Chiquita’s Terrorist Funding, Bureau of Prisons Admits CIA Afghanistan Prison Visit, and More: FRINFORMSUM 12/2/2016
Chiquita Terrorist Funding
A federal judge in Florida ruled that “victims of Colombian paramilitary death squads funded by Chiquita” have a right to have their case heard in the United States rather than Colombia, “clearing the way for the historic case to advance toward trial.” The ruling comes nearly a decade after Chiquita pled guilty in 2007 to charges of “engaging in unauthorized transactions” with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which was designated a global terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2001.
“It’s an important win for the victims of violent groups funded by Chiquita,” said Michael Evans, director of the Archive’s Colombia documentation project, “and a big boost for groups seeking to hold multinational corporations accountable for human rights crimes in US courts.”
Earlier this year, Evans filed an affidavit in the class action lawsuit in which he used Chiquita corporate records obtained through the National Security Archive’s FOIA litigation to identify a dozen individuals connected to the paramilitary payments scheme and who are now potential witnesses for the plaintiffs.
In July 2015 a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should release to the National Security Archive some 9,257 pages of records produced by Chiquita Brands International to the SEC as part of an investigation of the company’s illegal payments to the AUC. The Archive’s FOIA case began in November 2008, when our office filed a pair of FOIA requests with the SEC asking for records relating to SEC and Justice Department investigations of Chiquita’s Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, for violations including the illegal AUC payments.
In April 2011, the Archive published some 5,500 pages of Chiquita’s records released by the Department of Justice in response to similar FOIA requests. Those records revealed that Chiquita benefited from its transactions with both AUC “paramilitary” groups and insurgents from the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups. The records call into question the Justice Department’s determination, spelled out in the 2007 plea deal, that there was no evidence of a quid pro quo with the illegal groups.
Domestic Law Enforcement Agency Admits Trip to Secret CIA Prison
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recently admitted for the first time that two BOP officials visited a CIA “black site” prison in Afghanistan in 2002. The agency submitted legal filings confirming the visit during the course of an ACLU FOIA lawsuit – seven months after the bureau told the ACLU that it had no records in response to the ACLU’s FOIA request for information on the visit, which was revealed in a Senate report. Afghan detainee Gul Rahman died at the prison in November 2002 after being “short shackled” overnight, and “likely” freezing to death – a technique the CIA implemented after flying the BOP officials to Afghanistan.
It’s worth noting that “The Bureau of Prisons is a domestic law enforcement agency that does not have the authority to classify intelligence information. The agency explained in the legal filing on Thursday that the two officials who visited the detention site were told by the CIA ‘that they were not permitted to discuss their participation in this training, or to create or retain any records of the training or their involvement.’”
75 Years of CIA Cartography
The CIA’s Cartography Center posted a collection of declassified maps to commemorate the center’s 75th anniversary. The posting includes nine albums that feature cartography tools and maps from the 1940s to the present. The collection of maps from the 1940s notes that the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor, produces 8,000 hand-drawn maps. The release also includes photographs of the Bush administration taken shortly after 9/11 and “a 3D map of the Konar Valley in Afghanistan from 2001, while another map from 2012 includes a full country profile, with geographic information and a timeline of various influential groups in the region.”
Fidel Castro Dead at 90
The National Security Archive’s Cuba project director Peter Kornbluh visited with The Atlantic (here) and Democracy Now (here and here) in recent days to discuss what implications Fidel Castro’s death could have on the normalization of US-Cuba relations. The Archive’s Cuba project has produced a number of postings on the US’s complicated relationship with Castro, including:
- “Oscars: ‘Bridge of Spies,’ The Sequel,”
- “Kissinger Considered Attack on Cuba Following Angola Incursion,”
- “Cuban Missile Crisis Revelations: Kennedy’s Secret Approach to Castro,”
- “The Armageddon Letters,” and
- “The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Missiles of November.”
The National Security Archive also hosted a conference in Havana for the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, bringing together the senior surviving veterans of the event, including Castro and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and featured four panels: (1) from the Bay of Pigs to the missiles, (2) the missiles and the October crisis, (3) the November crisis and aftermath, (4) lessons from the crisis.
