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Video Won Through FOIA Shows AG Sessions Spar with DOJ Interns Over Marijuana, Gun Control: FRINFORMSUM 12/14/2017

December 14, 2017

Video Won Through FOIA Shows AG Sessions Spar with DOJ Interns Over Marijuana, Gun Control

A video obtained by ABC News through the FOIA shows Attorney General Jeff Sessions taking pointed questions from Justice Department interns during a June 22 department event. While Sessions spent most of his time explaining his policies, the question and answer period found him at times defensive and dismissive. “At one point, he seemed to mock a Justice Department intern for questioning whether marijuana is dangerous. He said cities like Chicago and Baltimore are now plagued with rising crime and murders because they ‘have abandoned traditional police activities.’ And he dismissed another intern’s assertion that many Americans in poor, largely minority communities fear law enforcement officers.” And when an intern challenged Sessions’ stance on tough marijuana laws and lax gun control, Sessions’ argued that “marijuana is not a healthy substance” and referred to the intern who asks the question as “Dr. Whatever Your Name Is.”

FOIA Lawsuit for DOD Sexual Assault Data

The non-profit Protect Our Defenders and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center have filed a FOIA lawsuit against both the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security for military sexual assault data. The three requests at the center of the FOIA lawsuit seek:

  • Data on whistleblower protections in the military.
  • Records related to sexual assault and rape cases in military and civilian courts.
  • Data on the “disposition of claims involving sexual assault cases before the Board for Correction of Military Records in each branch, along with performance evaluation and military discipline records related to gender disparities.”

Protect Our Defenders argued that the DOD improperly withheld documents from the three requests and appeals. The Defense Department, citing ongoing litigation, did not comment on the case to Stars and Stripes.

Air Force Special Access Programs

The Air Force’s most recent policy guidance on its “special access programs” (SAPs – classified programs that are believed to require levels of safeguards beyond other categories of classified information) does not recognize the authority of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) to oversee the Air Force’s SAPs, even though the Executive Order on national security classification expressly grants ISOO that access. Steve Aftergood reports that ISOO director, Mark Bradley, says that the lack of recognition is an error and that his office will “communicate the point effectively to the Air Force.”

The guidance also “makes provisions for internal oversight of its SAPs, as well as limited congressional access to SAP information under some circumstances.”

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in October 2000.

Engaging North Korea II: Evidence from the Clinton Administration

The Clinton administration made plans for war against North Korea during the 1994 nuclear crisis.  While U.S. officials believed they could “undoubtedly win,” however, they also understood “war involves many casualties,” according to documents posted by the National Security Archive.

President Bill Clinton’s negotiators took a tough stance in meetings with North Korean leaders, including warning of “serious, negative consequences” if Pyongyang continued to pursue its “unacceptable” missile program.  At the same time, the administration decided flexibility was critical given the unpredictability of events, including the prospect that a “starving North Korea” might create a “dangerously chaotic situation.”

The posting features declassified cables, background papers, and reports of meetings involving former Defense Secretary William Perry, other senior Americans, and North and South Korean officials.  Together, the documents describe key moments and thinking during the course of the complex negotiations of the 1990s.  Perry and others had hopes the incoming Bush team would carry the effort forward (as Colin Powell indicated they would), but President Bush quickly informed President Kim he would be terminating all talks with the North.

NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents recently published on the Archive’s website.

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.” The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”

Read the documents here.

The U.S. Has Way Too Many Secrets

National Security Archive director Tom Blanton recently spoke with Bloomberg about “why historians should be extra-grateful for Hillary Clinton’s private server; what really needs to be declassified; and how history is likely to judge Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.” The wide-ranging discussion also includes the recent JFK release, the reality of automatic declassification, and which country has the best Freedom of Information law (hint: it’s not the United States).

TBT Pick – Kennedy Considered Supporting Coup in South Vietnam, August 1963

This week’s #tbt pick is a 2009 posting from the National Security Archive’s Vietnam project showing that, at a critical moment in August 1963, President John F. Kennedy saw only negative choices on Vietnam. Declassified tapes of secret White House meetings on the possibility of U.S. support for a military coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem show that Kennedy believed that if Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu remained a major influence, the war might not succeed. Read all the documents here.

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The U.S. Has Way Too Many Secrets

December 11, 2017

This article originally appeared in Bloomberg. 

A Q&A with Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, on the historical value of Hillary Clinton’s emails, the sins of Julian Assange, and what national secrets are really worth keeping.

How much does it cost to keep a secret? Well, the U.S. government sort of has an answer: $16.89 billion. That’s how much it spent in 2016 to classify information that it deems too sensitive to be released to the public. Some secrets are worth keeping, of course — like how to cook up chemical weapons, for instance. But others, less so. Rodney McDaniel, a top National Security Council official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, estimated that only 10 percent of classification was for the “legitimate protection of secrets.” Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a head of the 9/11 commission, said that “three quarters of what I read that was classified should not have been.” In fact, he argued that overclassification had left the U.S. more vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. And that’s to say nothing of its everyday effects on government accountability and efficiency, congressional oversight and public awareness.

Shortly after the government released a trove of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I sat down with Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, to talk about America’s dysfunctional mechanisms for classifying and declassifying information. Here, in an edited transcript, he weighs in on why historians should be extra-grateful for Hillary Clinton’s private server; what really needs to be declassified; and how history is likely to judge Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

James Gibney: Tom, let’s start with the new Kennedy documents: Was there anything that changed the historical narrative in your mind?

Tom Blanton: I don’t think the JFK release changed the historical narrative, partly because the U.S. is still withholding so much of it — stupidly. To me, the most striking thing about what did get released was why it was withheld from 1998 until now. It should have come out back when the JFK Assassination Records Review Board was doing its work. So much of the information was already available in other documents. When another several thousand documents come out in April, even with redactions, people are going to ask why it was held up. There’s this incredible level of absurdity in the classification system. We can show example after example where all it takes is one “securocrat” to override the better judgement of whole institutions.

JG: If we were to do Declass 101, isn’t it the case that most material is supposed to get declassified within set periods of time?

TB: It actually doesn’t work that way. The classified universe is so enormous, that basically classified records are going to stay secret unless somebody asks for them. Thanks to the National Declassification Center, there’s now a good process for pressuring the system from the outside. We’ve done it, other historians have done it. Ever since the Cold War, so much of the declassification effort has focused on the low-hanging fruit, to get numbers up. People have avoided tackling the hardest documents, like the secretary of defense’s files. His agency sits on top of most of the intelligence community, nuclear weapons, our deployments overseas. For historians, and for anybody looking for government accountability, you want the SecDef files. Yet that’s a really hard declassification target. We’ve argued for years that they should start at the top, because once you work through that body of records, all the derivative stuff just falls into place.

JG: So, there’s no magical process by which those things that should be declassified by a certain time frame because of laws on the books actually do get declassified.

TB: Yeah, there are no magic wands. Steven Garfinkel, who used to run the Information Security Oversight Office, the government’s internal watchdog on classification, once described coming into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, that was wall-to-wall with boxes dating back to the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. He took about an hour and sampled stuff and then waved a wand and said, “let it go.” Few people within the government are willing to take that level of responsibility. But with the tsunami of electronic records that’s coming, the idiocy of this page-by-page, line-by-line review is a total failure. The backlog is enormous, and it’s only growing.

JG: And as you’ve noted, a lot of the email traffic isn’t even being logged and stored.

