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Resources for the Trump Records Drama, NSArchive Pays Tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev, and More: FRINFORMSUM 9/1/2022

September 1, 2022

Resources for the Trump Mar-a-Lago Records Saga 

The extraordinary saga of former President Trump’s mishandling of government records, including classified national security information, continues to evolve. 

The Washington Post’s report on the Justice Department’s August 30th court filing notes that Trump and his team failed to return sensitive documents after both receiving a subpoena for them, and pledging that they’d conducted a “diligent search” for the records. The court filing itself states, “The classification levels ranged from CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET information, and certain documents included additional sensitive compartments that signify very limited distribution. In some instances, even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents.” 

Here are some of the most important developments and resources from the last two weeks of the evolving story:

DOJ August 30 court filing highlights

One of the highlights of the DOJ’s 36-page court filing can be found on page 9, wherein Trump’s custodian of records, Christina Bobb, provided the DOJ a signed, certified letter stating the following:

Based upon the information that has been provided to me, I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following: a. A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida; b. This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena; c. Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification; and d. No copy, written notation, or reproduction of any kind was retained as to any responsive document.

 I swear or affirm that the above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge. 

Another startling development appears on page 10. DOJ lawyers argue, “The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

Yet another important takeaway is a redacted photograph of documents recovered, including those with Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information markings. Observers also spotted an “HCS” marking, indicating the system used to protect information gathered from human sources. For a recent example of why human sources are so valuable and vulnerable, see the October 2021 New York Times story, “Captured, Killed or Compromised: C.I.A. Admits to Losing Dozens of Informants”.

Trump took issue with the photo on Truth Social, seemingly most concerned that it made him look messy. He stated, “There seems to be confusion as to the ‘picture’ where documents were sloppily thrown on the floor and then released photographically for the world to see, as if that’s what the FBI found when they broke into my home. Wrong! They took them out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet, making it look like a big ‘find’ for them. They dropped them, not me – Very deceiving.”

The filing also opposes the appointment of a special master (an independent third party) to review the records, requested by President Trump, arguing it is an unnecessary delay tactic.

Trump has previously claimed that he had a verbal “standing order” to declassify the documents. The DOJ filing explicitly states, “neither counsel nor the custodian asserted that the former President had declassified the documents or asserted any claim of executive privilege.” (emphasis added) 

Trump Team August 31 Response

Trump’s legal team’s 19-page reply takes incredulous aim at the Presidential Records Act (even though the PRA is clear that presidential records belong to the public, not the president, and many of the documents at issue are clearly agency records). The court-filing states, “But the Government reads into the Presidential Records Act an enforcement provision that does not exist; the law exhorts a former President to interface with the Archivist to ensure the preservation of Presidential records, but it does not oblige the former President to take any particular steps with respect to those records.”

The reply has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it, but the National Security Archive has long-argued the PRA needs more teeth, including eliminating the disposal provisions of the statute, instituting certain reporting requirements, and requiring the president to issue a records preservation policy at the beginning of each term that is reviewed by the Archivist of the United States. 

Additional Resources

  •  The search warrant and related memo, both released last week, can be read here and here, respectively. 
  •  The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman has a terrific timeline of the Mar-a-Lago records fiasco, read it here
  • Acting Archivist of the United States, Deborah Steidel Wall, recently published a NARA notice to all employees, Update on Trump Administration Presidential Records, in the agency’s FOIA reading room. She states that NARA found “more than 700 pages of records marked as classified national security information, up to the level of Top Secret and including Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Program materials” among the 15 boxes recovered from Mar-a-Lago this January. This does not include the materials recovered by the FBI this August from the Palm Beach property.
  • Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told House Democrats in a letter last week that intelligence analysts were working with the Justice Department on a classification review of the materials taken from Mar-a-Lago, which will include an “assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents.”
  • For an excellent overview of Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP) place in the classification universe, and the “unique fragility” of their associated sources and methods, read George Croner’s “A Damage Assessment of Trump’s ‘Declassification Defense’” in Just Security. Croner is the former principal litigation counsel at the National Security Agency, and his most important point is that any verbal standing declassification order would simply not suffice for these types of documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. Of course, the DOJ court filing above explicitly states that no such verbal order was made. This is a very worthwhile read, although I take issue with the hypothesis that if a verbal order had been given, that these documents would likely to be released in response to a FOIA request (after all, the sex of Conan the Dog was Glomared), so take any concerns that FOIA will reveal our top secrets with a grain of salt. 

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Is A New EO on Classified National Security Information in the Works?

Bryan Bender’s recent Politico piece, “White House launches new war on secrecy,” reveals that there is a new effort at the National Security Council to determine how to rein in the nation’s sprawling classification regime, focusing specifically on revising the current Executive Order on Classified National Security Information, EO 13526. John Powers, an NSC veteran who serves as the Associate Director for Classification Management for the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), will advise the effort – a good sign for transparency advocates. 

Specific steps that a coalition of open government advocates, including the National Security Archive, advise the NSC to take include: mandating the production of unclassified summaries of the President’s Daily Brief, and releasing all unclassified portions of Office of Legal Counsel opinions.  

While DNI Haines has testified publicly that overclassification is a national security concern, Powers and the NSC will have their work cut out for them. The intelligence community, led by the CIA and the FBI, will likely push back any attempt to cut down on overclassification.