PIDB Meeting Next Thursday at NARA
The Public Interest Declassification Board will be holding a public meeting Thursday, December 8. The presentations and public comments will address how best to reduce over-classification, improve declassification, and ensure “a credible and transparent security classification system.” The meeting is open to the public, but space is limited. If you’re interested in attending, please RSVP here.
New Appointments at NARA
Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero recently appointed Mark Bradley and Alina Simo to head the Information Security Oversight Office and the Office of Government Information Services, respectively. Steve Aftergood notes of Mr. Bradley, he “is not ‘just’ a former intelligence officer and national security lawyer. He is also an historian who has done archival research and worked with declassified records to produce a well-regarded volume called A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior (Basic Books, 2014). So he will bring multiple relevant dimensions of expertise to his new responsibilities at ISOO.” Ms. Simo, for her part, comes to OGIS from the National Archives’ Office of General Counsel. While at NARA she “helped rewrite the National Archives’ FOIA regulations.” Prior to her tenure at NARA Simo “served as Director of Litigation in the Office of General Counsel” for the FBI.
The Iran-Contra and Presidential Deceit
Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan announced to the nation – after weeks of denials – that members of his White House staff had engaged in a web of covert intrigue linking illicit US support for a guerrilla war in Central America with a legally and politically explosive arms-for-hostages bargain with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The revelation quickly led to a new phrase – “Iran-Contra” – which became synonymous with political hubris, government incompetence, and dishonesty in the public sphere. This week the National Security Archive posts a selection of materials that spotlight the scandal’s deceitfulness and whose relevance has sadly become more pronounced after a bruising political season marked by examples and allegations of widespread public contempt for facts, evidence and the truth.
#TBT – Trump, Nixon, and PDBsThis week’s #tbt pick is chosen with reports that president elect Trump recently received his third intelligence briefing – fewer than any of his predecessors – in mind. The Associated Press notes that “While Trump is getting fewer briefings than what’s been traditional, he’s gotten more during the transition than President Richard Nixon.” A September 2016 posting from the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault goes further, noting that once in office “President Richard Nixon may never have even read the President’s Daily Briefs partially declassified and released by the CIA with great fanfare on August 24, 2016. The CIA’s claim that the PDBs were ‘the primary vehicle for summarizing the day-to-day sensitive intelligence and analysis … for the White House’ is partly true, but Nixon’s prejudices against the Agency and the distinctive role of national security adviser Henry Kissinger suggest that his cover memos to the PDBs were far more important to the President than whatever the CIA had to say.”
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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released just three lines of unredacted text in response to the National Security Archive’s FOIA request for information on a phone surveillance program the agency ran for 21 years.
The Archive’s cybersecurity and intelligence expert, Dr. Jeffrey Richelson, submitted a FOIA request to the DEA last year for memos on the legality of the DEA’s phone surveillance program, known as USTO. The program was revealed in 2015 to have “tracked billions of Americans’ [international] phone calls” from 1992 until 2013 and was “a clear precursor to the NSA program.” The database captured “virtually all” Americans’ outbound overseas call records to as many as 116 other countries, even if the callers were not involved in any criminal activity.
The DEA recently released two documents on the legality of USTO, one page each, in response to Richelson’s request.
The first document is an August 8, 2013, memo on the “Suspension of [redacted] USTO Program.” The bulk of the document is redacted pursuant to FOIA’s Exemption 7; the unredacted text notes: “At approximately 9:00 p.m. on Friday, August 2, 2013, Deputy Assistant Administrator (DAA) Arthur A. Doty, received the directive to suspend the Drug Enforcement Administration [redacted] USTO Program from Deputy Administrator Thomas Harrigan.”
The second document is entirely redacted.
The release is paltry (and we are appealing), but it is still more information than the DEA has previously released on the same subject. In 2015 the agency withheld all 38 pages of documents responsive to another of Richelson’s FOIA requests regarding the phone records program. In this instance, the DEA also cited a handful of FOIA Exemption 7 sub-clauses concerning information compiled for law enforcement purposes to withhold the documents, which were located by both the DEA’s Office of Chief Counsel and the Intelligence Division.
