The National Security Archive's experience with the
U.S. government's declassification process has been a varied one, as
it should be given the great diversity of its declassification requests
during more than fifteen years of effort. During the Archive's history,
it has seen the classification review and declassification processes
at their best, at their worst, and many cases in between. Visitors to
the Archive's web site have read some of the best material produced
as a result of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),
mandatory declassification review (MDR), and spadework at the National
Archives. In contrast to other briefing books that highlight the declassification
and release of records, this one focuses on denials of information,
including some highly questionable, sometimes silly, classification
decisions by the national security bureaucracy. At a time when the administration
is tilting more and more in the direction of secrecy, exemplified by
a more restrictive executive order on national security information
policy, (Note 1)
a close inspection of agency declassification
practices is essential. While most of the documents in this briefing
book were reviewed under previous administrations, they raise timely
questions about the standards that federal agencies use when reviewing
Problem of Overclassification
The national security bureaucracy has declassified many significant
documents in response to Archive requests, but it has also denied many
items. Some of the denials and excisions have been worth challenging;
others have been understandable given the genuine sensitivity of the
subject matter. The Archive does not want to see information declassified
that could, for example, facilitate nuclear proliferation or cause harm
to a source of secret intelligence information. Nevertheless, the Archive
is convinced, as are others in and out of government, that no small
number of declassification review decisions are dubious in the extreme,
which in turn reflects a broader problem: that too much federal government
information has been classified. Honest people disagree over whether
overclassification is a pervasive phenomenon, but over the years, government
officials and advisers have treated it as a serious problem. As far
back as 1970, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board observed that, "overclassification
has contributed to the credibility gap that evidently exists between
the government and an influential segment of the population." Measuring
the degree of overclassification is impossible (it is difficult enough
to determine how much information is actually classified in a given
year). Some officials have argued that overclassification does not occur,
but others such as Rodney McDaniel, Executive Secretary of Ronald Reagan's
National Security Council, have estimated that only ten percent of classification
was for "legitimate protection of secrets." (Note
However much unwarranted classification there actually is, the documents
in this briefing book illustrate the way that agencies use and sometimes
abuse the exemptions provided by the FOIA and presidential executive
orders, which define the criteria that the government can use to deny
information to requesters. The exemption that the Archive encounters
routinely is the FOIA's (b) (1) exemption, which allows agencies to
withhold information that could impair U.S. foreign policy or national
defense. Executive orders specify the types of national security information
that can be with withheld under (b) (1) or in mandatory review decisions.
For example, section 1.6 (d), of executive order 12958 (signed by President
Bill Clinton in 1995), permits agencies to deny intelligence information
or foreign government information, among other types of data, if its
release could damage national security. Other documents illustrate the
way that agencies can apply various statutory exemptions, such as the
Atomic Energy Act of 1954 or the 1949 CIA Act, to withhold sensitive
information. The FOIA's (b) (3) exemption relates to information specifically
withheld from disclosure by other laws. Still other documents exemplify
the FOIA's (b) (5) exemption on the withholding of "predecisional"
government information, and (b) (6), which refers to information relating
to personal privacy. (Note 3)
All to often, when government agencies deploy the (b) (1) and (b) (3)
exemptions, it has been to ensure continued secrecy for what can be
called "classification icons," (Note 4) which
are entire categories of information that declassification reviewers
reflexively classify without any fresh thinking about the relevance
of continued secrecy. Among those "icons" are intelligence
spending, the locations of historic nuclear weapons sites, nuclear weapons
stockpile information, and the war plans that constitute the SIOP (the
Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear war). Intelligence "sources
and methods" generally tends toward iconic in the same sense, although
intelligence agencies have shown some flexibility in declassifying older
photographic intelligence programs; but other sources, such as COMINT
(communications intelligence) during the Cold War have generally resisted
declassification. For example, the SIOP is so classified that even Congress
lacks detailed information about it. (Note 5)
U.S. intelligence agencies invariably treat information concerning budgets
and numbers of personnel as iconic, even when the data is decades old.
In recent federal court cases, the CIA still claims that its budget
from 1947 (!) cannot be declassified without damage to national security.
So far, the federal courts have generally agreed that those numbers
are sacrosanct. (Note 6) Codewords, even of obsolete
projects, may still be classified - even if virtually all other data
about the project is unclassified.
Of the iconic categories, nuclear weapons information, including historic
storage sites and details of war plans, raises some of the most complex
problems. As already noted, it is difficult to see any public interest
in declassifying sensitive details about nuclear weapons design when
the threat of nuclear terrorism is so alarming. Nevertheless, this is
an area where secrecy is plainly reflexive, in keeping with the concept
of "born classified" which enshrined nuclear secrecy in the
Atomic Energy Act of 1946. That concept has yet to be changed but is
ripe for rethinking. As a Department of Energy study group observed
in 1997, "Unlike National Security Information, no decision by
an official is needed to render information falling within the AEA definition
classified. The very nature of this approach leads to an environment
fostering overclassification." (Note 7)
Another iconic category, nuclear targeting, which is bound up with
the SIOP, is one that the Pentagon considers to be supremely sensitive
and to which it routinely applies the (b) (1) exemption. Thus, internal
documents on targeting policy may indicate that even bland statements
about U.S. nuclear strategy are "top secret" - even if U.S.
leaders have made similar statements in public. The continued classification
of many historical nuclear weapons storage sites is one of the most
anachronistic elements of the U.S. secrecy system; it shows the lingering
impact of the Cold War on classification policy. For example, documents
14A and 14B show the Pentagon's continuing reluctance to acknowledge
the countries where the U.S. government deployed the Jupiter missiles
that John F. Kennedy "traded" as part of the Cuban missile
crisis settlement. Although an open secret, official secrecy for the
location of the Jupiters persists after forty years, even though the
missiles were deployed for only a few years. While not disputing the
importance of classifying some information in these categories, e.g.,
details of nuclear storage arrangements or the SIOP, the fact that federal
agencies continue to think mechanically about these issues can only
raise questions about the overall credibility of the classification
"Secrets of Convenience"
Information on the location of historic nuclear deployments, among
other secrets, is an example of what Thomas Powers calls "secrets
of convenience," those details that if released, "might invite
nontrivial public criticism of policies, endeavors, or officials."
(Note 8) Some of the governments of countries where
the United States once stored nuclear weapons, Japan and Turkey, for
example, do not wish to acknowledge the historic U.S. nuclear presence
on their territory. The U.S. government, worried that such governments
might face severe domestic political problems if they disclosed more
about their nuclear past, has permitted the policy needs of those governments
to shape declassification policy. Consequently, for the U.S. State Department,
it would be inconvenient to release nuclear secrets involving Japan
(although many have already been purposefully or inadvertently released).