In Memoriam: Mikhail Gorbachev 1931-2022

The National Security Archive mourns the passing of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, 1931-2022, first and last president of the Soviet Union, who ended the Cold War and enabled through his “glasnost” our work to open archives around the world.

Mr. Gorbachev deserves the credit, according to observers as disparate as Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl, for the revolutionary changes in the 1980s that transformed the Soviet Union, brought down the Iron Curtain, reunited Germany, enabled Eastern Europeans to reclaim their countries, abolished an entire class of nuclear weapons, ended the Soviet war in Afghanistan, settled regional conflicts, and put forward a model of international politics that denounced violence as any real solution to political problems.

Mr. Gorbachev personally helped the National Security Archive open the primary sources on all this tumultuous history, even when the documents did him no favors.  He also generously met with us on multiple occasions, answering our questions and contributing his recollections and retrospective analysis in a variety of international forums.

Read more, including our seminal Gorbachev documents, on our website.

Truth Commission Launches Declassified Database on Colombia’s Conflict and U.S. Role

As the U.S. contemplated a more aggressive drug war strategy in Colombia in the 1980s, top intelligence officials said success there would require “a bloody, expensive, and prolonged coercive effort” that, even then, was not likely to have an impact on the U.S. drug market, according to a declassified report recently published by the Colombia’s Truth Commission and the National Security Archive.

The 1983 Special National Intelligence Estimate, featured in the Washington Post, is among a massive trove of declassified U.S. records gathered and organized for the Commission by the Archive that was the focus of a special event in Bogotá to introduce the Truth Commission’s digital library to the academic community. Archive senior analyst Michael Evans joined Truth Commissioner Alejandro Valencia Villa and other distinguished panelists at Colombia’s National University to celebrate the launch of the platform and to share highlights from more than 15,000 previously classified documents on Colombia’s conflict.

In Brief

– Acting Archivist of the United States, Deborah Steidel Wall, has announced the appointment of the newest 20-member FOIA Federal Advisory Committee. Alex Howard from Demand Progress and Adam Marshall from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are among the new non-government representatives. Ginger Quintero-McCall may have (she can correct me if I’m wrong!) the enviable distinction of being the first member to be appointed both as a government member (2016-2018) and as a non-government member (2022-2024).

Pentagon Joins DHS In Destroying Potential January 6 Evidence, Calls Records Retention Schedules Into Question: FRINFORMSUM 8/4/2022

August 4, 2022
Excerpt from Joint Status report – American Oversight v DOD and Army

Pentagon and DHS Announce More Destroyed January 6 Phone Records

The Pentagon has joined the Department of Homeland Security in destroying potential evidence related to the January 6 Capitol attack. Open government organization American Oversight posted court records related to its FOIA lawsuit for DoD January 6 records on its website, and the records indicate that the Pentagon “wiped” government-issued phones for senior officials that were in charge of mobilizing the National Guard’s response to the insurrection. The Washington Post reports that the erasure impacts the phone records of numerous senior officials, including then-acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. 

The court records indicate that the erasure is in keeping with DoD and Army policy for employees who have left the agency. An investigation of the Pentagon’s records retention schedules will help verify this claim, which, if true, is an egregious oversight that may impact the January 6 committee’s investigation. It would also put further pressure on the National Archives and Records Administration to do a more thorough job vetting agency records retention schedules.

American Oversight has asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the destruction. 


The DoD news comes on the heels of new revelations into the extent of the destruction of phone records at the Department of Homeland Security. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) recently obtained internal agency documents showing that “Text messages for President Donald Trump’s acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli are missing for a key period leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.” The DHS Inspector General, Joseph V. Cuffari, was notified of the destruction in February and did not notify the January 6 Committee, did not press department leadership about the destruction, and did not attempt to recover the lost data. 

The destroyed messages from DHS’s most senior leadership adds to the list of the agency’s missing January 6 records, most notably the Secret Service’s destruction of agency text messages surrounding the attack shortly after the messages were requested by the January 6 Select Committee, allegedly during the course of an agency-wide phone reset and upgrade. 

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AQ Leader al-Zawahiri Killed in CIA Drone Strike

President Biden confirmed on August 1 that the United States successfully targeted al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who merged his al-Jihad organization with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, was one of the masterminds of 9/11. He was identified and targeted by the CIA while residing in the wealthy Kabul neighborhood of Shirpur, in a house owned by senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani (in a seemingly clear violation of the Doha Agreement), and in an area patrolled by the Haqqani Network. The strike comes a year after the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and raises questions about the potential re-emergence of Afghanistan as a terrorist safe haven. 

The Washington Post reports that the CIA was certain it had ascertained al-Zawahiri’s location by early July. President Biden convened a meeting in the Situation Room on July 1 to discuss options and logistics, and convened a final briefing on the strike on July 25. 

For more on the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda, consider reading any of the following from the Archive’s Afghanistan Project:

The National Security Act Turns 75

The National Security Archive recently published a compilation of key declassified US documents on the run-up to the enactment of the National Security Act, which was signed into law 75 years ago. The law’s passage marked a major restructuring of the US government’s military and intelligence apparatus in the years following World War II, and has revolutionized US policy making post-9/11. The documents in our latest posting show the run-up to the law’s enactment, the debates surrounding the unification of the military departments, and the establishment of three major national security organizations: the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the office of a civilian Secretary of Defense. This publication also sheds light on how the law, originally crafted with the intent of military and intelligence reorganization, evolved into something that would overhaul the Executive branch and establish the essential framework for foreign policy making during and after the Cold War.

Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, spoke with NPR’s Greg Myre about the law’s birthday, focusing particularly on the creation of the CIA. Blanton notes that, “The great successes the CIA has had have been the way in which it reduced the possibility of confrontation in a nuclear age,” but that “the places where the CIA has gone wrong has been in its handling of agents, its covert operations, its paramilitary, which raised the possibilities of confrontation, raised the danger.”

If you’re curious to read more about the US Intelligence Community, visit the Archive’s Intelligence Documentation Project, which has won the release of thousands of previously classified records that describe and contextualize many facets of the IC’s history, organization, structure, mission and operations. 

In Brief

EPA Delays Plan to Sunset Online Archive: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would put plans to sunset its online Archive on hold until June 2023. During that time, the agency said it will “assess the use of archive content” and “continue to analyze, inventory and transition key content to our main website”.

In March of this year the EPA announced that it would wipe its site that contains “old news releases, policy changes, regulatory actions, and more,” on the grounds that it is no longer cost-effective and was never intended to be permanent. Open government and environmental advocates raised the alarm because, as The Verge’s Justine Calma reported, “The archive is the only comprehensive way that public information about agency policies, like fact sheets breaking down the impact of environmental legislation, and actions, like how the agency implements those laws, have been preserved…It also shows how the agency’s understanding of an issue, like climate change, has evolved. And when the Trump administration deleted information about climate change on the EPA’s website, much of it could still be found on the archive.”

DOJ Sues Ex-Trump Adviser Over Presidential Records: The Justice Department is suing ex-Trump aide Peter Navarro over his refusal to turn over presidential records. The suit, brought on behalf of the National Archives, alleges that Navarro used personal email to conduct government business and “is wrongfully retaining Presidential records that are the property of the United States, and which constitute part of the permanent historical record of the prior administration.”

DEA Says FOIA Requests Can No Longer Be Submitted Via Email, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 7/21/2022

July 21, 2022

DEA No Longer Accepting Emailed FOIA Requests

The Drug Enforcement Administration (a component of the Department of Justice) recently told the National Security Archive that it will no longer accept FOIA requests submitted by email. This wholly unnecessary move adds unacceptable administrative barriers to filing a FOIA request. To add insult to injury, the DEA also stated that all requests must be submitted through the agency’s FOIA portal, which requires users to create a Public Access Link (PAL) account. Frustratingly, PAL accounts require requesters to change their password every 30 days – a nuisance that, if not followed to the letter, can make it extraordinarily difficult for requesters to regain access to their account and documents.

Given how clunky the Archive has found PAL accounts to be, I tried to verify that this policy change was reflected in the DEA’s FOIA regulations (all agencies are required to publish their FOIA regulations on their website), but the DEA does not currently link to its (or the DOJ’s) FOIA regulations.

The DEA’s decision raises concerns beyond the utility of PAL accounts, including: 

  • Why should members of the public be required to register anywhere to file a FOIA request?
  • When will we see a true national FOIA portal as mandated in the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act as opposed to the disparate FOIA portals currently used across the government? And,
  • How does this trend of account-only access for filing FOIA requests impact members of the public who either do not have reliable internet access, and/or who are not tech savvy enough to navigate the portals? 

For the time being, requesters would be better off filing FOIA requests to the DEA through rather than creating a PAL account, but the fact remains that requesters should be allowed to submit requests by any method that is the most convenient for them. Hopefully DEA’s parent agency will address this glaring problem – but we won’t hold our breath. 

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NARA Investigates Secret Service January 6 Text Destruction

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is investigating the Secret Service’s destruction of agency text messages surrounding the January 6 attack. The destruction of text messages from January 5 and January 6 took place shortly after the messages were requested by the January 6 Select Committee, and the destruction was revealed by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, in a recent letter to the committee (although the Washington Post reports the IG’s office learned of the destruction in February, but chose not to inform Congress). Cuffari also stated that DHS officials were delaying providing the IG’s office with the required documents by arguing the records first needed to be reviewed by DHS attorneys. For its part, the Secret Service claims the records were unintentionally deleted in mid-January during the course of an agency-wide phone reset and upgrade. 

NARA released a statement Tuesday saying that the Secret Service has 30 days to provide a report on how the materials were destroyed, and the January 6 Committee has issued a subpoena for answers in the matter. 

The Secret Service’s unauthorized destruction adds to a growing list of missing or destroyed information concerning the January 6 attack, including the infamous seven-and-a-half hour gap in Trump’s official call records. 

The egregious destruction inspired Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, to re-imagine the famous picture of Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary who famously testified that she had inadvertently erased 18 and ½ minutes of a crucial Watergate tape when she stretched to answer her White House phone with her foot still on the transcription pedal. (The Archive’s annual Rosemary award singles out the worst performance in open government, and the Secret Service is currently a heavy favorite for next year’s award.)  

Long-Classified U.S. Estimates of Nuclear War Casualties During the Cold War Regularly Underestimated Deaths and Destruction 

US government analyses dating from the 1940s onward have provided civilian and military leaders with staggering estimates of the likely casualties that would result from a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union, but the sheer scale of those projected fatalities kept the reports classified until after the end of the Cold War. 

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the decades-old question of potential casualties from a nuclear strike back to the forefront of public attention (even though averting a superpower conflict is a high White House priority), and calls for these estimates to be re-examined.

