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Dubious Secrets

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 90

Edited by Jeffrey Richelson, William Burr and Thomas Blanton
(with contributions from Michael Evans and Robert Wampler)

Posted - May 21, 2003

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 classified information.

The 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 2)

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)

Classification "Icons"

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 system.

"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). (Note 9)

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.

Subjectivity 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.

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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 Information
[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. 8pp.
Variant A source: Freedom of Information Act
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 statements:

  • "Everyone is now aware that a virtual tidal wave of publicly printed paper threatens to swamp almost all enterprises of intellectual research." (p.1)
  • "The foreign press in particular plays a major role in providing news of current intelligence value on political, military, and economic developments." (p.2).
  • "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), pp. 685-687.
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 Policies
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 Archive

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 Only
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 Only
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 December 1973

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 National Archives.

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, Top Secret.
Document 12B: Central Intelligence Agency, Current Intelligence Weekly Summary, October 5, 1962, Secret.
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 Codewords
Document 13A: U.S. Army Security Agency, Annual Historical Summary, FY 1965, n.d. Top Secret. 6 pp.
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 FRD.

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), pp. 113-114

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 U.S.-Japan Relations

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, "Iran-Iraq."
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 28)

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 the loop.

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 that slot."

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 Secret.
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. (Note 31)

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, 8 pp.
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, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29446-2003Mar25.html>, and Elisabeth Bumiller, "Bush Orders a 3-Year Delay in Opening Secret Documents," New York Times, March 26, 2003, <https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/26/politics/26SECR.html>.

2. Defense Science Board, Report of Task Force on Secrecy, July 1, 1970, at <https://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/dsbrep.html>; Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997, <https://www.fas.org/sgp/library/moynihan/chap2.html>.

3. For Executive Order 12958, see <https://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, at <https://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2000/kerrey.html>.

6. See the website of the Federation of American Scientists <https://www.fas.org/sgp/foia/index.html#1947> 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 <https://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 <https://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 <https://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 <https://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, <https://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/polad96.pdf>.

16. "Ex-President Clinton to Reveal Advice Info," by Brian Skolof, Associated Press, Washington Post, January 31, 2003.

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 <https://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," <https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/CWIHP/BULLETINS/b5a8.htm>.

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 <https://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/1999/nd99/nd99norris.html> and <https://www.thebulletin.org/issues/2000/jf00/jf00norrisarkin.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, <https://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, 1995).

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, forthcoming, 2003).

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, <https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/ciacase/EXD.pdf>, Appendix D..

32. For McNair's declaration, see <https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/ciacase/EXA.pdf>.

33. Subsequently, the National Security Archive displayed the Wilber history on its web site at <https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/index.html>.

34. For the arguments of the Archive's attorneys, see <https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/ciacase/index.html>. For the CIA's release of biographical information on Eastern European Communist leaders, see, for example, <https://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.

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