TB: Part of that was a deliberate government decision back in the 1990s. We brought the original lawsuit to force Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to save White House email. We won. But when we tried to expand that principle to the rest of the government during the 1990s, the so-called decade of openness, the government fought tooth and nail. We only found out because of the Hillary Clinton email business that no secretary of state has systematically saved their email, until John Kerry did.

JG: Isn’t it true that as a result of Clinton’s private server, we have a lot more of her emails than we would otherwise have had?

TB: Yes, much more than if she’d stuck with state.gov.

JG: I know from my own experience as a speechwriter on the National Security Council that we were told, more often than not, if there was anything sensitive, don’t put it in an email. Just pick up the phone, or have a conversation. People were scared to death of subpoenas. How concerned

White House E-Mail: The Top-Secret Computer Messages the Reagan/Bush White House Tried to Destroy

are you that there’s a lot of stuff for which there’s going to be no written record?

TB: There’s a huge debate over this among historians. Michael Beschloss, among others, has argued that we ought to encourage presidents to tape every conversation and give them a guarantee that nobody will ever look at it for 20 or 30 years, because he so regrets that after Richard Nixon, no president is taping their stuff. Tony Lake, when he was National Security Advisor, had me in one day to sign copies of our book “White House E-Mail“, which came out of our lawsuit. I thought it was a nice gesture by a former board member. I said to him, “Tony, it’s so great you’re really standing up for openness in the federal government.” He said, “Oh no, I’m giving copies of your book to my people so they never ever write emails like these.” He told me that because of the threat of subpoenas and congressional pressure, he went in to brief the president with just an index card.

But as his deputy Nancy Soderberg — who’s now on our board — pointed out in the same conversation, after every meeting, there’s a vast electronic tasking process. So by the end of the day, there are probably hundreds and hundreds of email messages and taskings that are a record of those conversations. The net effect is that there’s a much wider electronic record of almost every decision the government takes today than there was in, say, the telephone era.

JG: So, you don’t think this is the problem it’s made out to be.

TB: You can’t run government or any major organization without writing stuff down. You can’t run a military command that way. Some of the most useful documentations that we get loose are coming from the military, because they have to write up their lessons learned at the end of their tours. They have a center at Fort Leavenworth on lessons learned, and those documents are huge, they’re really key for any of us to grasp what really happened in the Iraq War, what happened in the surge in Iraq, what mistakes the U.S. made, for example.

JG: Don’t you think, though, that at least among political operatives, partisan polarization is going to make this threat worse? That officials are now so worried about fishing expeditions by the opposing side that they’re not going to record the sensitive stuff?

TB: If anything, the technology is pushing in the opposite direction. Our real issue as historians is going to be sorting through a practically infinite body of evidence. We’re going to have to use algorithms to do it.

JG: I wanted to return to some of the issues raised by the Kennedy assassination records release. It loomed so large in the American psyche. At the same time there are a lot of other events in world affairs where we’re still waiting for the smoke to clear to get some sense of what happened. What’s on your declassification wish list in that regard?

TB: The wish list that we talk about involves large record groups rather than specific mysteries. We try to drive a systematic approach by the declassification authorities. The CIA, for instance, has put its internal clandestine service histories off limits. They now call them operational files. But they’re actually histories. We still have a lot to learn about past clandestine operations. Some of it has come out in the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the U.S. series, but only a small fraction. The CIA has actually done a pretty serious job of examining its covert ops and compiling lessons learned. But since most of it is so highly classified, a lot of people in the agency itself aren’t even aware of that history. And they’re not taking advantage of the back-and-forth they could be having with outside scholars and analysts.

I mentioned earlier the secretary of defense’s files. Same with the secretary of state’s files. Or the files from the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. It’s unique. Their analysts aren’t beholden to any one source, they’re all-source, and they’re dedicated to informing the secretary and high-level diplomats. Their products on the Vietnam War are absolutely the most astute that anybody in the U.S. government wrote, we now know.

JG: Have they declassified the secretary of state’s Morning Summary, the daily all-source intelligence digest that INR produces?

TB: Not in any systematic way. One of the bodies of records that we’re going after now, because relations with Russia are so in the news, is who said what to whom in the 1990s on things like NATO expansion. Strobe Talbott was one of the most vigorous and active writers.

JG: He was indeed.

TB: He’d write “night notes” to Secretary of State Warren Christopher or Bill Clinton, and then get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to produce policy memos. It’s an amazing record. He was the interlocutor for just about every high-level, in-person meeting involving Russia. But those records aren’t accessible yet. And they should be, because of this long-standing Russian sense of grievance about NATO.

JG: I bet you a box of doughnuts that Strobe has all those at home.

TB: Exactly, but with no classification stamps on them. There are bodies of records like those — including records of briefings to presidents by national security advisors at the presidential libraries — that deserve a huge priority. I went down to Bush 41’s library at Texas A&M for the first time in 1998 with a copy of Mikhail Gorbachev’s transcript of his talks with Bush at the Malta Summit and filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the American version. It took 10 years to get it declassified.

We try to bring that kind of cross-pressure to bear. Helmut Kohl, for instance, published all his documents on German unification, including personal letters from Jim Baker and George H.W. Bush. He never asked them. He just published them. So we used those as an opening wedge. Bodies of records like that need prioritization with the limited resources that the U.S. government has for declassification.

JG: You must have encountered requests from other countries to help resolve certain things based on documents you’ve already unearthed.

General Suharto in the days after the September 30th Movement

TB: Absolutely. One of the first delegations was a bunch of Hungarian dissidents who visited our archive in 1989. We had documents — CIA and State Department reports, for instance — on the Hungarian revolution in 1956. For these people it was like filling in the blank spots in their memories. I ended up in Hungary about three years later helping them write a freedom of information law. That dynamic continues today in 40 to 50 countries. We just did a big release in which we helped the National Archives digitize documents from the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia dating back to that country’s genocide years, 1965-66. It made a huge splash in Indonesia. It gives granular detail from U.S. consulates in Aceh and elsewhere on the Indonesian military’s killings of leftists. Indonesia still hasn’t really faced up to that.

JG: Have there been instances where you’ve teamed up with like-minded organizations in other countries to bring collective heat on one area or issue that you think really needs attention?

From Solidarity to Martial Law: The Polish Crisis of 1980-1981: a Documentary History

TB: Sure, we teamed up with Polish dissidents to figure out what happened during martial law. Why did the Soviets not invade? Why did the Poles refuse to do martial law in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter, and then do it under Reagan? Andrzej Paczkowski of the Polish Academy of Sciences dug out the Polish Politburo files, because they’re open, and the Polish secret police files, because they’re also open. We did some big events with them where we brought together the then-head of the Warsaw Pact with the head of Solidarity and even former prime minister Wojciech Jaruzelski, because he wanted his voice on the record. This helped drive a declassification process in Moscow, in Warsaw, in some of the other Warsaw Pact countries, and it helped us to go back to the CIA and get messages from Ryszard Kuklinski, a high-level U.S. spy, declassified. That’s the kind of thing the CIA would have never done otherwise.

Right now, under the radar, the U.S. is declassifying files from Argentina’s Dirty War in the late 1970s — something that started under Barack Obama and that President Mauricio Macri recently asked Donald Trump to continue.

JG: Did that actually come up in their talks?