USTO is not to be confused with Operation Hemisphere, another DEA surveillance program that began in 2007 and was revealed in 2013 by The New York Times. Under Operation Hemisphere, the DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy paid AT&T, the only company identified to date as a participant, for access to an enormous database “that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls” and “covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch – not just those made by AT&T customers.” The records supplied by AT&T go back as far as 1987 and are numerically staggering; approximately four billion call records are added to the AT&T database daily, and the records include information on the locations of callers. The scale and longevity of Operation Hemisphere “appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act.” A federal judge ruled in June of this year that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s explanation for withholding the names of companies and federal agencies involved in Operation Hemisphere from an EPIC FOIA lawsuit was “legally insufficient,” and ordered the DEA to either provide the records or specific reasons for withholding them. Courthouse New Service notes that “The judge also rejected the DEA’s argument that knowing which federal agencies used Hemisphere would help criminals avoid detection via the program.”
In addition to its phone surveillance programs, the DEA has also “initiated a massive national license plate reader program” that connects DEA license plate readers with local law enforcement agencies’ own plate readers around the country. The license plate program was revealed in 2015 thanks to a FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACLU.Obtaining information on any of the DEA’s surveillance programs is notoriously difficult. In February 2015 documents released to C.J. Ciaramella and MuckRock showed that the DEA employs a practice known as “parallel construction” – construction of two difference chains of evidence – to “hide surveillance programs from defense teams, prosecutors, and a public wary of domestic intelligence practices.” In the same release, which outlines four “acceptable methods” of concealing sensitive sources that “Americans will accept (so far…)” including parallel construction, the DEA redacted all references to a widely-used “workable” method by citing, yet again, Exemption 7. As Shawn Musgrave points out, “To reiterate, the DEA redacted the name of a method its trainers and legal auditors deemed not only constitutional but also palatable to the public.”
These practices, combined with blanket FOIA denials and anemic releases, help ensure that the DEA remains even less transparent than its intelligence community counterparts.
Transparency and Donald Trump
In the nine days since Donald Trump won the presidential election reports have surfaced that he considered seeking top secret clearances for his three oldest children, and in some instances their spouses – requests that would be unprecedented if true. Trump also seems to be standing by a plan to place his children in charge of the Trump Organization’s “blind trust,” an arrangement that could be riddled with potential conflicts of interest.
The relationship is also cause for concern given previous disclosures that appear to show Trump using government contracts to enrich his children.
Documents won three months ago in response to a FOIA appeal show that during Donald Trump’s re-development of the taxpayer-owned Old Post Office building in downtown D.C. into a luxury hotel, Trump “funneled money to his children through separate companies bearing each of the children’s names, and the document indicates that those companies did not invest money. Nevertheless, their stakes could earn the children a big chunk of any profits generated from the taxpayer-owned site.” BuzzFeed further noted when the story was originally reported in August that despite the fact the building is owned by the public, many of the key documents in the deal were heavily redacted, forcing BuzzFeed to file an appeal.
Robert Hastings Jr., a George W. Bush political appointee and assistant secretary of defense for public affairs (acting) from 2008 to 2009, urged president elect Trump in a recent Washington Post article not to break with tradition and embrace transparency. In doing so, Hastings calls on Trump to “insist that the agencies he inherits comply quickly with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. To boot, he should enlist the help of the Republican-controlled Congress to support stronger language for FOIA laws.”
“Transparency luminaries” Ryan Shapiro and Jeffrey Light are less optimistic Trump will bolster FOIA and have launched a Go Fund Me campaign, “Operation 45,” to ensure the incoming administration is transparent and accountable. The campaign, citing concerns of Trump taking “control of the sprawling national security state” and “Trump’s authoritarian aspirations and overt contempt for the Constitution,” is hoping to raise $25,000 to sue the incoming administration under FOIA.
MuckRock’s guide to public records and the Trump transition and transition team can be found here. Philip Eil also has a very good article in the Colombia Journalism Review on how to “make FOIA great again.”
If you want to know how to make the most of your FOIA requests and appeals, download the National Security Archive’s free 122-page FOIA guide, “Effective FOIA Requesting for Everyone.”
Changes and Resignations
Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime FOIA champion whose work was instrumental in the codification of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, “has chosen to be the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, rather than the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.” Senator Dianne Feinstein will take over as the ranking member for the Judiciary Committee.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper submitted his resignation this week. During a March 12, 2013, Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden asked DNI Clapper if the NSA collected any type of data on millions of Americans. Clapper said: “No, sir…Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.” In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee that was released on July 2, 2013, Clapper apologized for his “clearly erroneous” response, saying he issued them because “he was thinking instead of a different aspect of surveillance, the internet content collection of persons NSA believes to be foreigners outside of the United States.”