Other documents withheld under (b) (1) and (b) (3) are good examples
of secrets of convenience. For instance, document
17, on death squads in El Salvador, was heavily excised in 1987
not least because fuller release, which occurred several years later,
would have undermined the Reagan White House's efforts to win congressional
support for military aid to the Salvadoran government. Another example
(see documents 9A and 9B) of the impact of
foreign policy is the CIA's denial of information on the Israeli (as
well as other national nuclear programs) going back to the 1960s. Clearly,
CIA classification policy tacitly supports Israel's policy of not announcing
its nuclear capabilities. Likewise, most of the CIA's
official history of its role in the August 1953 coup against
Iran's Prime Minister Mossadeq remains classified. The CIA's role in
that event has long been an open secret but in light of the turbulent
U.S.-Iranian relationship, Washington has, so far, found it convenient
to keep the details locked up.
of Classification Decisions
A number of the documents with information withheld under (b) (1) and
(b) (3) or corresponding executive order exemptions illustrate a basic
problem of the classification system: the element of subjectivity that
inheres in it. Often what one reviewer finds sensitive and necessarily
classified, another finds unexceptional and easily releasable. For example,
documents 11 and 18
illustrate the highly subjective nature of the classification/declassification
review system. This is a problem that cannot be easily corrected but
it does point out again the importance of filing FOIA appeals, which
assure that another set of eyes will review the document in question,
perhaps looking at the issues it raises from a different, more objective,
point of view.
Various responses to the Archive's and other declassification requests
illustrate the vagaries of the security review process. In some cases,
it is clear what type of information has been deleted from a document.
In others, comparison of earlier and later releases or releases from
two different agencies allow an analyst to determine exactly what statements
or data were believed to merit classification. In some of these instances,
the problem was that inexperienced reviewers were unfamiliar with what
information had already been declassified and available in the public
record. Such lapses in the process make it all the more important for
requesters to exercise their rights to appeal denials in their FOIA
and MDR requests.
With some of the documents in this briefing book, it is hard to fathom
how a security review could have led to information being withheld.
In some of them, the redacted information is obvious and clearly in
the public domain. Other examples of dubious secrets include the deletion,
under the (b) (6) privacy exemption, of a foreign leader's date of birth,
the identities of authors of books and newspaper articles, the names
of individuals publicly convicted of espionage, the names of countries,
and even an element of the United Nations. In one instance, when the
CIA reviewed an intelligence report from December 1974, it even withheld
humorous material - about a possible terrorist attack
on Santa Claus!
Many of these examples raise questions about the integrity of the review
process. On occasion a document will be denied in its entirety on the
grounds that its release would compromise classified information and
intelligence sources and methods - yet that same document will have
already been released in whole or in part at an earlier time or by another
agency, even in a government publication. Sometimes examination of the
released document or portion raises the question of whether there were
any reasonable grounds to claim that classified information or sources
and methods would be damaged as a result of its release. One recent
example concerns the "We Are At War" memo sent to CIA employees
by agency head George J. Tenet shortly after the September 11, 2001,
attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. The CIA denied a FOIA
request for the memo, stating that the entire document was exempt due
to the need to protect classified information and sources and methods.
But according to Bob Woodward's recent book, Bush at War, which
quotes extensively from the memo, it contains clearly unclassified statements
such as, "There can be no bureaucratic impediments to success.
All the rules have changed. There must be an absolute and full sharing
of information," and "We must all be passionate and driven
- but not breathless. We must stay cool." (Note 10)
As suggested above, appealing adverse FOIA and MDR decisions can be
helpful for turning around an initially adverse decision. One of the
most important experiments with declassification appeals began during
the Clinton administration when Executive
Order 12958 established an Interagency
Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). Representing
key agencies - State Department, Defense Department, Justice Department,
National Security Council, National Archives, and Central Intelligence
Agency - ISCAP is the "court" of last resort for denials of
information requested under the MDR process. Just as a good appeals
process provides another set of eyes to transcend the predilections
of the individual who denied an initial request, so "another set
of agencies" - in this instance, ISCAP - can rise above the prejudices
of the agency that denied an appeal. So far, ISCAP has been extremely
successful in adjudicating final MDR appeals; it has authorized the
declassification of information - such as Eisenhower's predelegation
instructions for nuclear weapons release or details from the Nixon-Zhou
Enlai discussions (Note 11) - that it believes no
longer requires secrecy despite initial decisions to the contrary by
other agencies. So far ISCAP can only review MDR requests, but an ISCAP-like
procedure for FOIA requests could usefully check the subjectivity, and
the occasional political abuse, of the declassification review process.
In light of growing concern about secrecy in the federal government,
and the "upward trend in classification activity" reported
by the Information Security Oversight Office during the Bush administration's
first year, it is worth thinking about how the declassification review
process could be improved. (Note 12) While the Ashcroft
memorandum has, so far, had little impact on the actual processing of
FOIA and MDR requests, a key test of the Bush administration declassification
policy will be the ground rules that it lays out in executive orders.
Clinton's Executive Order 12958, still in effect, substantially reversed
the Reagan E.O. by mandating systematic declassification of historical
records. The Bush
executive order, obtained and published by Steven Aftergood
of the Federation of American Scientists, retains some of the basic
reforms of the Clinton order, particularly the threat of automatic declassification
without review as a means to force agencies to disgorge classified files
more than 25 years old. The Bush order also emphasizes training for
officials on the criminal, civil and administrative penalties for leaking
classified information, in lieu of an "official secrets act,"
described by Attorney General Ashcroft in September 2002 as unnecessary.
It includes a single provision that breaks with the status quo by authorizing
emergency disclosure to non-cleared personnel in the event of an "imminent
threat to life or in defense of the homeland." Otherwise, the order
backtracks on the reforms of the 1990s by making foreign government
information presumptively classified, by encouraging reclassification
even of 25-year-old documents if the material is reasonably recoverable,
and by giving the CIA a trump card against ISCAP decisions on records
involving sources and methods of intelligence. One particularly dramatic
cut from the Clinton order removes the two provisions for "when
in doubt," which previously encouraged either disclosure or downgraded
classification if there were doubts or ambiguities about the necessary
level of classification.
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
Document 1: Secret Santas
Central Intelligence Agency, Weekly Situation Report on International
Terrorism, December 17, 1974, excerpts, variants.
Variant 1A - Source:
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library,
Bobbie Greene Kilberg Files, Box 17, "Weekly Situation Reports
on International Terrorism."
Variant 1B - Source: CIA Records
Search Tool (Note 13), Library, National Archives,
College Park, MD
The two versions of this document provide one of hundreds of examples
- in this instance an amusing one - of the divergent results sometimes
produced by separate declassification decisions on the same document.
The CIA produced "Weekly Situation Reports on International Terrorism"
for the Cabinet committee on terrorism established by the Nixon administration
in the wake of the Black September attacks on Israeli athletes at the
1972 Olympics in Munich and a spate of aircraft highjackings. In this
instance, two CIA reviewers came out with rather different results when
they scrutinized the classified version of the same document. The last
page of the version released at the Ford Library in 1997 includes, on
page B-VI-1, a droll item about a report of a plan to sabotage the "annual
courier flight of the Government of the North Pole" (GONP). Interestingly,
the version released by the CIA in 1999 through its CREST database of
scanned images withheld the item about "Prime Minister and Chief
Courier S. Claus." (Note 14) Apparently, the
CIA staffer who made the 1997 decision about the Ford Library document
rightly believed that it would do no harm to disclose that an anonymous
Agency intelligence officer had a sense of humor. Why the 1999 reviewer
reached the opposite conclusion is a mystery.
Document 2: Automatic Nuclear Secrecy
Strategic Air Command, Current US Strategic Targeting Doctrine,
December 3, 1979. Top Secret. 8pp.