TB: Yes, we played a small role, suggesting to the Argentine embassy here that they put that on Macri’s talking points, and we let the career people here know. In Argentina, more than 100 trials are ongoing against various members of military units for “disappearing” people. It’s invigorating Argentina’s own justice system.

JG: Are there any places or issues where you’ve received requests for help from other countries but gotten no traction with the U.S. government?

TB: Most of these requests aren’t easy. Look at what happened with the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. We were filing freedom of information requests on that from our earliest days in 1985 and mostly getting shafted. But then the 1988-89 Chilean transition to democracy took place. Under Clinton, it became U.S. policy to open up some of this stuff. When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 we got another big chunk. But not until October 2015 did the State Department hand over the internal documents that Secretary of State George Shultz had used with Reagan in October 1987 to convince him to stop saying nice things about Pinochet — including evidence that Pinochet had personally ordered the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington. It’s been a bit at a time. The secrecy system is not a rational one. It only responds to pressure.

JG: In some of your writings, you talk about how the post-Cold War period ushered in greater openness that led to the passage of laws in numerous countries to promote disclosure and transparency.

TB: There are now about 115 countries with some legal provision giving citizens right of access to government documents.

JG: So, who’s doing it right, if you’re thinking about best practices or role models?

TB: The best freedom of information law, one that’s having a huge impact in a country that’s a running disaster, is in Mexico. It’s far superior to our law, because it has a human rights override. You can claim national security as a reason not to declassify something, but if it’s about the actual torture or disappearance of somebody, that exemption is not available. You can claim it’s an ongoing law enforcement operation, but if it’s a crime against humanity or a massive human rights abuse, the attorney general is compelled to turn documents over.

JG: And yet… Ayotzinapa, the still-unsolved disappearance of 43 students in 2014. You got this great law, but you still have this terrible situation.

TB: That is an incredible situation, but Mexico’s system also has a tribunal that can override even a cabinet official. This independent body has overruled the attorney general, including in the Ayotzinapa case. It forced him to release files which then supported the conclusion of an international panel of jurists that there was a cover-up. That’s not enough to turn a corrupt system around. But it’s an interesting lesson for us.

JG: What about the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, or Iscap, in the U.S. system? Doesn’t that work?

TB: It rules for requesters about 75 percent of the time, which tells you how bankrupt most classification is. But that body is so small and only handles a few hundred cases a year. It has not had that broader teaching effect on the rest of the system. There’s still just a reflexive, “Okay, stamp it.”

JG: Switching tracks a bit, has WikiLeaks made your job easier or harder? Are they competition or a complement?

TB: They’ve made it harder because they’ve made the government so much more paranoid, and more likely to protect stuff that doesn’t need to be protected. One of the lessons from the 257,000 diplomatic cables WikiLeaks threw up on the wall with ultimately almost no redactions — well, I asked Michael Posner, who was the assistant secretary for democracy and human rights, about what real diplomatic damage they caused. He wouldn’t tell me until his retirement party, when he said that part of the cost was that the U.S. was forced to withdraw some of its ambassadors. But the real cost was the time that was spent reacting to them, including the time it took to warn and protect some sources. That kept diplomats from doing other, more constructive work that they should have been doing.

I’ve had a lot of big arguments on the WikiLeaks front. They’re still covered by the First Amendment, even though I really disagree with Julian Assange’s notion that he and only he should have the power to throw things up on the wall.

There’s also his denial of the idea that there are real secrets. Any common-sense person would recognize that there are real secrets, pieces of information that you want the government to hold close. You don’t want the banditos to know how to build a binary chemical warhead. Bingo. That’s a real secret. You don’t want to release anything that’s going to get anybody killed. You shouldn’t release our government’s bottom line in a negotiation before the negotiation. I think that’s a relatively small fraction of the classified universe, maybe no more than 10 to 30 percent. And even those secrets only need to be protected for a certain period of time.

I had this argument at Texas A&M recently when I defended Edward Snowden. I said that unlike Chelsea Manning, who just dumped what she got, including documents that exposed Afghan villagers to potential death, Snowden worked with a core group of journalists who pledged to screen and vet documents. He didn’t just throw stuff against the wall, and he didn’t just give it to WikiLeaks . By my count, the intelligence community has now declassified more pages of Snowden-related surveillance documents than Snowden’s media partners have published. As national security officials such as James Clapper and Chris Inglis have admitted, they made a huge mistake in keeping that stuff secret. It just reduced U.S. credibility. The jury is still out on what Snowden did. Some of what he has released could still end up killing somebody. And if that happens, the balance changes. But right now the Snowden leaks are very much on the side of reforming the surveillance system and telling people — not least Congress — more about what’s going on.

JG: So what are the two or three things that would make the declassification ecosystem work better? You’ve talked about some of the shortcomings. What is it you want that you don’t have to make this system work better?

TB: I would love to have more high-level focused mass declassification efforts, like the JFK Assassination Records Board. Congress hasn’t stood up many more. They created one on Nazi and Japanese war crimes that had a huge impact by opening up clandestine files about the Nazis we brought to the U.S. and protected. They beat down the intelligence community. Our board warned us at the outset to stay away from assassinations and UFO’s. Too many people wearing tinfoil hats, not to mention plenty of hobbyists and independent scholars working those issues. They don’t need us doing that. They need us focusing on things like nuclear targeting, where it can take 10 years to get things declassified and have immense global significance. But because the JFK records board took an expansive view of its role, they broke open all sorts of records about Cuba that were essential for historians, for Obama to make his Cuba policy change.

JG: But any such new panels would have to have focal points. Where do you want them to focus?

TB: I would love to have a panel like that going after the CIA’s clandestine histories. The National Declassification Center is not going to pick a fight with the CIA to go after those. But they are key to demystifying CIA operations. That may be why they resist doing that. You get close enough to these covert operations and you often see what absolute disasters they were.

I’d love to see Congress stand up a powerful Iscap or a more powerful Public Interest Declassification Board. Why weren’t all the supposedly classified Hillary emails sent to Iscap, so an interagency body looked at them, instead of one securocrat making the decision that they’re classified? We need more third-party levers. If you move the decision out of the cold dead hands of the originating agency, and into an independent body with some leverage, wonders may never cease.

 

 

FOIA’s Foreseeable Harm Standard Tested in Court: FRINFORMSUM 12/7/2017

December 7, 2017

Text of S. 337 – The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016

Foreseeable Harm Standard Tested in Court

The Ecological Rights Foundation is suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the U.S. District Court of Northern California in what may be the first case mentioning the foreseeable harm standard language that was added to the FOIA with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.

The law, regarding foreseeable harm, says: “(8)(A) An agency shall (i) withhold information under this section only if (I) the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption described in subsection (b).”

In its decision the District Court notes, “Lastly, FEMA fails to explain how disclosure would expose FEMA’s decision-making process so as to discourage candid discussion. FEMA also does not provide any justification for how the agency would be harmed by disclosure as required by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(8)(A)(i). Absent a showing of foreseeable harm to an interest protected by the deliberative process exemption, the documents must be disclosed. In failing to provide basic information about the deliberative process at issue and the role played by each specific document, FEMA does not meet its burden of supporting its withholdings with detailed information pursuant to the deliberative process privilege.”

Release to One, Release to All

Cause of Action’s Tyler Arnold recently penned an op-ed for The Hill on the need to finalize the “Release to one, Release to All” FOIA rule – a call the National Security Archive fully endorses. Practically, Arnold notes that “Release to one, Release to All also could help improve the FOIA process at agencies. Publicly releasing records would eliminate the need to process redundant FOIA requests and increase efficiency by allowing requesters to more finely target their requests.”