The International Spy Museum Podcast featuring the National Security Archive’s Nate Jones is now available on iTunes. The podcast, which discusses Jones’s new book on Able Archer 83, is hosted by Dr. Vince Houghton, historian and curator at the International Spy Museum.
“The Reagan Files” Jason Saltoun-Ebin also recently reviewed Jones’s book. His review, and Jones’s response, can be found here.
How Much Has Encryption Debate Changed Since 1997?
FBI director Louis J. Freeh testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in July 1997 that robust encryption that does not allow for timely law force access poses a “serious threat to public safety.” This testimony, which underscores how solutions for balancing privacy and public safety in cyberspace remain elusive, is one of the documents recently posted to the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault. Freeh notes in his testimony that “Law enforcement is already beginning to encounter the harmful effects of conventional encryption in some of our most important investigations:
- In the Aldrich Ames spy case, where Ames was told by his Soviet handlers to encrypt computer file information to be passed to them.
- In a child pornography case, where one of the subjects used encryption in transmitting obscene and pornographic images of children over the Internet.
- In a major drug-trafficking case, where one of the subjects of one of the court-ordered wiretaps used a telephone encryption device which frustrated the surveillance.
- Some of the anti-Government Militia groups are now advocating the use of encryption as a means of preventing law enforcement from properly investigating them.”
Detroit Police and “Destruction of Animals”
Journalist C.J. Ciaramella has a worthwhile and troubling article in Reason.com on the rise in police shootings of pets during narcotics raids, a trend that seems to emerge from the increase in dog ownership in the US in the 1970s and 1980s and increasingly aggressive police tactics to carry out the “war on drugs.” The article focuses mainly on Detroit, which has the distinction of employing two police officers who have shot and killed more than 100 dogs. Detroit Police are not alone; Ciaramella notes that police killing of family dogs is “so common that they’ve become known by the grim moniker puppycide… A Justice Department official speculated in a 2012 interview with Police magazine that the number could be as high as 10,000 a year, calling it ‘an epidemic.’… A 2012 study by the National Canine Research Council estimated that half of all intentional police shootings involved dogs.”
Ciaramella had a very informative series of Tweets on how he used public records to write the animal destruction story – and the myriad of obstacles he faced doing so. Ciaramella highlights the intense research that was part of his FOIA process, including cross-referencing lawsuits and news reports, noting that FOIA process didn’t end with the release of documents. Ciaramella’s takeaway? “Now I have to file an appeal to find out how many they’re hiding. The final lesson: Always, always appeal. They’re banking on you being lazy”
VA Charges FOIA Requester $100 for a Phone Number
The Daily Caller recently reported that some offices within the Department of Veterans Affairs were charging inordinate amounts for FOIA requests, including one eye-popping estimated fee of more than $30,000 for documents that staffers admitted were “easy to find.” A Florida VA office also “charged $100 when a requester wanted to know the hospital’s phone numbers. In another example, when an employee sought information on a boss’ selection, he was charged $568, with no explanation.”
Echoes of the 1956 Hungarian Revolt in Romania, 60 Years After
Sixty years ago, Romanian students were among the first to throw their support behind the popular uprising in neighboring Hungary, prompting a rapid crackdown by the authorities in Bucharest, Timişoara, and other locales across the country, according to Romanian and U.S. documents published today for the first time by the National Security Archive. The documents record the spread of public debates and demonstrations, which soon encompassed worker complaints about wages and other social concerns, including worries about the possible use of the Soviet Red Army to crush the opposition. They also provide details about the actions taken against the opposition by the dreaded Securitate forces, and reveal the fears and uncertainty that drove Communist Party leaders in Bucharest to suppress the protests.