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request
This document illustrates the sensitivity and secrecy attached to documents
concerning strategic nuclear targeting issues - irrespective of the
actual content of the documents. Nuclear weapons "employment policy"
- that is, nuclear targeting guidance - is one of a number of nuclear
issues that are considered to be of extreme sensitivity. While U.S.
officials may make statements concerning U.S. strategic targeting policy,
and the subject, on occasion, has been discussed in congressional hearings,
internal documents on targeting are highly classified. Further, virtually
every section of such documents - even when they state obvious facts
or convey policy openly acknowledged by U.S. leaders - may be marked
as top secret. This recently declassified document, written in 1979,
illustrates the practice. Thus, statements such as "current doctrine
result of evolutionary changes in strategic realities" and "achievement
of secure strategic retaliatory capability by Soviet Union in 1960s"
are marked "(TS)." Material that is circled shows what Air
Force reviewers released later, after the National Security Archive
appealed the original excisions.
Document 3: Declassification and Candid Advice
Colin L. Powell, Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, Subject:
DIA Reorganization Proposal, December 3, 1990. Confidential. 4pp.
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request
Virtually all portions of this 1990 memo from then-Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, including unclassified paragraphs,
were redacted in response to a FOIA request - partially on the grounds
that the contents of the document represented recommendations which
needed to be kept confidential so officials would feel free to give
candid advice, including blunt assessments of foreign government officials
and organizations. This is an example of the use of the Freedom of Information
Act's (b) (5) - "deliberative process" - exemption that is
used to justify the withholding of frank "pre-decisional"
discussion of policy issues and recommendations within and between federal
agencies. Nevertheless, this exemption is a discretionary one; an agency's
FOIA officers have the option of using their judgment in deciding whether
to invoke (b) (5) and they often choose not to. In this case, it would
seem that there would be little need to protect the views of the chairman
of the JCS with regard to a relatively mundane matter such as intelligence
reorganization, particularly because Powell's views would very likely
have been known to a wider circle of officials working on that issue.
The argument that the release of candid advice would have a stifling
effect on current decision-making has been found wanting. In the famous
British case, Conway v Rimmer, Lord Upjohn argued that controls
over the release of policy advice have "nothing whatever to do
with candor or uninhibited freedom of expression" because it would
be hard to believe "that any minister or any high level military
or civil servant would feel in the least degree inhibited in expressing
his honest views in the course of his duty ... by the thought that his
observations might some day see the light of day." (Note
15) The implication was that an honest official doing his or her
duty could live with full disclosure.
In a recent decision, former President Bill Clinton raised questions
about the need for extended protection of candid advice. On January
31, 2003, Clinton set aside his right under the Presidential Records
Act to withhold access to records for as long as twelve years. At issue
in this decision are records of confidential advice - records of discussions
among staff advisers and recommendations by counselors to President
Clinton concerning domestic policy and appointments. Clinton explained
his decision by arguing that "the more information we can make
available to scholars, historians and the general public, the better
informed people will be about the formulation of public policy and the
decision-making process at the White House." While the decision
excludes records on personal issues (Whitewater, Lewinsky) as well as
national security, it suggests that broader considerations - the public's
right to know - trump any need to protect "deliberative process"
information for protracted periods. (Note 16)
Documents 4A and 4B: Declassification and the Mosaic Theory
U.S. European Command (EUCOM), ED 55-37, Peacetime Reconnaissance
and Certain Sensitive Operations, June 24, 1991.
Variant 4A - Source: Freedom of
Information Act Request
Variant 4B - Source: Freedom of
Information Act Request
Among the rationales used for redacting information requested under
the FOIA is that, at times, individual items of unclassified information
when compiled produce classified information. This is known as the compilation
theory (also known as the "mosaic" theory). Among the items
that fall into this category are titles of intelligence studies produced
by a particular organization - the logic being that the entire set of
titles, even if they are all individually unclassified, would produce
a classified picture of what subjects the organization is working on,
and, of equal importance, what it is not working on. This rationale
can be taken to extremes. Documents 4a and 4b represents two different
versions of the European Command's directive governing sensitive reconnaissance
operations. The 1999 directive, received in response to a 2001 FOIA
request, contains far more extensive redactions than the 1991 directive
was subjected to. Indeed, over 100 items marked as unclassified were
deleted from the 1999 edition. It is clear from a comparison that among
the unclassified items of information deleted from the 1999 directive
- but not the earlier version - are document titles, explanation of
terms (e.g. imagery, SIGINT), and a description of responsibilities.
The European Command's response to the 2001 FOIA request has been appealed.
Document 5: Misuse of the Privacy Act
Memorandum from Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul C. Warnke to Secretary
of Defense, Subject: Visit of Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato,
November 11, 1967. Secret. 3pp.
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request by National Security Archive.
Signed by the late Paul Warnke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for
International Security Affairs in 1967, this document was declassified
in early 2001. Sent to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (with his
handwritten comments in the margins), it provides an overview of topics
that visiting Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato might wish to discuss
and that the secretary might wish to discuss with the prime minister.
Only one item is deleted from the memo - the prime minister's date
of birth, relying on the (b) (6) - privacy act - exemption of the
FOIA. Plainly, the reviewer of this document received inadequate briefing
on the Privacy Act, because it is meant to safeguard privacy for mainly
non-public officials, certainly not to protect the birthdates of foreign
leaders. Sato's birth date, May 27, 1901, is certainly no secret and
can be found in a variety of sources. (Note 17)
Document 6: The Classification of Public
[Author's name deleted], Espionage in the Air Force (Washington,
D.C.: Defense Intelligence College, n.d.), Secret.
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request
The extracts from this document show repeated redactions of publicly
available information, including the names of Air Force personnel tried
for espionage - individuals whose trials were public and were reported
in the media. Indeed, in many cases the footnote attached to redacted
text references a newspaper article or other public source that would
provide the deleted information. In addition, the Air Force Office of
Special Investigations, which conducted the security review of the document,
deleted the names of authors of articles and books and even part of
a book title from the notes and bibliography section. Also, the page
following the table of contents was originally classified secret even
though it consisted of nothing more than a quote from the Eric Ambler
novel The Light of Day. The document was requested in June 1996,
and an appeal was filed in October 1998 - shortly after its release
in redacted form. That appeal is still pending.
Documents 7A and 7B: Classification of the Obvious
Herman L. Croom, "The Exploitation of Foreign Open Sources,"
Studies in Intelligence, 13, 2 (Summer 1969): 129-136. Secret.
Variant A source: Freedom of Information
Variant B source: National Archives
These documents are different versions of the same item - the first
one was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in 1988, while
the CIA released the second version to the National Archives in 1994.
A comparison of the documents illustrates how the end of the Cold War
led to greater declassification but also illustrates that much of the
earlier secrecy was unjustified. Thus, the entire first four pages of
Croom's article, and portions of the last two pages were redacted -
leaving only two pages untouched. Among the redactions are the following
- "Everyone is now aware that a virtual tidal wave of publicly
printed paper threatens to swamp almost all enterprises of intellectual
- "The foreign press in particular plays a major role in providing
news of current intelligence value on political, military, and economic
- "The intelligence community has benefited from the early recognition
of the value of open source information, and the steps taken to organize
the acquisition and exploitation of such information." (p.3).
- "Newspapers, magazines, books, and foreign broadcast comprise
the greatest volume of open source materials." (p.4).
None of those statements, along with much of the other redacted material,
would seem to have merited classification at any time.