The release policy, the subject of an October 31 letter, addressed to the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy and co-signed by the National Security Archive and two dozen other groups, has yet to take effect. The October letter notes, “Despite soliciting and collecting public comments on the proposal in December 2016, now under the Trump Administration, OIP has failed to finalize the policy or respond to multiple requests about its plans either to finalize or abandon the policy. This silence after soliciting public feedback on a proactive disclosure policy is particularly troubling.”

Flynn Records Denied

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently denied FOIA requests from the National Security Archive, the Associated Press, and Buzzfeed News –  all made years apart – concerning former national security adviser and DIA head Michael Flynn, saying doing so “could reasonably be expected to interfere with on-going law enforcement investigative activities.” The exemption prompted speculation that Flynn’s tenure as DIA director is a subject of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation.

AP’s FOIA requests, all filed this year, sought Flynn’s public and private DIA calendars and correspondences from 2012 through 2014; Buzzfeed’s request, filed three years ago by Jason Leopold but denied on the same day as APs, sought “Flynn’s emails, job evaluations, and other records related to his work as the agency’s director.”

“Bolsheviki appear to have control of everything here” moving “faster and faster towards – what?” US Diplomats’ and John Reed’s accounts of the 1917 Russian Revolution

“Bolsheviki appear to have control of everything here” moving “faster and faster towards – what?”

The Archive’s Able Archer 83 project director, Nate Jones, recently penned a blog for the Society for U.S. Intellectual History on US Diplomats’ and journalist John Reed’s accounts of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Jones notes that, “In their own way, both accounts report the tense, anxious, fearful, hopeful, unknown atmosphere in Petrograd during the waning days of October, 1917.” Read the riveting account here.

U.S. Presidents and the Nuclear Taboo

U.S. presidents sometimes made nuclear threats in the course of Cold War crises and confrontations, but powerful social norms – not just military considerations – inhibited them from initiating the combat use of nuclear weapons, according to declassified documents recently posted by the Archive.

From President Truman forward, the record shows, U.S. commanders-in-chief have been sensitive to what is sometimes referred to as the nuclear taboo – the recognition that atomic weapons belong to an entirely different category from conventional armaments and that their use would open up “a whole new world,” in the words of President Kennedy.

With growing international concern today over the possible resort to nuclear means in connection with tensions over North Korea’s growing capabilities, it is instructive to look at the record of the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War period to see how U.S. presidents and senior government officials thought about the problem.  The Archive’s most recent posting of CIA, State Department, and other materials covers the era from the 1940s to the 1990s including events from the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War.

Cyber Vault: Privacy Tech – circa 1944

An October 12, 1944, Office of Scientific Research Committee report on decoding speech codes that focuses on speech privacy is one of the newest additions to the Archive’s Cyber Vault. The document presents information on phone intercept, encryption, and privacy technologies and methods during WWII. A chapter on intercepting includes a discussion of types of radio systems used, intercepted signal quality, receiving sets, and decoding tools, among other topics.

The first Chinese nuclear test, 16 October 1964, had an explosive yield of 22 kilotons (Photo from Web site of Comprehensive Test Ban Organization)

TBT Pick – China’s First Nuclear Test 1964 

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2014 posting from our Nuclear Vault on China’s advance towards the nuclear club in 1964 and a wide range of declassified U.S. documents on the Chinese nuclear program.

For several years prior to 1964, U.S. intelligence had been monitoring Chinese nuclear developments, often with anxiety, hampered by the lack of adequate sources. Early on, opinions within the U.S. government varied widely — from the views of RAND Corporation and State Department INR [Intelligence and Research] analysts who estimated that a nuclear-armed China would be “cautious” to the Institute for Defense Analyses, which saw “increase[d] risks for the United States and its allies that China will escalate hostilities to the point of initiating nuclear operations.” As the Chinese nuclear test approached, the Defense Department’s Office of International Security Affairs was alone in taking an alarmist view, projecting 100 million dead Americans in the event of conflict with China in 1980.

The entire posting can be found here.

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“Bolsheviki appear to have control of everything here” moving “faster and faster towards – what?” US Diplomats’ and John Reed’s accounts of the 1917 Russian Revolution

December 4, 2017

“Bolsheviki appear to have control of everything here” moving “faster and faster towards – what?” US Diplomats’ and John Reed’s accounts of the 1917 Russian Revolution

This posting originally appeared on the Society for U.S. Intellectual History’s blog.

George F. Kennan, cherished State Department diplomat to the Soviet Union and father of the American doctrine of Containment toward the USSR, has written that John Reed’s account of October Revolution “rises above every other contemporary record for its literary power, its penetration, its command of detail” and would be “remembered when all others are forgotten.”1

Kennan’s predecessors on the ground in Russia during the upheaval did not view Reed as kindly.  On New Year’s Eve, 1918 – when the US and Bolshevik government in Russia maintained fraught relations – US Ambassador David Francis wrote to Secretary of State Robert Lansing that he was “endeavoring… to get Lenin to revoke Reed appoint [as Soviet consul in New York] with fair prospect of success.”  After Reed returned to the United States in April 1918, federal authorities seized his impressive archive of Soviet newspapers, circulars, published speeches and proceedings, and posted proclamations –upon which Ten Days That Shook the World would ultimately be largely based upon.  Despite promising that Reed’s archive would be returned to him the next day, US authorities held it for over six months.

The US government’s ultimately successful effort to remove Reed as the Soviet’s representative in the US is the only time that his name is mentioned in the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the Russian Revolution.2  But although he is largely absent from the official, US-government-published diplomatic history of US-Russian relations, Reed’s descriptions of “‘Red Petrograd,’ the capital and heart of the insurrection” enhance and amplify the diplomatic accounts of the Revolution.  In fact, the two accounts – of drastically differing prose –complement each other extraordinarily well.

In their own way, both accounts report the tense, anxious, fearful, hopeful, unknown atmosphere in Petrograd during the waning days of October, 1917.  On October 27, 1917 (October 14th using the Julian calendar; henceforth this essay will use the modern dates) the American Ambassador in Russia, David Francis, telegraphed his Secretary of State Robert Lansing:

Quiet here, no manifestations of uneasiness notwithstanding rumors that the workmen armed organized and will have material assistance from Krondstadt [sailors].  Another rumor that first Bolshevik act will be arrest of Provisional Government [established after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917] and their incarceration…Government has announced intention to suppress Bolshevik manifestation peacefully or otherwise.3

One the Eve of the October Revolution Reed described the same unease, using the words of a journalist – with a dash of avant garde – rather than a diplomat:

At Smolny 4 [a former convent at the edge of the city that was the intellectual and tactical headquarters of the uprising] there were strict guards at the door and outer gates, demanding everybody’s pass.  The committee-rooms buzzed and hummed all day and all night, hundreds of soldiers and workmen slept on the floor, wherever they could find room.  Upstairs in the great hall a thousand people crowded to the uproarious sessions of the Petrograd Soviet.