#TBT pick – The Transformation of Human Rights into An International Norm
This week’s #TBT pick is a 2012 posting on previously secret U.S. documents on Soviet dissidents that, matched with reports and letters by the dissidents themselves from the Memorial Society Archives in Moscow, illuminate the landmark turning point during Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the late 1970s when U.S. policy first elevated human rights concerns. The dissidents themselves led the international movement that discredited Soviet claims that attention to such issues was “interference in internal affairs.” The documents in the posting include:
- The highest-level memoranda to President Carter from his top advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance;
- CIA assessments of the dissident movement and the Soviet government’s reactions,
- and U.S. National Security Council discussions of the issue.
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CIA Decennial Review – No New Categories Removed from Swath of Operational Files
The CIA likely did not take the opportunity during its third decennial review to remove any categories of records from the operational files category – something the agency last did during the first decennial review in 1995. This is one of the few revelations from the recently published conclusions of the Agency’s decennial review, which is required by the CIA Information Act of 1984 to “include consideration of the historical value or other public interest in the subject matter of the particular category of files or portions thereof and the potential for declassifying a significant part of the information contained therein.”
A lingering question mark from the conclusion is the status of Clandestine Service History Program files. During the second decennial review in 2005 the CIA added a new category of exemption for Policy and Management Files “Including Clandestine Service History Program files.”
Last year when the agency, as required by law, requested public comment on possible categories for removal during the third decennial review, the National Security Archive responded by highlighting the need for the CIA to reverse course grant the public the ability to request search and review of the Clandestine Service History Program files.
It is unclear if the CIA took our advice.
Steve Aftergood notes that, “The new report does not explicitly reference Clandestine Service History Program Files, however, among a few other changes in wording. The significance of that is unclear.”
Torture Documents Released thanks to FOIA Lawsuit (Reveals CIA Inappropriate use of Op Files Exemption)
Documents released through a FOIA lawsuit brought by VICE News’s Jason Leopold officially name Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell as the architects of the CIA torture program. Jason Leopold, Funmi Akinyode and Ky Henderson note in a recent article for VICE News that, “Though Mitchell and Jessen have been known for years as the architects of the program, the CIA never officially confirmed their role until now. This is, in fact, the first time the CIA disclosed the names of anyone who played roles in the interrogation of detainees held captive by the agency.”
The release of the documents to VICE also shows that the CIA’s assertion that some of the information must be withheld because it would reveal “operational details” was inaccurate. The authors of the VICE article point out, “The CIA’s previous assertion that much of the information in the report had been withheld because it contained ‘operational’ details exempt from disclosure, and because it would pose a threat to national security, is undercut by what the CIA has now unredacted. The new details suggest that the so-called intelligence was instead kept secret to conceal embarrassing information.”
Sunlight Foundation Charts Way Forward for FOIA.gov
The Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard recently published a good path forward for building a better FOIA.gov. Among his comments, Howard recommends “Instead of building out FOIAOnline, which currently enables the public to submit requests to 14 different agencies, the next White House should consult the specialists at 18F who began to build a centralized request portal for the Department of Justice, then begin an iterative, agile development process in the open to create FOIA software that serves multiple stakeholders.” His entire proposal can be found here.
Panama FRUS Published
The State Department has released its Foreign Relations of the United States volume on Panama, 1977-1980. According to the State Department’s press release, “The volume documents the negotiations between the United States and Panama on the accessibility, security, and neutrality of the canal and its eventual transfer from the United States to Panama in 1999; the battle for public opinion, executive branch support, and congressional ratification of the canal; and the formulation of legislation necessary to implement and fund the canal. The volume further addresses other bilateral issues, such as U.S. attempts to influence Panamanian involvement in other Central American nations and Panama’s hosting of the Shah of Iran at the request of the United States.”
Archive’s New DNSA Collection on PDBs Now Available
The National Security Archive, working with our partners at ProQuest, just published a new compilation of documents on the President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that is now available online. This collection of PDBs (PDBs are Top Secret CIA digests of essential intelligence presented every morning to the president that were previously said to be too sensitive to ever be released) will serve as a rich source not only on a pivotal period in modern world history but on the workings of government and the national security system, especially presidential decision-making, CIA intelligence production, and government secrecy. The President’s Daily Brief: Kennedy, Johnson, and the CIA, 1961-1969 consists of 2,483 documents and 19,098 pages of Top Secret intelligence summaries prepared by the CIA and delivered to the president each day. Among the important topics covered by these documents are:
- the evolution of the Vietnam war;
- the Cuban missile crisis;
- the Congo crisis;
- leadership changes in the Soviet Union;
- Soviet military aid to Cuba, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa; and
- elections, coups, and civil unrest in Latin America.