Document 8: Fill in the Blanks
U.S. Pacific Command, Commander in Chief Pacific Command History,
1973 - Volume II (Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii: Pacific Command, 1974),
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request
This additional example of "classification of the obvious"
is an excerpt from the Pacific Command's history for 1973. In these
two-and-a-half pages, the Command discussed the impact of Sino-American
rapprochement on U.S. relations with the Republic of China - an event
that led to the Republic of China's (ROC) replacement as a permanent
member of the U.N. Security Council by the People's Republic of China
(PRC). Despite the very public nature of those events, the security
reviewer removed the very obvious references to the ROC, the PRC, and
the United Nations Security Council in the document before releasing
it in response to a 1990s FOIA request. Also excised were references
to military equipment that may be found in other declassified sources.
For example, the first sentence (with deleted material in italics) would
certainly read: The replacement of the ROC by the PRC
on the Security Council of the United Nations produced shock, but no
discernible political or economic reversals on Taiwan.
Documents 9A and 9B: Israel, Nuclear Proliferation, and Secrecy
Document 9A: Sherman Kent, Memorandum
for the Director, Consequences of Israeli Acquisition of Nuclear
Capability, March 6, 1963. Secret. 8 pp.
Source: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries
Series, Box 119, Israel, General, 2/12/63-3/6/63.
Document 9B: National Intelligence
Estimate Number 4-63, Likelihood and Consequences of a Proliferation
of Nuclear Weapons Systems, June 28, 1963.
Source: Freedom of Information Act request/appeal by National Security
These documents illustrate one of the most politically charged nuclear
proliferation issues since the early 1960s - the Israeli nuclear program.
Over the years, the Central Intelligence Agency has had a mixed record
in declassifying information on the Israeli program and its implications,
although in recent years it has followed a strict policy against releasing
its estimates of Israel's nuclear intentions and progress. For example,
in 2001, the CIA denied a request for document 9A, claiming that it
was exempt from disclosure because it contained properly classified
information and revealed intelligence sources and methods. As it turned
out, however, the document was available at the John F. Kennedy Library,
where it had been declassified in its entirety in 1978, during a more
open period in freedom of information policy. Moreover, a reading of
the document shows that it is purely an analysis of the impact of Israeli
acquisition of a nuclear capability and did not include any actual intelligence
on the Israeli nuclear program; nor does it reveal any information about
sources and methods. This is only one of a number of documents that
the CIA had denied in its entirety, even though they had been previously
released in whole or in part. (Note 19)
Document 9B, NIE 4-63, "Likelihood and Consequences of a Proliferation
of Nuclear Weapons Systems," further illustrates the Agency's reluctant
stance in declassifying information on the Israeli program and nuclear
proliferation generally. It took three years for the Agency to deny
the document in its entirety in response to the Archive's 1996 FOIA
request. Yet, the NIE's first two sections ("The Problem"
and "Conclusions") had already been published in the State
Department's Foreign Relations series. (Note 20)
In early 2002, however, in response to the Archive's 1999 appeal, the
Agency released a heavily excised version of this rather thoughtful
1963 analysis of the problem of nuclear proliferation. As in the version
published in the FRUS, the CIA withheld several lines from the
"Conclusions"; most likely, they discussed the state of the
Israeli nuclear program. In addition, the Agency withheld all detailed
discussion of the nuclear weapons potential of India, Japan, Sweden,
Canada, Italy, and West Germany, although it released some of the analysis
of China and France. Nevertheless, the CIA let it slip out that it considered
Israel one of the states with a nuclear weapons potential when it declassified
table 1 (page 7) showing that it would take Israel two to three years
to produce and test a nuclear device after a go-ahead decision had been
made. While the Agency may be under orders not to declassify its analyses
of the Israeli nuclear program, it is likely that much more information
could be released from this NIE without disclosing sensitive sources
and methods or harming U.S. foreign relations.
Documents 10A, 10B, and 10C: Reclassifying Open Records
Document 10A: Memorandum for: The
President From: Henry Kissinger, Subject: My Meeting with Chairman
Mao, February 24, 1973. Top Secret. 4pp.
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials Project. White
House Special Files. Names-Subject Files. Box 6, Folder: China RN-Eyes
Document 10B: Memorandum of Conversation,
n.d. (February 1973), Top Secret.
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, White
House Special Files. Names-Subject Files. Box 6, Folder: China RN-Eyes
Document 10C: The White House,
Memorandum of Conversation, n.d. (February 1973), Top Secret.
Source: National Archives, State Department Records, Record Group 59,
Policy Planning Staff Director's Files, 1969-1977, box 372, Mao Book
These documents exemplify what can happen when declassification reviewers
1) are unfamiliar with what is already in the declassified public domain
and 2) take an excessively broad view of what information is sensitive
enough to remain classified. The Nixon Presidential Materials Project
released documents 10A and 10B in 2002 in response to a National Security
Archive MDR that was originally filed in 1993. They are a partial record
of Henry Kissinger's trip to China in February 1973: a memo that Kissinger
sent to Richard Nixon about the trip and the record of Kissinger's conversation
with Mao Zedong. While the Archive was waiting for a decision on documents
10A and B, in 1997 the State Department declassified the full record
of the Kissinger-Mao conversation (document 10C above) when it opened
up Winston Lord's files at the National Archives. Almost two years later,
that document was published in a National Security Archive documents
reader, The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing
and Moscow, edited by senior analyst William Burr. Given the earlier
declassification, the release of document 10B was anticlimactic, but
certainly interesting because of the numerous excisions in the version
released by the Nixon Presidential Materials Project. A comparison of
the transcripts is revealing. Among the items redacted was the statement
by Chairman Mao (pp. 8-9) referring to the 1945 Soviet declaration of
war on Japan: "during the Second World War, Prime Minister Tanaka
told our Premier, what the Soviet Union did was that upon seeing a person
about to hang himself, they immediately took the chair from under his
feet." On page 13, Kissinger's explanation of why former CIA director
Richard Helms became the Ambassador to Iran is redacted along with the
parenthetical note that "Chairman Mao lights his cigar again."
Plainly, the State Department made the right decision when it released
this document in its entirety in 1997. Unfortunately, the declassification
reviewer who reviewed the version at the Nixon Project did not know
of the earlier release and took an overly rigid view of what ought to
remain secret. That reviewer based the decisions to redact on provisions
of Executive Order 12958 designed to protect the identity of human sources
and to allow the withholding of "information that would seriously
and demonstrably impair relations between the United States and a foreign
government, or seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic
activities of the United States." (Note 21) Apparently
the reviewer regarded Richard Helms, or perhaps even Mao himself, as
human sources that needed to be protected. In any event, last spring,
the National Security Archive pointed out the discrepancies in a letter
to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel. In a decision
made last fall, ISCAP sensibly authorized the release of the entire
Kissinger-Mao transcript held in the files of the Nixon project at the
Document 11: The Subjectivity of Classification I
SNIE 13-10-70, Chinese Reactions to Certain Courses of Action in
Indochina, June 11, 1970. Top Secret.