Gambling clubs functioned hectically from dusk to dawn, with champagne flowing and stakes of twenty thousand rubles.   In the centre of the city at night prostitutes in jewels and expensive furs walked up and down, crowded the cafes…

Monarchist plots, German spies, smugglers hatching schemes…

And in the rain, the bitter chill, the great throbbing city under grey skies rushing faster and faster towards – what?5

Both the State Department dispatches and Reed’s Ten Days (and I eagerly hope that my esteemed roundtablists have been able to identify which, exactly, were the ten days that Reed chronicled; I could not) seem to identify three key points which led to the success of the Bolsheviks: 1) The conversion and alliance of the Petrograd garrison and its 60,000 soldiers to the Bolshevik cause, 2) The successful – if surprisingly easy – “storming” of the Winter Palace, and 3) the decision of the railroad workers union not to transport Kerensky and his army to Petrograd to put down the revolution.

By the time Ambassador Francis’s October 27 telegram had reached Washington – transferred via telegraph as all the Department of State’s messages cited here were – on November 2, a tremendous, ultimately fatal blow had been struck against the Provisional Government.  After delegations from the Petrograd Soviet6 asked to confer with the General Staff and Soldiers Committees fighting on the Eastern Front of the First World War were rebuffed (“We do not recognize you; if you break any laws, we shall arrest you,” according to Reed), the Petrograd garrison passed a resolution:

‘The Petrograd garrison no longer recognizes the Provisional Government. The Petrograd Soviet is our Government. We will obey only the orders of the Petrograd Soviet, through the Military Revolutionary Committee [controlled by the Bolsheviks].’ The local military units were ordered to wait for instructions from the Soldiers’ Section of the Petrograd Soviet.

On November 3, the garrison affirmed, “the Petrograd garrison promises [the Military Revolutionary Committee] complete support in all its actions, to unite more closely the front and the rear in the interests of the Revolution. The garrison moreover declares that with the revolutionary proletariat it assures the maintenance of revolutionary order in Petrograd. Every attempt at provocation on the part of the … bourgeoisie will be met with merciless resistance.”

According to Reed, “now conscious of its power,” the Military Revolutionary Committee controlled by the Bolsheviks, “gave orders not to publish any appeals or proclamations without the Committee’s authorization. Armed Commissars visited the Kronversk arsenal and seized great quantities of arms and ammunition, halting a shipment of ten thousand bayonets which was being sent to Novotcherkask, headquarters of [General] Kaledin. Suddenly awake to the danger, the [Provisional] Government offered immunity if the Committee would disband. Too late.”

The embassy’s reporting on the garrison’s conversion to the revolution did not match Reed’s detail or perceptiveness.  On November 2, Ambassador Francis wrote to the Secretary of State:

Press reports great majority of soldiers in Petrograd garrison have passed resolutions to obey Soviet if demonstration ordered.  Right young men from officer’s military school just arrived Embassy saying ordered here by Petrograd staff to protect Embassy and guards sent to all foreign missions.  Think this not significant but merely precaution.

In fact, the situation in Petrograd was well past the stage of precaution. Too late.

Department of State dispatch, November 7.

The FRUS volume includes several absolutely remarkable dispatches conveying the November 7 fall of the provisional government to Washington.  The first account describes how the US diplomatic corps learned of the fall of the Kerensky government by a chance meeting on the Petrograd street:

[The Secretary of the US Embassy] Whitehouse, en route to the Embassy this morning, was accidentally met by aide-de-camp of Kerensky and several [minutes afterwards by] latter who told him that he was hurriedly leaving7 to meet regular troops on the way to Petrograd to support Government which would otherwise be deposed. He acknowledged that Bolsheviki control city and that Government powerless without reliable troops as there are few here of that nature. He said that he expected that the remainder of Ministry would be arrested to-day and told Whitehouse to convey request to me not to recognize Soviet government if such is established in Petrograd as he expected whole affair to be liquidated within five days but this in my judgment depends on number of soldiers who will obey…

A follow-up telegram also written at 6 pm and updated at 10 pm – before the ministers in the Winter Palace were actually in Bolshevik custody – reported: “Bolsheviki appear to have control of everything here.”

Just after 2:00 AM in the early morning of November 8, the Bolshevik raiders climbed the Stairs of the Winter Palace and flung open the doors of a second story room and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko declared, “You are all under arrest.”8 That afternoon the US embassy in Sweden telegraphed Washington announcing the end of the Provisional Government:

Because of the possibility of telegraphic communication between our Embassy in Russia and the Department being interrupted due to latest developments in Petrograd, I am sending the following which appear in the press this morning as dispatches from the Russian official telegram bureau. According to these telegrams Bolsheviks have made successful coup d’état; have taken the State Bank, telegraphs, telegram bureau and have arrested certain members of Kerensky’s government.

During the afternoon of November 7, Reed was actually able to gain entrance to the Winter Palace simply by putting on an official air, waving his American passport and yelling “official business!”  His description of the soldiers tasked to guard the seat of the old Russian monarchy served as a metaphor of the current state of the Russian Empire… and foretold its fall hours later:

At the end of the corridor was a large, ornate room with gilded cornices and enormous crystal lustres, and beyond it several smaller ones, wainscoted with dark wood. On both sides of the parquetted floor lay rows of dirty mattresses and blankets, upon which occasional soldiers were stretched out; everywhere was a litter of cigarette-butts, bits of bread, cloth, and empty bottles with expensive French labels. More and more soldiers, with the red shoulder-straps of the yunker schools [military academies], moved about in a stale atmosphere of tobacco-smoke and unwashed humanity. One had a bottle of white Burgundy, evidently filched from the cellars of the Palace.

But taking control of Petrograd and holding it – much less all of Russia! – were two very distinct things.  Reed’s reporting echoed the sentiment that Kerensky’s aid had told the US diplomats that morning, “That the Bolsheviki would remain in power longer than three days never occurred to anybody – except perhaps to Lenin, Trotsky, the Petrograd workers, and the simpler soldiers.”

The final key moment of the revolution – grasped and reported by the diplomats and by Reed – was the decision of the railway workers union (the Vikzhel) not to transport Kerensky’s troops from the Northern front to Petrograd.  The embassy reported this key fact to Washington, but not its implication, on November 13: “Quiet here probably result of announcement of railway union that if civil war not ended immediately railroads would cease to operate throughout Russia.”

Reed more precisely reported the nuance of the Vikzhel’s position.9 In addition to helping the Bolsheviks by halting Kerensky’s advance, it was also harming them by not allowing food or other goods into the city.  Reed describes that the railway workers union halted transportation to exercise its political power – its spokesperson described the union as “the strongest organization in Russian” – and an attempt to gain larger representation in the new revolutionary government.  Nonetheless, as the Vikzhel tried to use its power to forge “a government based on the confidence of all the democracy,” Kerensky had lost the railways, and his ability to retake Petrograd.  The Bolsheviks would hold the city for 74 years.

It is a pity that the American diplomats in Russia during the revolution could not read Reed’s reporting in real time; their understanding of the upheaval would have been much fortified.  Nevertheless, the State Department’s accurate – if colorless – reporting to Washington was ultimately proven more correct than Reed’s on two of the largest questions of the Russian revolution.

The first: the terror.  Reed openly acknowledges that he did not attempt to chronicle the revolution as an impartial observer.  “Adventure it was,” he wrote in his preface, “and one of the most marvelous mankind ever embarked upon.”  But as he chronicled this adventure, he could not help but document the ominous signs of the terror that accompanied it.