Nate Jones at Southwestern Law School’s FOIA Symposium
Archive FOIA Project Director Nate Jones recently participated in Southwestern Law School’s FOIA symposium on “Freedom of Information Laws on the Global Stage: Past, Present and Future Symposium.” Stay tuned for a video of the event.
Jones, whose forthcoming article on FOIA founding father John Moss will remind transparency detractors that protecting “input transparency” is enormously important, will also be hosting a November 15 book talk at Walls of Books – Washington, DC at 7:00, and an International Spy Museum Podcast that will be released November 15.
The Archive’s Kate Doyle at the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland will host a conversation with the National Security Archive’s Kate Doyle on Wednesday, November 16 from 4-6 PM on “The United States, Guatemala, and Human Rights: Finding Truth in the Archives of Terror.” Doyle has worked with Latin American human rights groups, truth commissions, prosecutors and judges to obtain government files from secret archives that shed light on state violence. She has testified as an expert witness in numerous human rights legal proceedings, including the 2008 trial of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for his role in overseeing military death squads; the case before the Spanish National Court on the 1989 assassination of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador; and the 2010 trial of two former policemen in Guatemala for the forced disappearance of labor leader Edgar Fernando Garcia in 1984. RSVP for what is sure to be an illuminating event at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 301-405-4299.
TBT – US and UK Work to Prevent Pakistan Nuclear Proliferation
Today’s #TBT pick is a 2011 posting from the Nuclear Vault that uses declassified State Department telegrams to show that the United States and Great Britain undertook a secret diplomatic campaign in the late 1970s to prevent a major nuclear proliferation threat – Pakistan’s attempted covert purchasing of “gray area” technology for its nuclear weapons program. Some of the key documents in this posting reveal:
- After the French government cancelled the project at Chashma, they learned that the Pakistanis had begun a secret effort to acquire technology to complete the plant.
- The U.S. role in cancelling the reprocessing plant caused resentment at high levels of the Pakistani government with military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq asserting that U.S.-Pakistani relations were at their “lowest ebb.”
- State Department officials wanted to “move forward to restore more normal relations” because they worried about the danger of a “disintegrating or radicalized” Pakistan and Islamabad’s loss of confidence in Washington. Nevertheless, the restoration of economic and military aid could be jeopardized by evidence of a Pakistani nuclear program.
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CIA Forced to Release Bay of Pigs History Agency Once Said Would “Confuse the Public” if Declassified
“After more than twenty years, it appears that fear of exposing the Agency’s dirty linen, rather than any significant security information, is what prompts continued denial of requests for release of these records. Although this volume may do nothing to modify that position, hopefully it does put one of the nastiest internal power struggles into proper perspective for the Agency’s own record.” This is according to Agency historian Jack Pfeiffer, author of the CIA’s long-contested Volume V of its official history of the Bay of Pigs invasion that was released after years of work by the National Security Archive to win the volume’s release. Chief CIA Historian David Robarge states in the cover letter announcing the document’s release that the agency is “releasing this draft volume today because recent 2016 changes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires us to release some drafts that are responsive to FOIA requests if they are more than 25 years old.” This improvement – codified by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 – came directly from the National Security Archive’s years of litigation.
The CIA argued in court for years – backed by Department of Justice lawyers – that the release of this volume would “confuse the public.” National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton says, “Now the public gets to decide for itself how confusing the CIA can be. How many thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted trying to hide a CIA historian’s opinion that the Bay of Pigs aftermath degenerated into a nasty internal power struggle?”
To read all five volumes of the CIA’s Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation – together at last – visit the National Security Archive’s website.
CIA Says CREST Database Will be Published Online, Doesn’t Say When
The CIA recently announced that it would place its CREST database of nearly 13 million declassified documents online – but is not providing a timeline for doing so (the collection grew significantly earlier this year when the CIA and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency added “nearly 100,000 pages of analytic intelligence publication files, and about 20,000 pages of research and development files from CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, among others” to the database). The database is currently only available onsite at the National Archive’s College Park location in Maryland, and only about 250,000 pages are presently available on the CIA’s website.