Source: Freedom of Information Act request by National Security Archive
In 1992 the Archive requested all National Intelligence Estimates (NIE)
and Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIE) produced between
1969 and 1974 concerning the People's Republic of China. In 1998, the
CIA responded that, even though all the documents in question were between
18 and 23 years old, and written during a period when Mao Zedong and
Zhou Enlai ruled China, those documents would remain classified in their
entirety to protect sensitive information and sources and methods. An
appeal was filed in 1998, and four years later, in 2002, the CIA released
nine documents - four in their entirety and five in part, including
SNIE 13-10-70. While it may have been sensitive for a number of reasons
when first written, it is hard to understand how it could have been
judged to be so in 1998 or even 1992. It is not an analysis of the PRC's
nuclear capabilities or command and control networks - subjects which
rely heavily on a variety of human and technical sources - but a political
analysis of a world that had changed radically in the over two decades
since it was produced. This is a good example of the subjective nature
of security reviews and declassification: what an earlier reviewer had
found extremely sensitive, another reviewer found ready for declassification.
Again, this shows the importance of appealing denials; even the CIA
changes its mind, sometimes.
Documents 12A and 12B: The Left Hand and the Right Hand
Document 12A: Central Intelligence
Agency, Current Intelligence Weekly Review, October 5, 1962,
Document 12B: Central Intelligence
Agency, Current Intelligence Weekly Summary, October 5, 1962,
Source: FOIA request by National Security Archive
CIA's "Weekly Review," published in a top-secret version,
generally contained more sensitive sources than the secret-level "Weekly
Summary," which was distributed to officials with lower clearances.
In this instance, each issue included the same article on the Brazilian
elections, but when CIA staffers reviewed them in response to the Archive's
2001 FOIA request, they treated them differently. A few details were
censored from the declassified version of "Weekly Review,"
yet, the same information appears to have been declassified in full
in the "Weekly Summary." Why details were withheld from the
"Weekly Review" is worth considering: they are characterizations
("demagogic," "corrupt," "pro-US," "colorless")
that may have been sensitive at the time, but given the passage of time
should be releasable, especially when some of the adjectives are not
even attached to the names of individuals. Interestingly, the "Weekly
Review" characterized another candidate as "colorless"
but that reference survived the sanitizers.
Documents 13A, 13B, and 13C: Secret Immortality for Numbers and
Document 13A: U.S. Army Security
Agency, Annual Historical Summary, FY 1965, n.d. Top Secret.
Source: Freedom of Information Act request
Document 13B: Kenneth E. Greer,
"CORONA," Studies in Intelligence, Supplement 17 (Spring
1973), pp. 1-37.
Source: Kevin C. Ruffner (ed.), CORONA: America's First Satellite
Program (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1995).
Document 13C: Memorandum for the
Record, Subject: Visit to [deleted], Project [deleted],
November 22, 1965.
Source: National Archives, Records of the Central Intelligence Agency,
Record Group 263, Box 45, Folder 5.
The first two documents illustrate that numbers - in the form of personnel
numbers and budget figures - are treated as sensitive information, even
though virtually everything else about an activity has been declassified.
This secrecy can extend for many decades after a project has been completed
or an activity terminated. Thus, the extract from the first document,
released over a decade after the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam,
provides details on the activities of a signals intelligence unit that
operated there in 1965 - the only redaction being of the number of personnel
serving in that unit. Document 13B, released in 1995, deletes the total
cost of the Corona satellite program which concluded in 1972. The third
document illustrates the sensitivity that is often attached to project
codewords. The document describes plans to modify a Navy P-2V patrol
plane for reconnaissance missions that seem to be related to operations
in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. Little information is redacted beyond
the codename of the project and contractor (E-Systems).
Documents 14A and 14B: Cold War Relics
Document 14A: History of the
Strategic Arms Competition, 1945-1972, by Ernest May, John Steinbruner,
and Thomas Wolfe, (Note 22) Office of the Secretary
Defense, Historical Office, March 1981, excerpt.
Source: FOIA request by National Security Archive
Document 14B: Jacob Neufeld, The
Development of Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Force 1945-1960
(Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1990.
One of the most sensitive features of the Cuban missile crisis was
the Kennedy-Khrushchev secret trade of Soviet missiles in Cuba for U.S.
Jupiter missiles in Turkey (also deployed in Italy). It was so secret
that even top officials in the Kennedy administration, such as JCS Chairman
Maxwell Taylor and CIA director John McCone, were kept out of the loop.
Until the late 1980s, no one had spelled out in detail this quid pro
quo, although Robert Kennedy came close to hinting at it in his memoir
of the crisis, Thirteen Days. Nevertheless, the facts of the
trade eventually became part of the public record and even Soviet ambassador
Anatoly Dobrynin's cables about the trade and his secret meetings with
the President's brother have become public. (Note 23)
As famous as this episode has become, the Defense Department continues
to classify the countries - Italy and Turkey - where the missiles were
deployed, even though the Air Force listed them in its public history
of the U.S. guided missile program. The Pentagon's release of the "History
of the Strategic Arms Competition, 1945-1972" exemplifies this
practice (excerpt in document 15A).
The country locations of other historic nuclear deployments are already
in the public record, (Note 24) but the Pentagon treats
this information as Formerly Restricted Data (FRD). This is a special
category of nuclear weapons information established under the Atomic
Energy Act (1954) to facilitate military use of nuclear weapons information
for planning and operational purposes. Such bits of data as nuclear
weapons yields, stockpile numbers, and storage sites are classified
as FRD. (Note 25) Treating historical nuclear weapons
deployments such as the Jupiters in Turkey as FRD has created significant
problems for the classification bureaucracy, not least because information
on some of the obsolete deployments had been released in open files
at the National Archives, mostly in the records of the Department of
State. While this was of some concern to the Department of Energy, because
all FRD, obsolete or otherwise, needed proper declassification review,
DOE was especially worried that Restricted Data (RD) - sensitive details
of nuclear weapons design and production - might have been inadvertently
released in the course of declassification review and release of historical
records required by President Clinton's Executive Order 12958. Congress
responded to those concerns in 1998, through the "Kyl amendment,"
which mandated DOE to review, and reclassify when necessary, archival
records to determine whether they contained RD or FRD information.
According to a series of reports to Congress on this archival review,
DOE has found documents that contained RD, nuclear weapons design information
that had been labeled properly. Much of the material that DOE has uncovered,
however, at the cost of millions of dollars, is far less sensitive and
mostly concerns the historical locations of nuclear weapons storage
sites. While there is concern in the national security bureaucracy about
the unnecessary classification of these sites, the Pentagon will continue
to classify them until the U.S. government updates the rules concerning
Documents 15A and 15B: The Eye of the Beholder
McGeorge Bundy, Memorandum for the Record, President's Meeting with
Congressional Leadership, October 19, October 20, 1964.
Variant 15A - Source: Lyndon B.
Johnson Library, National Security Files, McGeorge Bundy File, Box 18,
Miscellaneous Meetings Vol. I
Variant 15B - Source: U.S. Department
of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Vol.
XXX, China (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1998),
This illustrates the problems that can occur when declassification
reviewers are insufficiently familiar with declassified records in the
public domain. It might also illustrate the impact of the Kyl amendment.