The terror began moments after the Bolsheviks seized power.  At the Second Congress of Soviets, Trotsky issued an icy, foreboding condemnation to the Bolsheviks’ former allies, the moderate socialist parties – of which he was once a member.  Reed recounts:

And Trotsky, standing up with a pale, cruel face, letting out his rich voice in cool contempt, ‘All these so-called Socialist compromisers, these frightened Mensheviki, Socialist Revolutionaries, Bund—let them go! They are just so much refuse which will be swept into the garbage-heap of history!’

But here, unlike elsewhere, Reed does not editorialize.  Instead he quickly transitions to an exciting tale of accepting a workman’s offer to jump into a motor truck “bumping at top speed down Suvorovsky Prospect” to the Winter Palace and crowds that had gathered around it.

In a later instance, Reed, writing as a correspondent for the socialist paper The Masses, serves as loyal stenographer to Lenin.  The leader of the new revolutionary government,  “each sentence falling like a hammer-blow,” declared the end of the free press.  Lenin explained that “to tolerate the bourgeois newspapers would mean to cease being a Socialist.”  Reed, again without editorializing, dutifully reports that on November 17, 1917 the free press in Russia was abolished by a vote of 34 to 24.   

The State Department – of course also biased in its reporting – did warn of the risk of terror throughout the revolution and after it.  In a September 3, 1918 telegram – seven years before Stalin’s10 ascension – starkly warned the Secretary of State that “an openly avowed campaign of terror” had begun:

Thousands of persons have been summarily shot without even the form of trial. Many of them have no doubt been innocent of even the political views which were supposed to supply the motive of their execution… Socialists, once coworkers with the Bolsheviki, have turned against them the methods by which they formerly attacked the tyranny of the Tsars. ‘Mass terror’ is the Bolshevik reply.11

The second instance that the diplomats’ analysis proved more insightful than Reed’s was the key question of the prospect for worldwide revolution.  Reed insightfully reports that the Bolsheviks honestly believed that the Russian revolution was just a step on the way to world-wide socialist revolution and self-governance by workers.  One key article by a Bolshevik paper in Reed’s archive declared that once established, the Soviet Russian revolutionary government would “appeal over the heads of the diplomats directly to the German troops, fill the German trenches with proclamations in the German language…Our airmen would spread these proclamations all over Germany.”

In an October 30th interview with Reed, Trotsky reiterated that the Soviet revolutionary government would, “be a powerful factor for immediate peace in Europe; for this Government will address itself directly and immediately to all peoples, over the heads of their Governments…At the end of this war I see Europe recreated, not by the diplomats, but by the proletariat. The Federated Republic of Europe—the United States of Europe—that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is to remain split into national groups, then Imperialism will recommence its work.”

Department of State dispatch, November 8.

After the Bolsheviks took Petrograd, Lenin predicted “that revolution will soon break out in all belligerent countries; that is why we address ourselves to the workers of France, England, and Germany…The revolution of November 6th and 7th, has opened the era of the Social Revolution… The labor movement, in the name of peace and Socialism, shall win, and fulfill its destiny…”

The American diplomats were far more concerned with the implications of Soviet Russia making a separate peace with Germany and ending the war on the Eastern front than with the Petrograd Revolution spreading to the American masses.

In fact, on November 2nd, the Secretary of State telegraphed the embassy in Russia a statement by Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor rebuffing a Russian invitation to “an international conference of workmen and socialists from all countries.”

Gompers wrote: “That we regard it as untimely and inappropriate, conducive to no good result, but on the contrary harmful, to hold an international conference at this time or in the near future with the representatives of all countries, including enemy countries, and we are constrained therefore to decline at this time either to participate in or to call such a conference.”  American diplomats correctly ascertained that despite the genuine grievances and unrest of their working classes, there was little risk of the White House succumbing to the fate of the Winter Palace.

At six in the morning of November 8, four hours after the ministers of the Provisional Government in the Winter Palace were finally arrested, Reed witnessed “a faint unearthly pallor stealing over the silent streets, dimming the watch-fires, the shadow of a terrible dawn grey-rising over Russia.”

It was at that moment Reed asked himself:

So. Lenin and the Petrograd workers had decided on insurrection, the Petrograd Soviet had overthrown the Provisional Government, and thrust the coup d’etat upon the Congress of Soviets. Now there was all great Russia to win—and then the world! Would Russia follow and rise? And the world—what of it? Would the peoples answer and rise, a red world-tide?

Three years later, Reed died of typhus in Moscow and was buried under the Kremlin wall necropolis.

The answer to his question would have devastated him.


1. George Kennan. Russia Leaves the War: Soviet-American Relations, 1917–1920, (Princeton University Press, 1956). pp. 68–69.

2. The Foreign Relations of the United States series “presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series, which is produced by the Department of State’s Office of the Historian, began in 1861 and now comprises more than 450 individual volumes.” The documents quoted here were written too early to be technically “classified” but they certainly would have been tightly held and not available to the public at the time of the revolution.

3. Thanks to the Emma Sarfity of the National Security Archive for retrieving the original copies of these dispatches from the US National Archives. They can be found in Department of State Microfilm Publication M316, roll 10. Among the documents quoted are 861.00/632, 861.00/634, and 861.00/635.

4. The Smolny Convent sits adjacent to the Smolny Cathedral, where your author studied Russian as a student in the fall and winter of 2003.

5. John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World, (Boni & Liveright, 1919).

6. In this context, “Soviet” is best described as a workers’ council, perhaps a type of Russian union.

7. In fact, Kerensky had fled Petrograd in a Renault seized from outside the American Embassy. The car, with its American insignia, no doubt help Kerensky evade searches by the Red Guards. Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, (Penguin, 1997), 486.

8. Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, (Penguin, 1997), 491.

9. Reed, who made the dangerous trip to the front, also credits the heroics of the Bolshevik troops that repulsed Kerensky and others who switched to the revolutionary side as the general attempted to march on Petrograd from Gatchina.

10. Apparently, Stalin was such a minor figure in the revolution that his name is mentioned just twice in Ten Days, both times in reproductions of Bolshevik pronouncements, not in Reed’s description of the events and actors.

11. The Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin replied to these charges by framing the terror in Moscow in the context of the atrocities of the White Army and arguing that the situation of a bloody, revolutionary civil war could not help but include terror as a natural element.

FOIA Shows Texas Border Wall Could Bisect Retirement Community, Wildlife Preserves: FRINFORMSUM 11/16/2017

November 16, 2017

Border Wall Plans in Texas would Disrupt Retirement Community, Wildlife Preserves

A FOIA request from the Sierra Club’s borderlands team won the release of documents, which were then shared with the Texas Observer, showing tentative border wall plans in the Rio Grande Valley. One of the releases – a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map – “shows where the administration expects to build 33 miles of wall in 15 different segments, including portions that would tear through three wildlife areas.”

Documents also show how the Trump administration ranks the legal and topographical difficulty levels of the segments where the wall might be built. One of the “most challenging” sections would cut off upward of 100 residents of a “Nice RV park, many retirees live there permanently.” It would also bisect a nearly 800-acre preserve that is one of the continent’s most popular birding destinations, as well as its neighboring butterfly sanctuary, and one of the country’s oldest protected wildlife habitats.

The documents also show that, at least near the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, wall and levee construction is projected to cost $45 million, or $15 million per mile. Government plans for Santa Ana also include a 150-foot “enforcement zone” that would include “an all-weather road bordered by underground fiber-optic motion sensors.”

The documents can be read here.

