan war logs; that the Obama administration discussed labeling WikiLeaks “a malicious foreign actor” to ease extensive electronic surveillance of its activities; and that a 2008 US Army report identified ways to destroy the organization.
In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said the NSA should have informed Congress and the public about its surveillance programs far sooner. Clapper argued that the shock value of Snowden’s revelations are the main reason the public and privacy advocates are opposed to the programs, and that had the agency been more forthright, the programs would be more widely accepted. Regardless, in light of Snowden’s disclosures and President Obama’s avowed “efforts to overhaul the intelligence community,” outgoing NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander will be sending President Obama proposals for storing the data collected by the bulk phone records collection program outside the NSA sometime this week. In his NSA reform speech, Obama suggested that private phone companies might store the data, though the private companies themselves remain adamantly opposed to such a move.
The British High Court upheld London police’s August 18, 2013, detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, at London’s Heathrow Airport. The police detained Miranda for nearly nine hours after invoking terrorism legislation, and seized devices that contained documents leaked by Edward Snowden, including nearly 60,000 “highly classified UK intelligence documents.” Miranda’s lawyers argued “that the government’s use of terrorism legislation to detain the Brazilian citizen was improper, disproportionate, and ran counter to the principle of free expression,” citing further concerns that the detention would intimidate other journalists. However, the Court ruled Miranda’s detention “was a proportionate measure in the circumstances.” The majority of the information Miranda carried was encrypted, and, as of August 30, 2013, Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, SO15, had only reconstructed 75 of the 60,000 documents.
The White House is seeking potential new bases in Central Asia for the CIA’s lethal drone program in Northwest Pakistan in the event US forces are forced to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year. However, officials are concerned that their ability to target operatives in Pakistan will be greatly reduced if they are forced to relocate from their Afghan bases, in large part because the amount of human intelligence required to support the strikes necessitates being close to Pakistan’s Northwest border. However, a recent Intercept report examines the NSA’s role in the CIA’s drone program, and argues that the NSA uses “electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets,” and the CIA, “[r]ather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scrapped its plan to build a national license plate tracking system to catch fugitive illegal immigrants yesterday “after privacy advocates raised concern about the initiative.” Earlier this week, a DHS spokeswoman announced that the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals,” and stressed that it “would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government.” However, outcry arose after the Washington Post reported the program could “contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.” Even though the national tracking system has been nixed, a 2012 Police Executive Research Forum report found that 71% of all US police departments already use automatic license plate tracking.
Finally this week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released a report examining FOIA statistics, backlogs, and potential policy options to improve the FOIA. The report cautions against taking all agency reporting at face value, pointing out, “a reduction in backlog does not necessarily mean an agency is more efficiently administering FOIA. For example, an agency could eliminate a backlog by denying complex requests that could otherwise be released in part.” The report also cites the Archive’s latest FOIA audit on outdated agency FOIA regulations, and suggests that Congress “may wish to consider whether it should direct agencies to examine their FOIA regulations, to determine whether they reflect statutory amendments, and to update any regulations that do not reflect FOIA, as amended.” The report further notes that Congress could monitor the expansion of (b)(3) exemptions to “prevent the creation of exemptions written more broadly than intended,” and preventing “certain agencies from operating without the public being able to access data and records.”
Mexico Migration Agency Has No Record of Meeting with State Department’s Top Human Trafficking Official
Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) cannot locate a single document or electronic record relating to a 2008 meeting between INM commissioner, Cecilia Romero, and the U.S. State Department official in charge of monitoring and combating human trafficking. The episode is the subject of our latest entry over at Migration Declassified.
INM continues to declare the “non-existence” of such records despite an exhaustive, 44-page ruling from the country’s information commissioners ordering the agency to find responsive information. The case stems from a 2013 access to information request submitted to INM by the National Security Archive for briefing papers and other documentation pertaining to the 2008 visit to Mexico of U.S. Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, then the top U.S. official in charge of monitoring and combating human trafficking.
In overturning INM’s response in January, the commissioners of the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) said they “had no certainty that [INM] had exhausted all possible methods to locate the requested information and, as a consequence, INM was not in compliance” with Mexico’s federal access to information law. As evidence, IFAI cited a declassified U.S. State Department document that describes Lagon’s visit and his meeting with INM Commissioner Romero. The Archive included the January 2008 U.S. Embassy Mexico cable (excerpted below) in its appeal of INM’s original determination that such records do not exist:
Commissioner Optimistic But Recognizes Challenges Ahead
INM’s Commissioner, Cecilia Romero, used her meeting with Lagon to highlight efforts to address TIP [Trafficking in Persons] over the last six months and possible future challenges in the wake of Mexico’s newly adopted anti-TIP law. Although Romero seemed optimistic about the law and the number of migration officials trained, she was honest about the amount of work Mexico needs to do in order to ensure that the law effectively addresses TIP. Romero identified the following challenges Mexico faces in making progress in combating TIP: lack of funds to support the new law, insufficient public awareness about the issue, and under-trained law enforcement officials to address the psychological needs of a TIP victim. Lagon applauded the GOM’s [Government of Mexico’s] adoption of the new law and stressed that the U.S. was here ‘to help’ Mexico. Romero ended the meeting by saying that she hopes to obtain more help in training agents on identifying and providing services to victims of trafficking.