A recent posting from the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault contains almost two dozen of these high-level White House, State, Defense, CIA, and other estimates dating from the 1940s through the 1970s. Examples include the landmark Harman Report from 1949 which was the first to spell out (massive) casualty projections while also predicting that resorting to nuclear weapons would not force the Kremlin to capitulate. A 1964 report to JFK approximated 134 million American and 140 million Soviet deaths from a theoretical superpower nuclear exchange. Carter administration reports on the famous PRM-10 (assessing U.S. national strategies and capabilities) candidly admitted that a nuclear war could never have a “winner.” 

Read the documents for yourself on the Archive’s website.

In Brief

Colombia Truth Commission’s Final Report Bolstered by National Security Archive Documents

July 8, 2022

Last week the Colombia Truth Commission wrapped up three-and-a-half years of work with the launch of its June 28, 2022, report on the causes and consequences of Colombia’s conflict. The publication of the Commission’s findings and recommendations is an important step forward in guaranteeing the rights of victims and of Colombian society to know the truth about what happened, to build a foundation for coexistence among Colombians, and to ensure that such a conflict is never repeated. The Commission’s report makes sweeping recommendations about the role of Colombia’s security forces, denouncing the concept of the “internal enemy” and the systematic victimization of Colombia’s political left. The report also condemns decades of punitive counternarcotics programs backed — at times forcefully — by the U.S. and that the Commission says aggravated the conflict. 

Among the many sources consulted by the Commission in reaching its conclusions were thousands of declassified U.S. documents gathered and organized by Mike Evans, director of the Archive’s Colombia Project. Evans’ June 28, 2022, posting, “There is future if there is truth”: Colombia’s Truth Commission Launches Final Report, focuses on six key declassified documents, including a CIA operational report — normally outside the purview of FOIA— that reveals contemporaneous U.S. knowledge that the Colombian military was engaged in a persistent pattern of collaboration with paramilitary operations. The CIA report finds that much of the violence against “suspected leftists and communists” in Medellín and Urabá was the result of Colombian Army intelligence “B-2” detachments from the 4th and 10th brigades working in coordination with narcotraffickers and paramilitary groups.  The reporting officer said it was “unlikely” that such coordination took place “without the knowledge of the Fourth Brigade commander.” 

The posting also details U.S. links to Colombian narcotraffickers and paramilitary groups. One February 4, 1992, DEA cable shows the DEA mission in Bogotá reported potential threats against its personnel related to their relationship with Luis Meneses (“Ariel Otero”), the assassinated paramilitary leader in the Magdalena Medio. The posting also highlights high-level Defense Department records, including a July 2003 memo to Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, showing how the Pentagon’s metrics for success against Colombian insurgents may have contributed to the “false positives” phenomenon, whereby Colombian Army officers seeking performance bonuses murdered civilians and presented them as guerrillas killed in combat. 

Evans’ work was featured in the June 28, 2022, New York Times article, Declassified documents highlight the U.s. role in Colombia’s conflict, and the July 2nd, 2022, El Spectador article, Los archivos secretos de Estados Unidos sobre Colombia.

For more Archive documents on Colombia, see the October 4, 2021, post, Declassified Documents Key to Judgment Against Colombian Paramilitary, the August 31, 2020, post “The Friends of “El Viejo”: Declassified Records Detail Suspected Paramilitary, Narco Ties of Former Colombian President Uribe, and the Colombia Project page.

Weekend Read: Documents from the Origin of ‘Nuclear Winter’ Theory, and the Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Fallout

June 17, 2022

Nuclear stockpiles are expected to grow over the coming decade, according to the most recent study from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The June 13, 2022, report cites a number of factors, including the war in Ukraine, behind the worrying trend. National Security Archive Analyst William Burr’s June 2, 2022, posting, Nuclear Winter: U.S. Government Thinking During the 1980s, both underscores some of the key reasons why stockpiles are expected to grow, including Moscow’s apocalyptic nuclear threats in Ukraine, and the impact it could have on the environment. Burr’s timely briefing book, with items both from the United States and the Soviet Union, revisits when scientists first began to question the impact of nuclear war on the environment, coining the term ‘nuclear winter’ for the total devastation that would ensue. 

The briefing book features declassified government and contractor reports from the 1980s on nuclear winter, a controversial Cold War theory on the extreme climatic impacts of nuclear warfare. Burr traces the concept back to when it was first publicized by a group of five scientists (including the late Carl Segan) in a 1983 article in Science magazine. The scientists argued that nuclear attacks on cities could have a“major impact on climate manifested by significant surface darkening over many weeks, subfreezing land temperatures persisting for up to several months, large perturbations in global circulation patterns, and dramatic changes in local weather and precipitation rates.” Burr notes how the concept quickly became politically charged – two of the scientists worked for NASA and faced institutional pressures not to present their work – and explains how, at the time, many details of the potentially devastating effects of a nuclear winter remained unclear. Key documents published in the posting include:

It is unclear whether the US is still studying the environmental impact of nuclear winter, Burr points out, but the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act did require an interagency study on the atmospheric effects of nuclear explosions, bringing the topic back onto the agenda. 

More reading on the subject from independent researchers includes a January 22, 2021, Nature article “Nuclear Nino Response Observed in Simulations of Nuclear War Scenarios”, an October 13, 2021, Science Daily article “Smoke from Nuclear War would Devastate Ozone Layer, Alter Climate”, and a March 9, 2022, Atlantic article on the subject, “On Top of Everything Else, Nuclear War Would be a Climate Problem.” 