The Lyndon B. Johnson Library released an excised version of this document
in the fall of 2002 as the result of a mandatory review request by the
National Security Archive for the Bundy memo and attached material on
the Chinese atomic test in October 1964. As it turns out, the State
Department had already published the Bundy memo in full in its historical
series, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). As is
evident through a comparison, the reviewers for the LBJL release excised
two portions: 1) an reference by Atomic Energy Commissioner Glenn Seaborg
to plutonium-based nuclear weapons and to air sampling of radioactive
debris by U.S. intelligence, (Note 26) and 2) a blanket
statement by Secretary of Defense McNamara that the United States military
had 2,700 nuclear weapons in its "survivable alert force"
(e.g., nuclear weapons deployed on more-or-less undetectable nuclear
missile submarines) and that 800 of them could "inflict unacceptable
damage" to the Soviet Union. All of the concerned agencies had
carefully vetted the FRUS, and any forceful objections to publishing
those details could have led to excisions in the published text. That
the document was published in its entirety suggests that security reviewers
believed that the information was no longer sensitive. Indeed, a statement
that 800 nuclear weapons would have catastrophic results is a truism
whose release could have no serious consequences. Nevertheless, the
Department of Energy has decided that another FRUS document was
improperly declassified and it may add this one to its list.
Documents 16A, 16B, 16C, and 16D: Saving Face?: Problems with Declassifying
Documents 16A and 16B:
Memorandum of Conversation, Meeting with Eisaku Sato, Japanese Prime
Minister, on Thursday, January 6, 1972 at 1:30 p.m. at San Clemente,
January 6, 1972, Top Secret, Excised and Fully Declassified Versions.
Documents 16C and 16D:
Memorandum of Conversation, Meeting with Eisaku Sato, Japanese Prime
Minister, on Friday, January 7, 1972 at 9:30 a.m. at San Clemente,
January 7, 1972, Top Secret, Excised and Fully Declassified Versions.
Location of originals: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials
Project, White House Special Files, President's Office Files, box 87,
Memoranda for the President 1/1/72
These two documents, memoranda of conversation between President Richard
M. Nixon and Japanese Eisaku Sato from their January 1972 summit meeting
in San Clemente, illustrate many of the problems that have blocked the
fuller release of documents that provide significant insight into America's
relations with its allies. A comparison of the initial, redacted release
of these two memoranda of conversation in 1996 with their final and
full release demonstrates, first of all, how an over-scrupulous concern
to avoid giving an ally any reason for displeasure at the release of
information, no matter how innocuous, can lead to the continued classification
of information that a more balanced review would later find unnecessary.
For example, on the first page of the January 6th memorandum, the initial
release blacked out Prime Minister Sato's understandable and logical
desire to make sure that President Nixon would be welcomed in Japan
should he be extended an invitation to make an official visit - a concern
rooted in the well-known political upheaval that had prevented President
Eisenhower from visiting Tokyo in 1960 during the government of Nobusuke
Kishi, Sato's brother. Or, on page 11, Sato's originally deleted expression
of hope that the U.S. National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, will
remember the need to protect Taiwan's seat in the IMF and World Bank
neither surprises nor reflects badly on Sato or the Japanese government.
Sato's queries on page 12 about U.S. views and positions regarding the
future status of Taiwan is equally non-controversial and is quite reasonable
in light of Tokyo's vital need to understand where U.S. policy was headed
after the shock of the U.S. opening to China the previous year. Similarly,
in the memorandum of the January 7th conversation, Sato's request that
Nixon take advantage of his upcoming trip to Beijing to inform the PRC,
"as appropriate," of Japan's desire to normalize its relations
with China also is less than earth-shaking, given all that is known
about the course of Sino-Japanese relations in the 1970s. Finally, the
remark by Sato on page 5 that the head of Australia's Labor Party had
shared insights from his visit to Beijing might have been suitably sensitive
at the time, but three decades later the harm to Australian diplomacy
seems remote, at best.
Similar observations apply to the initial deletions of remarks made
by Nixon during these talks, deletions which seem motivated either by
a desire to avoid the release of information potentially embarrassing
to Nixon or at odds with expressed U.S. policies at the time, or by
an overly-zealous application of the pre-decisional exemption. Others
just seem examples of extreme caution about releasing any type of assessment,
particularly of other statesmen. An example of the (slightly) embarrassing
variety is found on page 13 of the January 6th memcon, where Nixon's
remark (which presumably was a stab at humor) that, "Perhaps
lady chiefs of state are dangerous, since both India and Israel have
been led in war by women," was initially deleted. Remarks by Nixon
regarding Japan and nuclear weapons - discussing his understanding of
the strategic pressures upon Japan to develop nuclear weapons (page
6 of the January 6th memcon) and his somewhat cynical suggestion that
Japan delay ratifying the NPT "to keep any potential enemy concerned,"
(a remark he immediately asked Sato to forget) on page 9 of the January
7th memcon - while obviously sensitive at the time, are of great historical
interest for understanding both his approach to diplomacy and Japan's
position on the NPT, though neither clearly posed a threat to national
security or U.S. relations to Japan if released.
The release in full of these documents was the result of a declassification
decision by ISCAP in 1998. This decision, along with many others by
this panel, shows ISCAP's great value in improving the mandatory declassification
review process for significant foreign policy documents.
Documents 17A and 17B: Censorship that Reverses the Meaning
Central Intelligence Agency, El Salvador: Dealing with Death Squads,
January 20, 1984, two excised variants
Variant 17A - Source: 1987 FOIA
Release to Raymond E. Bonner
Variant 17B - Source: November
1993 declassification by Clinton administration in response to request
by United Nations Truth Commission on human rights abuses in El Salvador
These two strikingly different versions of a CIA report on death squads
in El Salvador show what can happen in the course of a FOIA review and,
by contrast, what can happen when the White House demands declassification
review and release. The CIA prepared its report in January 1984, in
response to a request from Vice President George Bush, who, during a
visit to El Salvador the month before, had strongly condemned the death
squads. Apparently, Bush wanted more information on what El Salvador
was actually doing to crack down on right-wing paramilitary forces.
The CIA had much to say about this problem but the first FOIA release
of this document withheld the substance. The CIA released it during
1987, amidst congressional and broader public controversy over military
aid to El Salvador, in response to a FOIA request by New York Times
journalist Raymond Bonner (one of the founders of the National Security
Archive). (Note 27) In this release, the CIA excised
almost all of the contents, except for two disclosures: 1) the obvious
fact that death threats against Salvadoran leaders were routine and
"often carried out", and 2) pledges by military leaders to
"punish human rights offenders." By contrast, the version
released to the Truth Commission, shows that the Agency had withheld
information that wholly contradicted the disclosures in the 1987 release:
Salvadoran authorities had only taken cosmetic action to curb the death
squads because they were fearful of "confronting rightwing extremists."
Moreover, the second release showed there was a debate within the Agency
over what Salvadoran authorities could actually do about the death squads.
For example, the "comment" prepared by another CIA analyst
took the view that the government of El Salvador was "incapable
of undertaking a real crackdown on the death squads." Given the
keen efforts by the Reagan administration to support the Salvadoran
government's campaign against left-wing rebels and U.S. critics, the
CIA was plainly averse to releasing information that contradicted the
White House's official line.