The border wall was the subject of a separate FOIA request from USA Today that was published two weeks ago and shed light on the “unusually confusing and haphazard process” of contractors bidding to build border wall prototypes. Nearly 200 pages of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) documents reveal communications with companies seeking clarity on a rushed, murky bidding process that initially only gave companies 12 days to submit proposals for 30-foot high prototypes that could lead to a $300-million five-year contract.

Torture Approver Gets Senate OK

The Senate approved Steven Bradbury, “the principal author of the legal justifications for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’” as the top lawyer for the Transportation Department this week by a vote of 50 to 47. “Mr. Bradbury’s memos were permission slips to torture,” said Arizona Senator John McCain of Bradbury’s confirmation, “This is a dark, dark chapter in the history of the United States Senate.”

The National Security Archive has a number of declassified documents featuring Bradbury, including an October 23, 2001 DOJ Office of Legal Counsel Opinion Addressing the Domestic Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities. This document and more can be found in our Torturing Democracy exhibit.

FOIA Lawsuit Seeks Info on Interior Department Staff Reassignments

A Department of Interior whistleblower, Joel Clement, is filing a FOIA lawsuit against his former agency for documents on controversial staff reassignments after the agency failed to release any documents in response to his request. Clement filed a FOIA request in September seeking information on his own July reassignment and the reassignment of dozens of senior agency staff “as part of a sweeping reorganization.” Clement argues he was reassigned to a position he was unqualified for because he spoke about the dangers of climate change; his FOIA request also sought all communications discussing his work on climate change.

Books by Dr. Richelson.

In Memoriam: Jeffrey T. Richelson, 1949-2017: Author of Essential Reference Works on Top Secrets, Indefatigable User of the FOIA, Provider of Primary Sources to Students and the World

The National Security Archive mourns the passing of our most senior fellow, Dr. Jeffrey T. Richelson, prolific Freedom of Information Act requester and critically-praised author of extraordinary reference works on intelligence, nuclear weapons, China, terrorism, military uses of space, and espionage.

Dr. Richelson passed away on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles after a months-long battle against cancer, according to his brother, Charles. He was 67.

Jeff ranks among the founders of the National Security Archive vision – that systematic Freedom of Information Act requests could force the government to open files that otherwise would remain secret indefinitely, and once open, these files could enrich scholarship and journalism and the public debate on issues like nuclear weapons and spying that very much needed public attention and skepticism.

Jeff never sought the spotlight for open government achievements that would have been impossible without him. But his work lives on, not just in his marvelously useful books but in the cornucopia of sources he made possible for generations of students and experts to come.

Unearthing Soviet Secrets in Ukraine’s Archives

The National Security Archive’s Nate Jones has some valuable advice for anyone interested in conducting archival research in Ukraine gleaned from his experience as the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project’s fellow at Odessa State University’s Center for Nonproliferation earlier this year. Read the whole article for the nuts and bolts advice of what to do when you arrive in Ukraine, and for those waffling on whether or not the visit might bear fruit, Jones notes: “There are countless gems now available to researchers in the Ukrainian Archives and waiting to be discovered. While the Ukrainian geopolitical situation remains fraught, its historical archives have never been more accessible. Another window into the history of the Soviet Union has been opened.”

Inside the 2018 NDAA – Part 1

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act contains a number of sections relevant to cyber security, and our Cyber Vault project has culled the voluminous document to find the most important cyber information – including sections on “Pilot programs on data integration strategies for the Department of Defense” and “Repeal of domestic source restriction related to wearable electronics.”

These documents are among the 14 NDAA highlights posted in the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault on Wednesday, November 15. Next week we will continue our focus on the most interesting cyber sections from the NDAA with an additional 13 highlights.

TBT Pick – An Incomplete Collection of Jeff Richelson’s Greatest Hits

This week’s #TBT picks highlight Jeff Richelson’s enduring contribution around unveiling the activities of the nation’s super-secret intelligence agencies – notably the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the National Reconnaissance Office. These works include:

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Unearthing Soviet Secrets in Ukraine’s Archives

November 13, 2017

This post originally appeared on The Wilson Center’s blog, Sources and Methods

Documents within the KGB Archive.

The archives of Ukraine are open and they are filled with former Soviet secrets.

Anyone conducting research on the Soviet Union, nuclear history, or the Cold War should visit Ukraine as soon as possible.

After being selected as the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project’s fellow at Odessa State University’s Center for Nonproliferation, I first felt delight—the university, after all, was just a 10-minute walk down the hill to the iconic beaches of the Black Sea. But then apprehension set in: What if the archives were closed? What if they were open but bereft of key documents? What if an American foreigner was not viewed kindly by the archivists?

Fortunately, I can report that each of these fears was unfounded. The Ukrainian Archives are open (including to foreigners) and filled with historically important, previously secret documents.

The city of Odessa has very good research institutions, including its universities, regional archive, and research library (excellent for finding Ukrainian and Russian language secondary resources). Kharkiv also may be of interest to researchers looking at revolutionary Ukraine and Soviet nuclear development; it was the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1919 to January 1934 and retains documents –including on the Soviet nuclear program—from that period. But for me, the most valuable archival gems were in Kiev.

The sign for TsDAVO.

The first logical place to begin may be The Central Executive Archive of Ukraine (literally translated as “Central State Archive of the Supreme Organs and Administrations of Ukraine”), referred to by researchers as, “TsDAVO.” Though it is no doubt wise to plan ahead, researchers can access the archive without an appointment simply by showing a passport. Additionally, a large quantity of TsDAVO’s finding aids are available online and searchable (in Ukrainian).1
Included in the extremely large collections are the files of the Socialist Republic of Ukraine’s Council of Ministers and corpuses from former presidents of Ukraine Kuchma and Kravchuk.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs also provide researchers access to their historic (generally pre-1991) documents. Access must be arranged in advance and these institutions are a bit bureaucratically trickier to get into, but researchers including Mariana Budjeryn have shown that it is certainly possible and that the documentary fruits are worth pursuing.

But the crown jewel of the Ukrainian Archives, at least to this researcher, was the Archive of the Security Services of Ukraine, or simply the KGB Archive. An official invitation must be obtained to achieve access to the KGB Archive, but this can be fairly easily obtained via email by contacting the address listed on the archives’ website. Under the leadership of its director Andriy Kohut, the Ukrainian KGB is demonstrating a path of openness that the archives of other formerly communist countries would be wise to follow.

Once inside, researchers have the incredible opportunity for an inside view of how the Soviet organs of state operated, both domestically and internationally. Internal security records from Ukraine’s incorporation into the Soviet Union until its collapse are largely preserved. One typical example is the KGB’s wary and meticulously thorough reporting of its discovery that youths in Kiev were beginning to enjoy a new type of music named “punk rock.” Many of these millions of pages of domestic surveillance files, however, are much more heartbreaking. They include the investigations, arrests, deportation, and executions of millions of Ukrainians in the Soviet Union.

Though not as complete as its collection of files on Soviet citizens living in Ukraine, and certainly less comprehensive than the KGB’s central files controlled in Moscow, the Ukrainian KGB Archive nonetheless presents researchers with an unprecedented2 window into the KGB and Soviet Union’s international security operations, foreign policy objectives, and even nuclear history. Fonds 9 (Orders of the KGB), 13 (KGB publications) and 16 (Memoranda between the KGB and Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) provide a chronicle record of Moscow’s security decisions—including such examples as rebuilding from the destruction of World War II, the surveillance of followers (in Ukraine and abroad) of Stepan Bandera, reports from the Odessa docks during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia as viewed from Kiev, and—in a document that certainly increased my heart rate– the official transcript of Yuri Andropov’s May 1981 justification for the creation of Operation RYaN as director of the KGB.