SCOTUS Refusal to Hear Prepublication Review Case Highlights Need for the Director of National Intelligence to Update Prepublication Rules, and More: FRINFORMSUM 5/26/2022

May 26, 2022
DNI’s prepublication review instructions date from 2016, despite a 2017 Congressional mandate they update prepublication rules.

SCOTUS Will Not Hear Prepublication Review Case; DNI Has Not Yet Updated Prepublication Instructions Despite 2017 Congressional Mandate

The Supreme Court made the unfortunate decision not to hear a case arguing that the government’s prepublication review requirements violate the First Amendment rights of former national security officials. The prepublication review system requires former intelligence and military officials to submit any fiction or nonfiction writing that relates to their government work to government censors for review to ensure no government secrets are disclosed. The logic may be palatable in theory, but in practice, the prepublication review process often holds up or prevents the publication of unclassified material, information that is already publicly available, and information that embarrasses the government. 

The case SCOTUS refused to hear was initially brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the ACLU and challenged the entire prepublication review system in federal court. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the system, which was initially limited to a select group of CIA employees but is now a routine part of obtaining a security clearance, is “dysfunctional,” ambiguous, and restricts free speech and due-process rights. The process has frustrated numerous authors, including former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former national security adviser John Bolton

In 2017 the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence mandated that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence come up with new guidelines to streamline the prepublication review system to make it more uniform across the government and more timely, and to issue the new policy rules by the end of the year. On November 20, 2018, the ODNI FOIA chief, Sally Nicholson, told Steve Aftergood in response to a FOIA request that “An IC-wide policy on prepublication review is being formulated and is forthcoming.” But none has materialized, and the prepublication review guidelines on the DNI website have not been updated since 2016.  

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Professor Uses NSArchive Documents in Pulitzer Prize-Nominated Poetry Collection

Professor and poet Mai Der Vang is a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her poetry collection, “Yellow Rain,” which is inspired in part by declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive. The Archive documents concern allegations of the illegal use of chemical biological weapons in Laos in the 1970s. Professor Vang included the Archive’s records in her research, along with research on the CIA, State Department, and other agency websites, to give voice to the experience of Hmong refugees.

Grand Jury Investigation of  Classified Info at Mar-a-Lago Begins 

Federal prosecutors recently launched a grand jury investigation into whether classified White House materials found at Mar-a-Lago were mishandled. On February 7, 2022, the Washington Post reported that National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) officials had retrieved 15 boxes worth of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago – some of which contained classified information. The egregious violation prompted NARA to ask the DOJ to investigate and now, The New York Times reports that the Justice Department is examining the role former President Donald Trump and other White House officials had in the handling of the documents. The department issued a subpoena to NARA for the boxes and has requested interviews with former White House employees.

The Chernyaev Diary, 1982—”The run up to perestroika”

The National Security Archive marks what would have been Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev’s 101st birthday this week with the publication for the first time in English of his Diary for 1982. At the time, Chernyaev was deputy director of the International Department of the Central Committee responsible for the International Communist Movement (ICM). Within a few years he became a close adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev and a leading theorist in the era of perestroika and glasnost. 

After the Soviet collapse, Chernyaev transformed into one of the most important and reliable sources of historical information for Western observers about the Soviet system and the Kremlin’s Cold War. An invaluable contributor to international scholarship, including conferences and research conducted by the National Security Archive, he ultimately donated his diary – which Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Hoffman called “irreplaceable” and “one of the great internal records of the Gorbachev years” – to the Archive. Every year, this organization translates and posts another installment of this extraordinary chronicle. Read more about this year’s Diary on our website. 

In Brief

  • US Declassifies Intel on Russian Naval Blockade of Ukraine: The US has declassified intelligence showing Russia’s blockade of the Northwestern Black Sea, putting the global food supply at risk. The Intelligence Community’s ongoing commitment to declassifying information on Ukraine supports arguments that declassification of information that might technically meet the standards for declassification when there is a compelling reason to do so can promote US national security and America’s foreign policy objectives. 
  • Diario Militar Helps Bring New Trial: Twenty-three years ago on May 20, 1999, the National Security Archive published the “Diario Militar,” a detailed document also known as the “Death Squad Dossier” that was smuggled out of Guatemala. The unique document describes atrocities committed by the Guatemalan military during an 18-month period of the country’s protracted civil war and is still making an impact two decades later. On May 6, 2022, Guatemalan judge Magistrate Miguel Angel Galvez, using documentation from the “Diario Militar”, ruled that nine former military and police officers will stand trial for civil crimes committed during the war. Read more in our latest “Weekend Read.”
  • Bipartisan Condemnation of the Glomar Denial: Former Senator Mark Udall (D-Co.) and Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) co-authored a bipartisan op-ed for The Hill taking aim at the pernicious use of the Glomar denial. (A “Glomar” response is when an agency refuses to confirm or deny the existence of documents in response to a FOIA request because “the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified.”) The politicians note that, “The expansion of the Glomar loophole to circumvent FOIA threatens to render a law passed by Congress, and signed by a president, with the approval of the American people who elected them, utterly meaningless.” Read the op-ed here.   
  • ACUS Seeks Input on FOIA and Agency Legal Materials: The Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) has launched a new project to consider whether Congress should amend the FOIA and other statutes governing the disclosure of federal agency legal materials. A press release on their website notes, “ACUS is also soliciting public input on key questions related to the public availability of agency legal materials such as regulations, guidance documents, and adjudicative decisions. A request for information will be published in the Federal Register next week. The request is also available on ACUS’s website at All interested persons are encouraged to submit views, data, and other information.”
  • New DNSA Set on Climate Change: The National Security Archive, along with our scholarly partners at ProQuest, is publishing a rich new set of documents on United States climate change diplomacy from the Reagan years through the Obama administration. The 2,440 document collection, U.S. Climate Change Diplomacy: From the Montreal Protocol to the Paris Agreement, 1981-2015, provides researchers an unparalleled compilation of primary-source material on an essential subject. Read more about the new collection on our blog. 