In light of the fact that INM cannot even manage to keep track of its own archival documents, it’s not surprising that the agency has failed by almost every measure to protect the rights of migrants and the victims of human trafficking. Romero was ultimately forced to resign from her post as INM commissioner following the August 2010 massacre of 72 migrants by alleged members of the Zetas criminal organization and amid reports that some 18,000 migrants had been kidnapped in Mexico during the previous year.
INM’s intransigent position in the face of access to information requests and stern rulings from IFAI is part of an unfortunate pattern exhibited by it and many other Mexican federal agencies. One migrant rights advocate and frequent user of the Mexican access law told Migration Declassified that they had “hit a wall this year with our access to information strategy, and a lot of it is due to the fact that the INM is declaring that it does not have the information we are seeking.”
The message is clear: in order to get the information they are seeking, petitioners under the Mexican access law have to be prepared to take their cases court.
On January 20, 1980, President Carter announced that “[u]nless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan,” that the US would boycott the Olympic games that year in Moscow. The media, including the Washington Post’s Robert G. Kaiser, supported the boycott, arguing, “the collapse of this Olympiad would send a genuine shock through Soviet society,” though CIA Director Adm. Stansfield Turner warned that such a stunt would backfire. Declassified documents, including the confidential memo featured in today’s posting, help contextualize the Carter administration’s final decision to boycott the games in the hopes of preventing Soviet expansion into Afghanistan.
The confidential January 30, 1980, memorandum from William E. Simon, Treasurer of the US Olympic Committee (USOC), to Marshall Brement, Honorary President of the USOC, encapsulated the Carter position on boycotting the games. In the memo, which is part of the Digital National Security Archive’s “CIA Covert Operations, 1977-2010” collection, Simon wrote that while the majority of the US Olympic Committee felt that “pressure from the President and the Congress forced them to take their position” to boycott the games, he remained confident they would come to embrace the official USOC position “a little more enthusiastically” in the weeks to come. Simon’s belief was no doubt buoyed by the boycott’s popularity with the American public, nearly 55% of whom were alarmed by the Soviet Union’s first attempt at territorial expansion since the end of WWII and supported the protest.
The boycott might have had the support of the President and the majority of American citizens, but it was abhorred by US Olympians. Simon’s memo notes that “[a]thletes remain, quite naturally, the group most hostile to nonparticipation in the Olympics, though they are supporting us. The athletes do not trust the USOC and they deserve special attention.” American member of the International Olympic Committee, Julian Roosevelt, and gold medalist Al Oerter, proved Simon’s point, arguing respectively that “I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but the patriotic thing to do is for us to send a team over there and whip their ass,” and “[t]he only way to compete against Moscow is to stuff it down their throats in their own backyard.”
The Soviets defied Carter’s January 20 Afghanistan ultimatum and the US followed through on its threat, leading 65 countries in a boycott of the 1980 games and sending their athletes to an alternate event instead. Carter initially wanted the alternate games to take place in Africa, hoping to “encourage developing countries that were not aligned to either superpower to join the boycott of the Moscow games and offer Western athletes – who were largely skeptical of a ban – the chance to compete in an alternative event.” The President even sent Muhammad Ali on an African tour to promote the boycott and solicit countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, and the Ivory Coast, to consider hosting the alternate event. Ali’s trip was ultimately unsuccessful, and the “Boycott Games” ended up being held in Philadelphia with mixed results, since many countries officially boycotting the Olympics still allowed their athletes to compete in Moscow under the international flag.
Carter’s insistence on boycotting the games prompted some in the Kremlin to wonder if he was emotionally unstable, and Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to Washington, later said of the boycott, “I had never encountered anything like the intensity and scale of this one. What particularly caught my attention was the president’s personal obsession with Afghanistan.” In the end, CIA Director Adm. Stansfield Turner’s prediction that boycotting the 1980 Games would backfire proved correct, and the Soviet Union retaliated by boycotting 1984 games in LA, due to “chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States,” and, more importantly, remained in Afghanistan for nearly another decade.
For more declassified documents on the Carter administration, the 1980 Olympic boycott, and US-Soviet relations, visit the Digital National Security Archive.