Documents 18: The Subjectivity of Declassification II
E-mail message from William A. Cockell, National Security Council Staff,
to Deputy National Security Adviser Colin Powell, January 21, 1987,
Variant 18A - Source: 1994 release
of sampling of White House email messages pursuant to National Security
Archive lawsuit, Scott Armstrong, et al v Executive Office of the President
Variant 18B - Source: 1994 release
of sampling of White House email messages pursuant to Armstrong v EOP
Between 1989 and 1995, the National Security Archive was engaged in
a protracted lawsuit to force the government to treat e-mail, in this
instance, National Security Council e-mail, as federal records. Although
the lawsuit involved major losses - the courts ruled that the National
Security Council was exempt from FOIA requests - it was nevertheless
precedent setting because it forced the executive branch of government
to find ways and means to treat email as government records. While White
House officials and Justice Department lawyers had argued that e-mail
had no more substance than a routing slip, the Archive's lawyers persuaded
federal judges to test those claims by compelling the White House to
produce, review, and declassify samples of email. The court-ordered
sampling programs showed that email had real substance, as much as a
traditional paper record of a memorandum of conversation. (Note
This January 21, 1987, e-mail on "Iran-Iraq" shows the strong
element of subjectivity that enters into declassification reviews. The
same NSC staffer, David Van Tassell, declassified both versions on different
dates in June 1994 but somehow decided that an almost completely different
set of words was sensitive the second time around. Only three lines
are missing from both versions. A side-by-side comparison suggests that
the excised portions do not protect a national security interest; instead,
they cloak a highly awkward discussion, led by National Security Adviser
Frank Carlucci, but dominated by Secretary of Defense Caspar ("Cap")
Weinberger, about U.S. support for third party transfers of arms and
other supplies to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, among other issues. William
Cockell, the e-mail's author, seems to have been serving as a note taker
for the meeting; with the message he could ensure that interested parties,
such as Deputy National Security Adviser Colin Powell, were kept in
When the Archive pointed out this anomaly to David Van Tassell, to
his great credit he released the document in its entirety. The three
lines in the middle are: "Cap pointed out this might be a good
time to press Egypt on a nuclear transit. Frank noted that Mubarak had
committed the ultimate folly - he rejected the President's invitation.
He speculated that we might be able to move Hussein [of Jordan] into
Document 19: The History of a Coup D'Etat
History Staff, Central Intelligence Agency, "ZENDEBAD SHAH!":
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Fall of Iranian Prime Minister
Mohammed Mossdeq, August 1953, by Scott A. Koch, June 1998, Top
Source: FOIA request and lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency
One of the most infamous covert operations in the history of U.S. foreign
policy was the coup d'état against Iran's Prime Minister Mohammed
Mossadeq in August 1953. That the United States government, through
the Central Intelligence Agency, played a role in this affair is not
a matter of dispute, although the exact nature of its role remains subject
to controversy (Note 29): indeed, the normalization
of U.S-Iran relations may someday require Washington to elucidate its
role in the 1953 coup. While the events of 1953 have been the subject
of a valuable memoir literature by key American and British participants,
(Note 30) declassified documents that shed light on
the CIA operation TP/AJAX are, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent.
The State Department's Foreign Relations series volume on Iran,
1951-1954 (published in 1989) failed even to mention the CIA role in
the coup. That helped precipitate a scandal that led the U.S. Congress
to require the State Department to establish an historical advisory
committee that would guard against such omissions in the future. Moreover,
several Directors of Central Intelligence, including James Woolsey and
John Deutsch, promised that the Agency would take action to declassify
material on key events in the early history of the CIA, such as its
role in the 1948 Italian elections and the 1953 overthrow of Mossadeq.
In an effort to force the release of documentation on the 1953 coup,
in 1999 the National Security Archive initiated a lawsuit against the
CIA with the pro bono assistance of Todd Richmond and Thomas
Susman of the Washington, D.C. law firm, Ropes and Gray. The lawsuit
focused on several issues: 1) CIA biographies of deceased Soviet bloc
leaders, 2) a CIA history on the U.S. role in the 1948 Italian elections,
and 3) two histories of the 1953 coup: a) one written in 1954 by clandestine
services official Donald Wilber that the Agency published internally
in 1969, and b) a CIA History Staff study prepared in the late 1990s.
The CIA proved most obdurate, refused to release any substantive information
on TP/AJAX, and convinced a federal judge to sustain its position on
the others issues as well (CIA biographies and Italy/1948). In the course
of the proceedings, William McNair, a CIA information officer swore
under oath that only one line in one of the requested histories could
be declassified. McNair also claimed that the CIA could never confirm
nor deny the existence of biographical sketches of Soviet bloc leaders,
a "Glomar" claim, named for the ship Glomar Explorer,
the subject of a FOIA lawsuit in which the courts allowed the CIA to
"neither confirm nor deny" the existence or non-existence
of responsive information. (Note 32)
Apparently a CIA veteran decided that this was an intolerable state
of affairs because the Wilber history was leaked to the New York
Times, which published an excised version on its web site in 2000.
(Note 33) The Archive subsequently dropped that part
of its request. In the meantime, the Archive's lawyers argued
that McNair's testimony was "facially incredible,"
not least because the CIA had already released biographical information
on some of the same Eastern European Communists - Janos Kadar and Gustav
Husak - that were the subject of its FOIA request. (Note
34) The judge agreed and forced the CIA to revisit the documents.
As it turned out, further review of the CIA History Staff study showed
that McNair's testimony was false because the study included a number
of paragraphs marked "U" for "unclassified" that
were based on unclassified, secondary literature. Pursuant to the Archive's
lawsuit, the CIA released the unclassified portions of "ZENDEBAD
SHAH" (Long Live the Shah!), but refused to declassify any
of the classified paragraphs. Thus, it was not until a CIA official
had been caught in a deception that the Agency would address some part
of the Archive's FOIA request.
In a victory for FOIA requesters, the court ruled that the CIA could
no longer use the "neither confirm nor deny" language to refuse
FOIA requests for biographical sketches. Unfortunately, the Court accepted
the CIA's decision to release only the unclassified paragraphs from
ZENDEBAD SHAH!, ruling that the Agency need go no further. The
State Department will eventually publish important CIA documents on
TP/AJAX when it publishes a special volume in the Foreign Relations
series. It will be interesting to see how far the CIA will go in releasing
information on this episode. In the meantime, the U.S. government's
failure to declassify information on the 1953 coup remains one of the
most dubious secrets of all.
Document 20: Yes, We Have No Secrets
United States Embassy Bogota [Colombia], Americans in Danger in Colombia.
How Many? Where? What Do They Do?, April 5, 2001, Confidential,
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request
The absurd nature of the excisions in this document requires little
by way of introduction. It should suffice to say that the deletions
contained therein rise to a level of comic irony rarely seen in the
world of government secrecy.
This cable was released in response to a FOIA request pertaining to
the oversight of U.S.-sponsored illicit crop eradication programs in
Colombia. The program relies heavily on the participation of U.S. contractors,
primarily from DynCorp, a U.S. company employed by the State Department
to provide pilots, mechanics and medics in support of Colombian counterdrug
operations. These activities have been controversial to the extent that
they endanger U.S. citizens and third country nationals hired by the
United States by deploying them in areas controlled by armed guerrilla
groups. Many fear that this arrangement has the potential to draw the
U.S. more deeply into Colombia's decades old internal conflict if these
individuals are killed, wounded or captured during these operations.
These dangers became all the more apparent in February this year when
a plane carrying Americans employed by another contractor, California
Microwave Systems, went down over guerrilla-controlled territory in
southern Colombia. One American and a Colombian were killed and three
Americans captured by Colombian guerrillas. (Note 35)
In this document, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson "seeks to clarify"
the role of U.S. governmental and contractor personnel in Colombia.