New Digital National Security Archive Document Collection Covers Climate Change Diplomacy from 1981-2015

May 25, 2022

The National Security Archive, along with our scholarly partners at ProQuest, is publishing a rich new set of documents on United States climate change diplomacy from the Reagan years through the Obama administration. Edited by Dr. Robert A. Wampler, the 2,440 document collection, U.S. Climate Change Diplomacy: From the Montreal Protocol to the Paris Agreement, 1981-2015, provides researchers an unparalleled compilation of primary-source material on an essential subject. 

The new document set, unrivaled in scope, illuminates how each administration approached the looming threat of climate change, framed its goals for a series of major international negotiations, and navigated the complex interplay of diplomacy and domestic policy over almost a 35-year period. The largest tranche of documents are from the Clinton White House, offering an invaluable view of early policy goals for climate change negotiations during this period, including participation in the U.N. talks to draft a new climate treaty, evaluations of the COP meetings, bilateral consultations with other governments and assessments of their positions in the talks, and an unparalleled window into the Clinton White House Climate Change Task Force. The collection also covers: 

– U.S. diplomacy surrounding the Montreal Protocol and negotiations on a climate change treaty. 

– Meetings and records for the International Negotiating Committee for the UNFCCC (1990-1995), Berlin Mandate, and COP meetings leading to the Kyoto Protocol and Paris climate change treaty. 

– How different administrations sought to decide upon and implement greenhouse gas emissions cuts. 

– Perspectives of key U.S. agencies, including the Treasury and Energy Departments, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. 

– Key United Nations records on the negotiations leading to the Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol. 

– The role of the U.N. in diplomacy that targets non-security issues. 

– The climate change politics of Europe, Asia, and Latin America. 

This is the first climate change collection to be published by the National Security Archive. The documents were primarily obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Archive’s environmental diplomacy project over the course of decades and submitted to the State Department, the Energy Department, the Treasury Department, the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The groundbreaking collection serves as an essential resource for researchers interested in the role of the U.S. in international environmental politics, U.S. post-war diplomatic history, U.S. foreign policy, international relations, and environmental policy. 

To learn more about DNSA, and how to get a free trial subscription, visit our website.

Weekend Read: Guatemalan Judge Orders New Trials Based on Death Squad Dossier, Obtained by NSArchive

May 20, 2022

By Claire Harvey 

Exactly 23 years ago on May 20, 1999, the National Security Archive published the “Diario Militar”, a detailed document also known as the “Death Squad Dossier” that was smuggled out of Guatemala. The unique document, whose release the Archive announced jointly with the Washington Office on Latin America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Human Rights Watch,  describes atrocities committed by the Guatemalan military during an 18-month period of the country’s protracted civil war. Two decades later, the document is still making an impact – on May 6, 2022, Guatemalan judge Magistrate Miguel Angel Galvez, using documentation from the “Diario Militar”, ruled that nine former military and police officers will stand trial for civil crimes committed during the war

The individuals who will now stand trial are implicated for civil crimes by the positions they held between 1983-1986. Magistrate Galvez also ordered prosecutors to find the former head of military intelligence, Toribio Acevedo, who was subsequently arrested on May 10, 2022, at Panama City Airport. Since the May 6, 2022, ruling, AP reports that Magistrate Galvez has received multiple death threats. 

The historic act of transitional justice (which addresses massive human rights violations) builds on documentation from the “Diario Militar”, or Death Squad Dossier. The Dossier served as a ledger of sorts for Guatemalan military and intelligence units to record death squad operations between 1982 and 1985. The 54-page document was smuggled from Guatemalan army intelligence files and chronicles the kidnapping and disappearances during the height of the conflict, and includes photos of the victims and coded references to the executions of scores of Guatemalan citizens. The document offers a snapshot of how the Guatemalan military used assassination, torture, and abduction to terrorize the Guatelaman left throughout Guatemala’s civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. By the time peace accords were signed in 1996, it is estimated that 160,000 people were killed and another 40,000 were “disappeared” by Guatemalan security forces. 

In the 23 years since the document was published, families of the disappeared have repeatedly called for investigations into the crimes outlined in the document and searches for their loved ones’ remains. Their efforts were aided when further documentation of the Guatemalan security forces crimes was discovered in 2005, when Guatemalan police, following complaints about improperly stored explosives in a long-neglected munitions depot in Guatemala City, found 75 million pages in file cabinets marked “disappearances” “assassinations” and “homicide”. The documents, long abandoned and in an advanced state of decay, are discussed in the Archive’s November 21, 2005, post, “The Guatemalan Police Archives.” 