The announcement comes after several lawsuits, a KickStarter campaign, and FOIA requests from the National Security Archive, among others. Recent lawsuits for the database’s release have been filed by MuckRock and Jeffrey Scudder. The CIA initially told MuckRock that it would take 28 years to release the set, prompting MuckRock to file suit, but later announced it could release the documents in six years with only a “spot check” for classified information even though the documents are already declassified. MuckRock user Michael Best, frustrated with the needless hurdles to access, launched a KickStarter campaign to buy the equipment necessary to scan and upload all the documents online. The National Security Archive also filed a FOIA request for the database’s release. The CIA denied our request, we appealed (always appeal), and were informed by the CIA that it hadn’t extended us appeal rights and therefore our appeal was not processed. The Archive contacted OGIS for assistance in this matter, but were told “In such cases as this where an agency is firm in its position, there is little for OGIS to do beyond providing more information about the agency’s actions.”
The FBI’s Big FOIA Problem isn’t Twitter, it’s the Bureau’s Grossly Outdated, Inefficient Search Software
Hillary Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon recently tweeted that the FBI FOIA Office’s release of heavily-redacted documents on the Clinton Foundation a week before the election was “odd.” Fallon, likely playing off criticism of FBI director James Comey’s recent letter to Congress regarding newly-discovered Clinton emails in connection to a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner, said that the FBI’s posting of the documents and subsequent promotion on Twitter was odd “absent FOIA litigation.”
Agencies, however, are supposed to both proactively post documents of likely public interest and publish documents that have been the subject of three or more FOIA requests online. The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy reminds agencies that, in addition to following the “rule of three,” they are obligated to proactively disclose FOIA-processed documents where there is an “expectation of future interest” or there is an “anticipated receipt” of at least two other similar requests.
Part of Fallon’s claim that the timing of the tweet was odd was based on the fact that prior to late October 2016, the Twitter account the FBI used to automatically post FOIA releases was inactive for nearly a year. The FBI claims the feed was inactive because the automated system was broken – something frequent FOIA filers with the FBI likely have no trouble believing, but is a small problem compared with the real issues at the FBI’s FOIA shop.
The larger problem with the FBI’s FOIA Office is the bureau’s grossly outdated FOIA software that is built not to locate responsive records. Ryan Shapiro is currently suing the agency over its intentionally cumbersome FOIA search software, and a good summary of the suit can be found here.
It’s worth mentioning that accusations of politicizing FOIA requests is something Clinton’s State Department was not immune to. In May 2015 The Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, “insisted on reviewing all Keystone-related documents being prepared for release, and flagged as problematic a few that the department’s records-law specialists felt obligated to release.” Mills reportedly informed a FOIA specialist that if records were released that Mills wanted withheld, “Mrs. Clinton’s office wouldn’t comply with any future document requests on any topic.”
What State Department’s FOIA office does do well, however, is posting FOIA-processed documents quarterly in its FOIA reading room – a virtual library that currently houses 146,618 documents. If the FBI had a similar posting schedule for its FOIA processed records, it would not be the subject of such scrutiny for posting FOIA releases.
“Able Archer 83: The Secret History” On Shelves Now!
“Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War,” Nate Jones’s new book on how the United States “may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger” during the 1983 NATO nuclear release exercise, is now on shelves. Jones hosted a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on the event (some great questions and answers here), and was recently interviewed by the Wilson Center’s John Milewski in a segment entitled, “The War Game that Almost Became Real.”
Jones will also be hosting a November 15 book talk at Walls of Books – Washington, DC at 7:00, and an International Spy Museum Podcast that will be released November 15.
TBT Pick: Nuclear Terrorism
This week’s #tbt pick is a 2012 posting from Dr. Jeffrey Richelson on “Nuclear Terrorism: How Big a Threat?” Some items of note in the posting are:
Some items of particular interest in today’s posting are:
- A Defense Science Board report (Document 8) which discusses Project SCREWDRIVER (1950-52) and the resulting Project DOORSTOP (1953-70), whose objective was to detect any attempts by Soviet Bloc diplomats to smuggle nuclear material into the United States.
- Creation of the ‘SIGMA 20’ nuclear weapons data category – to protect information about data on improvised nuclear devices (Document 12).