She identifies two programs most likely to put Americans at risk: the
aerial eradication program - in which Americans pilot spray aircraft
and search and rescue missions; and the UH-1N program - which employs
American trainers, mechanics and logistical experts in support of Colombian
military counterdrug operations. Patterson penned the cable to allay
what she says are misconceived fears about the American role in Colombia:
"Visitors often believe there is a large, at-risk [Department of
Defense] presence (there is not), have suspicions about 'contracting'
the drug war, or believe there is something sinister or secret about
the American role." Patterson notes that she wants "full transparency
with the press, as long as it does not put U.S. or Colombian personnel
at risk for injury or capture by disclosing specific individuals or
locations/employment dates." Sinister or not, there is clearly
much about the American role that remains secret, since much of the
rest of the document has been deleted by the declassification authorities
at the State Department. While one cannot be totally sure whether or
not the deleted passages contain the names of specific individuals or
locations, the rather general nature of the cable suggests otherwise.
The results of a pending appeal to the State Department may shed light
on this matter.
1. See Dana Milbank and Mike Allen, "Release
of Documents is Delayed," Washington Post, 26 March 2003,
and Elisabeth Bumiller, "Bush Orders a 3-Year Delay in Opening
Secret Documents," New York Times, March 26, 2003, <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/26/politics/26SECR.html>.
2. Defense Science Board, Report of Task Force on
Secrecy, July 1, 1970, at <http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/dsbrep.html>;
Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy,
3. For Executive Order 12958, see <http://www.fas.org/sgp/clinton/eo12958.html>.
4. Thanks to Steven Aftergood, Federation of American
Scientists, for this language and for helpful comments on a draft of
this briefing book.
5. See remarks on SIOP secrecy by Senator Bob Kerrey,
6. See the website of the Federation of American Scientists
for background on the FAS's FOIA lawsuit to declassify CIA budgets.
7. Report of the Fundamental Classification Policy
Review Group, January 15, 1997; at <http://www.fas.org/sgp/library/repfcprg.html>.
8. Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars: American Secret
History from Hitler to Al-Queda (New York: New York Review Books,
2003), p. 344.
9. For a National Security Archive briefing book on
"U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Okinawa," see <http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/japan/okinawa/okinawa.html>.
10. Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 2002), p. 93.
11. For the predelegation instructions, see <http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB45/>.
In response to an appeal by the National Security Archive, ISCAP has
approved the complete declassification of the Nixon-Zhou Enlai talks;
unfortunately, the documents will not be available until the Nixon
Presidential Materials Project carries out its annual documents
release sometime in 2003.
12. See Information Security Oversight Office, "2001
Report to the President," at <http://www.archives.gov/isoo/annual_reports/isoo_2001_annual_report.pdf>.
13. Pursuant to its responsibilities to declassify
historical information under Executive Order 12958, the CIA is releasing
databases of scanned images through the CREST (CIA Records Search Tool)
program. So far the CIA has set up computers with CREST material at
two sites: the Library on the second floor of the National Archives
and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library.
14. As more evidence on the subjectivity of the declassification
process, the 1999 CIA release disclosed the title of one section withheld
in the Ford Library version but excised the "warning notice"
and information on preparation that was released at the Ford Library.
15. For the quotation and a thoughtful discussion
of exemptions for policy advice, see Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign
for Freedom of Information, "Is Public Access to Civil Service
Policy Advice Possible?", March 5, 1996, <http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/polad96.pdf>.
16. "Ex-President Clinton to Reveal Advice Info,"
by Brian Skolof, Associated Press, Washington Post, January 31,
17. See, International Who's Who 1975-1976
(London, Europa Publications, 1975).
18. Letter from Kathryn I. Dyer, Information and
Privacy Coordinator, CIA to Jeffrey T. Richelson, October 12, 2001.
19. For an important history of the Israeli nuclear
program and its relationship with U.S. policy, see Avner Cohen, Israel
and the Bomb (New York, Columbia University Press, 1998).
20. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations
of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume VII, Arms Control and Disarmament
(Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1995), pp. 747-49.
21. William J. Clinton, Executive Order 12958, "Classified
National Security Information," April 17, 1995, Federal Register,
Vol. 60, No. 76, April 20, 1995 pp. 19825, at pp. 19832-19833.
22. See "closed session" portion of Minutes,
Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, September
23 - 24, 2002, at <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/adcom/mtgnts/13657.htm>.
23. For important accounts of the Cuba-Jupiter trade,
see Philip Nash, The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy
and the Jupiters (University of North Carolina Press, 1997), and
Barton J. Bernstein, "Reconsidering the Missile Crisis: Dealing
with the Problems of the American Jupiters in Turkey," in James
A. Nathan, ed., The Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited (New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1992), pp. 55-130. For Dobrynin's cable and related
documents, see James Hershberg, "Anatomy of a Controversy: Anatoly
F. Dobrynin's Meeting With Robert F. Kennedy, Saturday, 27 October 1962,"
24. See William Arkin, William Burr, and Robert S.
Norris, "Where They Were" and "How Much Did Japan Know,"
in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, at <http://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/1999/nd99/nd99norris.html>
25. See U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Declassification,
"Protecting the Nations's Nuclear Information: An Overview of the
... Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data Classification System,"
November 1995, <http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/rdfrdhtm.html>.
26. As it turned out, and what Bundy's memorandum
alluded to, the fissile material in the first Chinese atomic device
was highly-enriched uranium. See Glenn Seaborg, with Benjamin S. Loeb,
Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years (Lexington,
MA: Lexington Books, 1987), p. 116.
27. Bonner is the author of Weakness and Deceit:
U.S. Policy and El Salvador (New York : Times Books, 1984).
28. For a thorough review of the e-mail case, see
Tom Blanton, ed., White House E-Mail: The Top Secret Computer Messages
the Reagan/Bush White House Tried to Destroy (New York, New Press,
29. For a significant contribution to the historiography,
see Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, eds., Mohammed Mossadeq
and the 1953 Coup in Iran (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press,
30. Christopher Montague Woodhouse, Something
Ventured (London, Granada, 1982), and Kermit Roosevelt, Countercoup:
The Struggle for the Control of Iran (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1979),
are the most significant of the memoirs on the Anglo-American side.
31. See for example, DCI James Woolsey's 1993 statement
to Congress, <http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/ciacase/EXD.pdf>,
32. For McNair's declaration, see <http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/ciacase/EXA.pdf>.
33. Subsequently, the National Security Archive displayed
the Wilber history on its web site at <http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/index.html>.
34. For the arguments of the Archive's attorneys,
For the CIA's release of biographical information on Eastern European
Communist leaders, see, for example, <http://www.cia.gov/csi/books/19335/16526pdffiles/NIE1112-9-88.pdf>
at pages 9 and 10.
35. At least five DynCorp employees working for the
State Department have been killed in Colombia since January 1997. In
at least one other instance, U.S. civilians working for DynCorp engaged
in a firefight with Colombian guerrillas while attempting to rescue
the crew of a downed Colombian helicopter. Hits from hostile ground
fire are routine. See: "U.S. Says Colombian Rebels Fired on American
Civilians," The Washington Post, February 3, 2001; Vanessa
Arrington, "Pilot killed in helicopter crash was State Department
contractor," Associated Press, August 5, 2002; Juan Tamayo, "Anti-drug
pilots decry image of lawlessness: 'We're not Rambos,'" The
Miami Herald, August 23, 2001.