The lessons I learned—and now teach—at SICAR (The Summer Institute on Conduction Archival Research) all largely applied in Ukraine. The most important step is to plan ahead and start early. Get to the archive first thing in the morning, present small gifts to the archivists, and secure the help from a Ukrainian expert able to point you towards where you should be looking.

At each of the archives I mentioned the finding aids are in Ukrainian but—fortunately for me!—the documents themselves are in Russian. Finally, the KGB Archive allows photography of documents, but other archives prohibit it and photocopying was generally not available. Nonetheless, it seemed that the vast majority of archivists and researchers ignored this prohibition; researchers were constantly snapping away. I used an app called Photoscan on my smart phone (flash off) and was extremely pleased with the quality and cataloging of my archival finds.

There are countless gems now available to researchers in the Ukrainian Archives and waiting to be discovered. While the Ukrainian geopolitical situation remains fraught, its historical archives have never been more accessible. Another window into the history of the Soviet Union has been opened.


1. Also available online is a substantial and growing Electronic Archive of Ukrainian Liberation Movement, including a very large collection on the Chernobyl disaster.

2. For an excellent article on research in other Eastern archives, be sure to see “Researching Through the Back Door: Field Notes from East of the Iron Curtain” by Simon Miles.

FBI Consults Public Affairs Office, Not Advisory Board, for Removing Public Info from Website: FRINFORMSUM 11/9/2017

November 9, 2017

Anemic FBI Crime Report Published in Consultation with Public Affairs, not Advisory Board

FiveThirtyEight has an excellent article on the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the United States report – “a collection of crime statistics gathered from over 18,000 law-enforcement agencies” that contains 70 percent fewer data tables than previous iterations. The missing data from the 2016 report concerns homicides, arrests, and valuable statistical information on the relationship between victims and offenders, weapons used, and “the only national estimate of annual gang murders.”

The report – at least traditionally – “is an invaluable resource for researchers who track national crime trends and is a rich reference database for journalists and members of the general public who are interested in official crime statistics.”

The changes were made without consulting the traditional review body – the Advisory Policy Board.  The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program said that, instead, the decision had been made after consulting the Office of Public Affairs and was based on the “number of times a user actually viewed the tables on the internet.”

Disappearing War Data

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has redacted previously-reported metrics on Afghan security forces – the main recipients of $120 billion in US aid to the country – from its latest quarterly report at the request of the Afghan government. John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan, faulted the decision, saying: “The government usually doesn’t classify good news. I don’t want any nameless, faceless Afghan bureaucrat telling the American taxpayer what they ought to know.” Mr. Sopko went on to call the seemingly arbitrary classification a “slippery slope.”

The withheld information was previously classified once in 2015; reporting from The New York Times notes that “While the quarterly reports have had a classified annex since 2015, most of the data categories redacted in the latest release have been available to the public since the inspector general started putting out the reports in 2008.” These data categories include the number of personnel employed by the security forces and the number of combat casualties.

The disappearing data comes at a particularly bad time for researchers interested in metrics the US keeps on its presence in Afghanistan. The Army’s historical field staff, which maintained more than 20 historians in Saigon during Vietnam, hasn’t place a historian in the field in Afghanistan since 2014, believing average soldiers could be trained to save document and hand them off, along with sources of information. The Center for Military History’s Jerry Brooks says this theory overlooked the fact that “that people are lazy.” Historians dealing with Iraq have avoided some of these lapses, but still suffer from fewer personnel in the field than in past wars.

Briefing Book, Deputies Committee Meeting, ca. 12/13/1991 (Secret)
1991-12-13

Engaging North Korea

The George H.W. Bush administration understood North Korea might be negotiating in bad faith in the early 1990s, yet concluded that negotiations were the best way to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, according to FOIA-released documents posted by the National Security Archive.

The documents provide valuable historical context for U.S. policymakers as President Donald J. Trump travels to Asia to engage with allies over the North Korean nuclear threat.  Many of the issues being confronted today echo those U.S. strategists faced two decades ago.

For example, one of the questions the Bush I administration debated was the advisability of military force. But even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney rejected the option, telling South Korean and Japanese leaders they should not consider “military measures” since “such discussion could jeopardize our initial diplomatic strategy,” according to a high-level internal briefing book.

On the matter of China’s motives, American policymakers were candid enough to acknowledge their uncertainty but did conclude that Beijing was unlikely to do anything that might threaten the regime in Pyongyang.

U.S. negotiating strategy included developing “nooses” to tighten around North Korea if it continued to delay, while understanding the importance of preparing the ground for multilateral coercive measures even as talks went ahead.

25 Years Not Enough Notice for Agencies to Release JFK Files on Time

Even with 25-years notice mandating that every agency’s remaining records on the JFK assassination be released by October 26, 2017, the CIA and FBI were, bafflingly, unable to meet the deadline – continuing to release records weeks after the due date.

The Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act) requires that all agency assassination records be publicly disclosed in full by October 26, 2017 – unless the President upheld an agency appeal and “certifies” that releasing a record would cause specific harm. This did not happen.

On October 26, 2,891 documents were released – but President Trump “bowed to pressure from the C.I.A. and F.B.I. by withholding thousands of additional papers pending six more months of review.”

On November 3, 676 records were released.

On November 9, today, 13,213 additional records were released.

Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh told the Washington Post, “most of the papers that were released didn’t warrant the long-held secrecy. He pointed to a never-before-seen memo by Hoover, dated two days after the assassination. Hoover says in the memo that he wanted to have ‘something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,’ and that he thought the investigation should be kept secret because of Oswald’s contacts with the Cuban embassy in Mexico City and the Soviet Embassy in Washington.” What, Kornbluh asks, “is the secrecy around that document really about?”

The Ghosts of Langley

The National Security Archive’s John Prados will be discussing his new book, The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of Darkness, at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. today, November 9, at 6:30. The book release coincides with the agency’s 70th anniversary and “takes a provocative and panoramic look at the Agency through the eyes of key figures in CIA history and in light of its covert actions around the world. Drawing on a wealth of newly declassified documents, join Prados as he throws fresh light on classic agency operations such as the Bay of Pigs, and discerns a disturbing continuum from the practice of covert actions from Iran in the 1950s, Chile and Vietnam in the 1970s, and Central America in the 1980s to the current secret wars in the Muslim world.”

Ticket information available here.

FOIA Food For Thought: The FOIA Ecosystem

Are you interested in a today’s current FOIA landscape and will be in the D.C. area November 16? If so, please join us for an American Society of Access Professionals “Food For Thought Training Seminar” featuring National Security Archive director Tom Blanton. Blanton will discuss the FOIA ecosystem, lessons learned from his decades in the FOIA trenches, the symbiotic relationship between requesters and processors, and how both sides can work together to improve the FOIA process and release more information to the public. RSVP information can be found here.

TBT Pick – How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

This week’s TBT pick is chosen with the newly declassified North Korea documents in mind and is a 2010 posting on Nixon’s search for military options towards North Korea. The posting details how, “Four decades ago, in response to North Korean military provocations, the U.S. developed contingency plans that included selected use of tactical nuclear weapons against Pyongyang’s military facilities and the possibility of full-scale war.”

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