- The report (Document 17) of a radiological survey of Washington, D.C. in preparation for the nuclear detection efforts conducted before and during the 2009 presidential inauguration.
Thousands of Curated Top Secret CIA Digests Now Available through the Digital National Security Archive
The National Security Archive, working with our partners at ProQuest, just published a new compilation of documents on the President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that is now available online. This collection of PDBs (PDBs are Top Secret CIA digests of essential intelligence presented every morning to the president that were previously said to be too sensitive to ever be released) will serve as a rich source not only on a pivotal period in modern world history but on the workings of government and the national security system, especially presidential decision-making, CIA intelligence production, and government secrecy.
The President’s Daily Brief: Kennedy, Johnson, and the CIA, 1961-1969 consists of 2,483 documents and 19,098 pages of Top Secret intelligence summaries prepared by the CIA and delivered to the president each day. Known as the President’s Intelligence Checklist (PICL) during the Kennedy administration and the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) during Johnson’s tenure, these documents were used to brief the president on world events and global threats, including the evolution of the war in Vietnam, conflicts resulting from decolonization in Africa and Indonesia, Cold War crises in Berlin and Czechoslovakia, the Cuban Missile Crisis and its aftermath, Latin American political upheavals, and the 1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East, among others.
These documents were kept secret for nearly four decades, with only a few PDBs finding their way into the public domain. The CIA fought hard to prevent their disclosure, and continues to inconsistently declassify the documents, claiming that the daily summaries would reveal intelligence sources and methods. Press secretary Ari Fleisher termed the PDB “the most highly sensitized classified document in the government.” and CIA director George Tenet declared that information in these records could never be disclosed “no matter how old or historically significant it may be.”
The National Security Archive – in partnership with others in the academic community – was instrumental in paving the way for the first substantial release of PDBs through a campaign of public education and pressure that finally led to litigation. The Archive joined with Professor Larry Berman in 2007, then a professor of political science at the University of California, Davis, in a suit against the CIA. Though the court denied the plaintiffs’ immediate request, it rejected the CIA’s attempt to obtain a blanket exemption for all PDBs, opening the door for the eventual release of the 2,483 documents and nearly 19,100 pages included in this collection.
Above all, the PDBs in this collection will help researchers understand how decision-makers receive and utilize information in determining policy. (Combining these materials with the Digital National Security Archive’s collections on presidential directives will increase their value even more.) With coverage spanning several years, researchers can use the PDBs to analyze comparatively the interests, priorities and approaches of different presidential administrations. Students of the U.S. intelligence community will also find much raw material for understanding one of the most critical aspects of the community’s mission – keeping the president informed.
Among the important topics covered by these documents are:
- the evolution of the Vietnam war;
- the Cuban missile crisis;
- the Congo crisis;
- the Laotian civil war;
- tensions among Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaya resulting from the creation of Malaysia and the decolonization of Borneo;
- leadership changes in the Soviet Union;
- Soviet military aid to Cuba, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa;
- the North Yemen civil war;
- the Biafra-Nigeria civil war;
- intercommunal violence in Cyprus and the Greek and Turkish responses;
- elections, coups, and civil unrest in Latin America;
- the Sino-Soviet dispute;
- Chinese conflicts with India and Taiwan;
- the Chinese cultural revolution;
- independence movements in Africa and the Caribbean;
- the French withdrawal from NATO;
- European discussion of political, economic, and security benefits of integration;
- Cold War flashpoints in Berlin;
- Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring;
- nuclear issues;
- the space race;
- the Arab-Israeli conflict;
- Egypt’s attempts to unite with Syria, Jordan, and Iraq
“Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War,” Nate Jones’s new book on how the United States “may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger” during the 1983 NATO nuclear release exercise, is now on shelves.
David Hoffman, author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, says of Jones’s book: “Able Archer 83 is an invaluable resource on one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War. The book contains an unmatched collection of previously secret documents about the War Scare of 1983 and the Able Archer exercise at the center of it. If you want to learn from history, this is the place to start.”
To mark the occasion, Jones will be hosting a Reddit Ask Me Anything tomorrow, November 2, at 3:00 ET, a November 15 book talk at Walls of Books – Washington, DC at 7:00, and an International Spy Museum Podcast that will be released November 15.