CIA SUED OVER BROKEN PROMISES ON DECLASSIFICATION
National Security Archive Seeks Cold War Documents
on Covert Operations in Iran, Italy
WASHINGTON, May 13, 1999 — Challenging seven years of the CIA's broken promises on declassification, the National Security Archive at George Washington University today filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the CIA to force the declassification of key documents on the agency's role in the European elections of 1948 and the coup in Iran in 1953.
Since January 1992, three Directors of Central Intelligence have acknowledged these two covert operations and pledged to release the relevant documents, "warts and all," on Iran and Italy and nine other Cold War operations. But last July, after having released only a tiny fraction of the CIA's historical documents, DCI George Tenet called a halt to the process and specifically noted that review of the 1948 elections and the 1953 coup documents would be held "in abeyance for the time being."
The suit also seeks CIA-prepared biographies of nine former Cold War Communist leaders of Eastern Europe. Seven of the nine are dead, and the remaining two have not been in power for more than a decade. But the CIA refuses even to confirm or deny the existence of the biographies. The Archive first requested these documents under the Freedom of Information Act in 1995.
"As CIA Director James Woolsey testified in 1993, these documents are vitally important not just for history but for government accountability and for informed current policy making," said Tom Blanton, Executive Director of the National Security Archive. Blanton noted that the Iran documents at issue, for example, would help enormously in fostering the dialogue just beginning between the United States and Iran.
"My clients have waited for seven years believing the CIA's promises, only to find out that, as the New York Times reported, no serious effort to declassify these documents was ever really made," said Thomas Susman, the Archive's attorney at the D.C. law firm of Ropes & Gray. "Unfortunately, they have found out that the only way to get the CIA to do what it promised and deliver what it owes the American people is to sue." The other attorneys on the case are Moira Roberts at Ropes & Gray and Archive General Counsel Kate Martin.
The National Security Archive, a project of the Fund for Peace, is a non-profit research institution and library located at the George Washington University. Underwritten by foundation grants and publication royalties, the Archive pushes for greater government openness and collects and publishes Freedom of Information Act documents.
''The Intelligence Community and the CIA in particular must build on the openness
THE CIA'S BROKEN PROMISES ON DECLASSIFICATION
Director Webster has encouraged to develop better popular understanding and support for U.S. intelligence activities."
—Robert Gates during his confirmation hearings to become DCI, September 16, 1991
"Initiate in the near-term the declassification of specific events, particularly those which are repeatedly the subject of false allegations, such as the 1948 Italian Elections, the 1953 Iranian Coup, 1954 Guatemalan Coup, 1958 Indonesian Coup and the Cuban Missile Crises in 1962 [and n]otify the public of the availability of the resulting materials."
—Recommendation of the CIA's Task Force on Openness, 1991 (Gates accepted this recommendation in January 1992, promising "a bias toward declassification" of these documents)
"I have also directed review for declassification of significant Cold War covert actions more than 30 years old. These include the following: activities in support of democracy in France and Italy in the 1940s and 1950s; support to anti-Sukarno rebels in Indonesia in 1958; support to Tibetan guerrillas in the 1950s and early 1960s; operations against North Korea during the Korean War; and, operations in Laos in the 1960s. In reviewing these actions for declassification, we are building on the steps my predecessors took in announcing plans to declassify records on the Bay of Pigs operation, the coups against President Arbenz of Guatemala and against Prime Minister Mossadeqh in Iran, and operations in the Dominican Republic and the Congo."
"To remain confident as we face the future we must learn from our past, and that learning must be based on information that is both accurate and as comprehensive as possible. Just as revelations about intelligence required the history of World War II to be rewritten, so too the information we have may require a rewriting of critical events in the Cold War. The events of the last four years have rendered obsolete much of the language of our generation -- the language of containment, of confrontation, of cold war with the Soviet Union -- and with it the need to keep much of this information classified. Scholars and historians have researched and written a great deal on the key events of the Cold War. It is time that we contribute to their work and to our collective understanding of this extraordinary period in history."
—DCI R. James Woolsey, testifying before Congress, Sept. 28,1993
"We have doubled the resources devoted to the agency's declassification of
historically valuable records [W]e have also promised to review records of 11 covert
actions of the cold war era."
—DCI John Deutch, Letter to the Editor, New York Times, Page A30, May 3, 1996
''[W]e continue to face the dilemma of where to apply our available resources. [In addition to the Bay of Pigs and Guatemala, w]e also will initiate declassification reviews, as soon as resources are available, of the materials involved in the covert actions undertaken during the Korean War, and in the Congo, Laos, and Dominican Republic during the 1960s. ... We will address the remaining five covert actions identified by my predecessors as soon as the others have been completed. The fact is, we do not have sufficient resources at the current time to review the documentation involved in these five remaining covert actions.... I have opted, therefore, to hold the reviews of these covert actions in abeyance for the time being."
—Current DCI George Tenet, July 15, 1998
"George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, is responsible for directing an espionage empire that includes several large agencies and an overall annual budget of $27 billion. It is hard to believe that he and Congress cannot come up with enough money to more speedily review and declassify cold-war intelligence records. Unsealing archives is essential to the sound management of intelligence agencies in a free and open society. All but a handful of secrets necessitated by war, diplomacy and espionage must eventually be disclosed in a democracy, for secrecy over time breeds insularity and a lack of accountability. The Central Intelligence Agency itself has often exhibited the arrogance and misconduct that come of excessive secrecy.... [E]ven at the agency's estimated cost of $2 per page, the expense of an expanded declassification effort would produce barely a ripple in the generous intelligence budget. This history is too important to neglect. Mr. Tenet has surrendered without a fight."
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT THE CIA'S BROKEN PROMISES
—New York Times editorial, July 19, 1998
"The agency has published some documents from two of [the] operations: the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the successful 1954 coup against the Guatemalan Government. In the case of Guatemala, the release so far represents less than 2 percent of the available files. It became clear today that the agency never undertook a serious effort to declassify the remaining nine operations."
—News article on day of Tenet's announcement to shut down the Historical Review program, New York Times, July 15, 1998
"The Agency had done such a brilliant public relations snow job, moreover, that in numerous conversations with people in and outside academia I was frequently told how the CIA was moving towards openness, a carefully nurtured myth that was not at all easy for me to dispel.... Promises were still being made regarding release of documents on the acknowledged covert operations, but as yet there had been no releases.... In an especially chilling moment, one troglodyte from the Directorate of Operations referred to the Executive Order as that 'silly old law."'
—Speech by George C. Herring, Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and former member of the CIA's Historical Review Board, Jan. 1997, republished in the May 1997 newsletter of the Organization of American Historians.
"Nobody believes them any more. The real problem at the CIA is the way they declassify, deleting information that can easily be found in the public arena, sometimes on the front pages of The Washington Post and the New York Times."
—Historian Anna Nelson, member of the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board, in The Washington Post, July 16,1998
"The Review Board encountered early CIA resistance to making records available to the Review Board, as well as resistance to the ultimate disclosure of records. A small number of CIA staff officers, almost exclusively from the Directorate of Operations, unnecessarily impeded the process and damaged the Agency's interests by resisting compromise with all-or-nothing positions."
—Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, Sept. 30, 1998