The Dossier has helped bring justice and accountability multiple times over the years:

  • On April 25, 2012, the Archive’s Kate Doyle provided expert witness testimony before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of the Diario Militar; the testimony is published in the Archive’s  May 3, 2012, posting, “Update: The Guatemalan Death Squad Diary and the Right to Truth.” The court ultimately found the Guatemalan government responsible for the crimes outlined in the document and failure to investigate them. 

Follow upcoming Archive web postings for more details on the new trial. 

DNI Haines Reiterates that Overclassification is a National Security Threat During Senate Testimony, What NSArchive Would Have Asked Her, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 5/12/2022

May 12, 2022
Sen. Warren addresses overclassification.

Director of National Intelligence Reiterates Overclassification a National Security Concern at Worldwide Threats Hearing 

The Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee this week. The hearing, which can be viewed here, featured a discussion about overclassification and pseudo-classification between Haines and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren, whose line of questioning begins around the 1’23” mark of the video, expressed concern that the current classification system has “spiraled out of control”. Warren asked DNI Haines if she thought overclassification was a national security problem, to which Haines, who authored a letter to Senators Ron Wyden and Jerry Moran earlier this year on the dangers of overclassification, readily agreed. 

The most interesting moment came when Senator Warren cited the United States’ decision to declassify information to aid Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion, noting that this was evidence of a “well-functioning declassification system” that has the power to do good. Warren asked if there could be lessons learned from this instance about how to expedite declassification of information that might technically meet the standards for declassification when there is a compelling reason to do so. Haines agreed, noting that in this instance it showed how declassification “can support foreign policy”, and that she would be happy to discuss the topic more in a closed session. The answer is good to have on the record, and a follow-up letter from Warren to Haines could include a clarifying question to that point, namely: Would Haines be willing to spearhead building a more formal structure inside the IC outlining where and when consideration should be given to declassifying information because of the potential public interest and value in its release?

Senator Warren also brought attention to the exorbitant costs of the classification system (18 billion $ in FY 2017, the most recent figure available) and the limited resources paid to declassification (102 million $ for that same time period). These figures are outdated because the Information Security Oversight Office’s most recent reports do not attempt to calculate the costs of the security classification system, likely because of the challenges ISOO faced  in collecting and analyzing agency statistical data in the years since. Put another way, we currently have no idea how much the national security classification system costs us. 

Other open questions for DNI Haines on overclassification and pseudo-classification from NSArchive include: 

1) Do you support the Public Interest Declassification Board’s 2015 recommendation to end “pass/fail” review for historical records?

2) Would you support a major declassification program for historical IC records? Something along the lines of the CIA’s CREST system which provided for systematic declassification and release of historical intelligence analysis, but also overhead reconnaissance products?

3) How is ODNI pursuing strategic technology to support automated classification and declassification?

4) Will the ODNI commit to following the PIDB’s 2020 recommendation to develop a plan to assist the Archivist of the United States in “modernizing the systems in use across agencies for the management of classified records, including electronic records”?

5) How could the ODNI further support the work of the National Declassification Center to ensure that historical IC records are released to the public?

6) Would you support the NDC making declassification decisions for historic records over 40-years-old?

7) What percentage of IC documents do you believe are overclassified?

8) How much does security classification cost the ODNI and the IC?

9) How many bytes of classified material does the ODNI assess exist across the IC?

10) Do you have data on how often the ODNI and other IC agencies issue Glomar responses?

11) If so, will the IC community commit to reporting on the number of Glomar denials issued each FY? If not, why not?

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The Next Archivist

The Biden administration’s nominee for the next Archivist of the United States will have a profound impact on the safe-keeping of our national history, the ability to hold government agencies and employees accountable, and the performance of the National Archives and Records Administration itself. There’s no indication yet who the administration may choose, but the National Security Archive was proud to co-author a letter to President Biden outlining the qualifications the next archivist must have. The letter, which was signed by 22 organizations and prominent voices in the archival and open government communities, was sent to the president on May 6, 2022. 

The National Security Archive outlined many of the letter’s concerns in our 2022 Audit of NARA’s budget, which can be read on our website. Our analysis underscored that NARA is stretched too thin in normal times, and its insufficient budget and statutory authority were no match for the Trump administration’s disdain for records management. 

Now is a critical time for the agency to course-correct.

The May 6 coalition letter underscores the urgency that the next Archivist support: public access to records through traditional archival research; the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); declassification; and rigorous oversight of agencies records management processes and records retention schedules. 

President Biden has an opportunity to pick a successor who builds on previous AOTUS David Ferriero’s successes (outlined in a thank you letter to Ferriero that is available here), like NARA’s strong support of the Office of Government Information Services and maintaining a good relationship with the public to help improve NARA’s services. Above all, President Biden must also choose someone who will advocate for a budget that reflects the critical services NARA provides, and will take full advantage of all of the agency’s statutory authority. Without these qualities, NARA will continue to be underwater, and the public’s access to its records and a full accounting of its history will remain in serious doubt.

The Secret War for Germany: CIA’s Covert Role in Cold War Berlin Explored through Recently Declassified Documents 

The Central Intelligence Agency aggressively pursued clandestine efforts to undermine East German morale at the height of the Cold War, recently declassified CIA records confirm. Exploring one of the core chapters of post-war European history, the materials recently posted by the National Security Archive detail key facets of the intelligence agency’s still meagerly documented activities in East Germany.

Those activities included supporting and advising certain anti-communist activist groups, particularly in Berlin – a fact long denied in public – which were effective enough to prompt the Soviets to make them a subject of diplomacy with Washington, in addition to implementing their own propaganda and security measures.

