National Security Agency Refuses to Release Documents on Mysterious Death of UN Secretary-General Over 50 Years Ago
The National Security Agency continues to withhold all portions of two documents about the 1961 death of Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia – now Zambia. The Agency continues to withhold this historically significant material despite a FOIA appeal from the National Security Archive that provides specific examples of previously released SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) documents from the 1950s and 1960s and explains why the Agency should not treat fifty-year-old documents as though they were created today. The Agency’s response to the Archive’s appeal merely reiterated the same exemptions and statutes listed in its original August 2013 denial letter. Its response makes no reference to the evidence provided to the Agency. The Agency also refused to consider the wide public interest in the United States, the international community, and the United Nations for information about Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold’s mysterious and tragic death while flying to Ndola to resolve a conflict in the Congo. The Agency has refused to help clarify the historical record.
Previously the Agency has declassified such once-tightly held SIGINT documents as “Vietnam War Cryptologic Activities 1961 – 1975” now on display at the Agency’s National Museum of Cryptology; the Agency’s website, www.nsa.gov contains the 1964 “Gulf of Tonkin Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Reports and Related Command and Technical Messages”; other documents include a January 1961 intercept Spanish-Speaking Pilot Noted in Czechoslovak Air Activity at Trencin; the U.S. Army Security Agency Annual Historical Summary Fiscal Year 1962 (pp. 50-51 for listening post and CRITICOM system in use at Ashara, Ethiopia); also A History of U.S. Communications Security (The David G. Boak lectures), National Security Agency that includes detailed descriptions of 1940s to 1960s systems. In addition to denying the Archive’s appeal without explanation, the Agency’s FOIA office either came to its conclusion before judging its merits, or unnecessarily delayed its response. Four weeks before the Agency’s Appeal Authority issued its official denial letter, which was postmarked June 16th, the Agency’s Press Office wrote to a Wall Street Journal reporter stating that all requests for the two documents had been denied and the cases were closed. Baffled, the National Security Archive can only wonder why we would be the last to learn that our appeal was denied.
As we described in our appeal letter to the Agency, the technology used in 1961 has long since been replaced. The declassifiers at the Agency’s FOIA shop have the discretion to release this information. Section 3.1 (d) of Executive order 13526 states, “In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified. When such questions arise, they shall be referred to the agency head or the senior agency official. That official will determine, as an exercise of discretion, whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.” During Sunshine Week 2014, the Director of National Intelligence General Counsel Bob Litt, stated that he has instructed declassifiers to declassify more information using this provision. He stated that classifiers and declassifiers must now ask: “Not can we classify –but should we?” The Agency’s FOIA shop and appeals division clearly have not received this message.