This e-book consists of several documents culled from the recently published Digital National Security Archive collection CIA Covert Operations IV: The Eisenhower Years, 1953-1961 (ProQuest, 2021), available by subscription through many libraries. They provide a concise look into some of the intelligence agency’s previously classified ties to covert organizations in Cold War Germany. Read the whole story on our website. 

In Brief

Seven-Year FOIA Battle Ends with IRS Handing Over Records: The Institute for Justice recently won access to the IRS forfeiture database, the Asset Forfeiture Tracking and Retrieval System (AFTRAK). The IRS initially tried to charge $750,000 in FOIA fees to fulfill the request, which helped prompt IJ to file suit. Read the whole story on the Institute for Justice website.

NSArchive and CREW Ask DOJ to Investigate Trump’s Missing Call Logs, BuzzFeed News Dismantles Stellar Investigative Team, and More: FRINFORMSUM 4/28/2022

April 28, 2022

NSArchive and CREW Ask DOJ to Investigate Missing Trump Call Logs

The National Security Archive teamed up with the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to ask the Justice Department to investigate President Trump’s missing seven and a half hour call logs from the January 6 insurrection. Our letter to the DOJ requests that it investigate whether “former President Donald Trump violated federal criminal law by destroying critical records from January 6, 2021 before leaving office.”

The Washington Post reported on March 29, 2022, that seven and a half hours of call logs were missing from the records turned over to the House select committee investigating the attack. The records were provided by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request to block the handover. NARA provided the committee a total of 11 pages, consisting of five pages of the president’s official daily diary, and six pages of the White House switchboard call logs (titled “Presidential Call Logs”)  – with a glaring gap of calls placed or received between 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. The gap contradicts extensive reporting about calls placed during that period, including a known phone call between President Trump and Vice President Pence.

Trump denied using disposable, or burner phones, to make calls during that time, saying he had no idea what burner phones were. In an interesting aside worthy of further investigation, former national security adviser John Bolton said that he and Trump have spoken about how people have used burner phones to avoid having their calls scrutinized.”

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BuzzFeed News Dismantles Investigative Team, a Blow to Investigative Journalism and Stellar FOIA Reporting

Investigative reporter and FOIA legend Jason Leopold recently announced on Twitter that BuzzFeed News is dismantling its investigative team, of which Leopold is a part. The team has produced numerous high-profile and impactful investigations, largely through extensive public records requests. The following is a selection of stories that I have found particularly riveting:

Leopold has clarified on Twitter that this dismantling does not impact his interest in his ongoing FOIA requests, he is “still interested” in them being processed.

DoD Agrees to Give Stars and Stripes Reporter Docs, Maybe Just This Once

The Defense Department has reversed course and stated in a recent court filing that it would process 15 FOIA requests from a Stars and Stripes reporter. In January of this year Stars and Stripes reporter Chad Garland sued the Defense Department for its refusal to process his FOIA requests and subsequent appeals because he works for the military publication. (Stars and Stripes is administered under the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity; it is editorially independent but receives a DoD subsidy to offset the costs of providing a paper to troops stationed overseas.) The Pentagon stated in a March 4, 2021, memo that “any representative of (Stars and Stripes) cannot use the FOIA to gain access to DoD information,” continuing that, “If you receive a request from a (Stars and Stripes) employee that does not demonstrate (the publication’s) approval, you should close it as ‘not a proper FOIA request.’” 

Kel McClanahan, executive director of the nonprofit law firm National Security Counselors, cautioned that the DoD’s latest move may not mean the DoD is changing its policy towards Stars and Stripes reporters. McClanahan noted that the timing suggested the move could be a result of a FOIA release to a lawyer who was not a party to Garland’s suit, but who had submitted an identical FOIA request.

New Book Alert – Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the US–Iran Conflict

As multilateral nuclear negotiations with Iran drag on, it is anyone’s guess whether they will succeed and if so whether they can survive the fierce domestic battles that are expected in the United States and the Islamic Republic.  Why is it that Washington and Tehran still seem unable to bridge the rift that has divided them for more than four decades?

A new volume out this month tackles this question from a novel perspective – arguing that along with the realities of conflicting interests and concrete grievances, a major contributing factor has been how each nation views itself and its adversary. Briefly put, the book suggests that this often-deadly confrontation derives from the very different national narratives that have shaped and continue to sway politics and policies in each country.

Written by Hussein Banai (Hamilton Lugar School, Indiana University), Malcolm Byrne (National Security Archive), and John Tirman (Center for International Studies, MIT), the new book, Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the US–Iran Conflict is being published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Ayotzinapa Investigations Special Exhibit Page Launch

On the 26th of every month for the last seven and a half years, the parents of the missing 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College in southwestern Mexico have traveled from their home states to Mexico City to demonstrate and demand information about the disappearance of their sons – victims of a notorious 2014 case of police-abetted kidnapping and high-level government cover-up.  The case has become emblematic of the violence produced from the U.S.-Mexican “war on drugs” and the crisis of forced disappearances and lack of official accountability in Mexico. 

To commemorate this month’s 26th, the National Security Archive launched its Ayotzinapa Investigations special exhibits page, which contains all related postings about the event (the most recent was published on April 1), links to the English and Spanish-language podcast series “After/Después de Ayotzinapa,” and related books, reports, projects, videos, and photographs.