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New Year, New Transparency Trouble-Spots To Watch: FRINFORMSUM 1/7/2021

January 7, 2021
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Trump Appoints Loyalists – Including a Real Estate Lawyer – to PIDB

President Trump has recently appointed three new members to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) – an important presidential advisory committee “with the official mandate of promoting the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities.” When at full capacity, the board consists of nine members – five presidential appointees “and one each by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate. The PIDB’s founding statute requires the appointment of U.S. citizens who are preeminent in the fields of history, national security, foreign policy, intelligence policy, social science, law, or archival science.

The Trump appointments to the board should be noted – and in at least one instance, challenged.

  • Ezra Cohen Watnick, the current acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (and Michael Flynn protege), is nominated to chair the board
  • Adam Telle, a long-time Republican committee staffer who has served as the majority clerk for the Subcommittee on Homeland Security – Committee on Appropriations, is nominated as a board member,
  • and Paul Noel Chretien, a real estate lawyer, is nominated as a board member. 

The three-year appointments, particularly the last, should be scrutinized. While the PIDB has not always lived up to its potential, its members have always been well-versed in national security and classification issues – and one has to ask how a real estate lawyer meets these mandatory requirements.

DNI Drops CUI Bombshell

The Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is asking the White House to revoke Executive Order 13556 – a 2010 directive to establish “an open and uniform program for managing” controlled unclassified intelligence (CUI). (The EO was an attempt to wrangle the sometimes incompatible controls concerning the 100+ distinct categories of unclassified information that require distribution restrictions.) In his Dec. 4, 2020 letter – itself marked For Official Use Only – to National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Ratcliffe says “Given the complexity of the program, I believe that the full rescission of E.O. 13556 is the only viable alternative”.

Steve Aftergood reports that Ratcliffe’s jarring request comes just as agencies are required to post their CUI implementation plans, and ignores that the EO has been “fully embraced” by most other agencies, including the Department of Defense. Rather bizarrely, Ratcliffe’s memo “did not request an extension of time to achieve compliance, as he might ordinarily have done. Nor did he seek an exemption for intelligence agencies from the overall policy. Nor did he suggest another approach to address the persistent problem of identifying, sharing and protecting CUI whose broad contours have long been recognized, including by President Bush in 2008.”

Aftergood notes that the memo may be counterproductive, writing that, “DNI Ratcliffe’s ‘strong opposition’ to US Government policy on CUI together with his inability to formulate an acceptable alternate approach may, however, serve to elevate information policy as a priority for the Biden Administration.” 

Trump Admin Politicizes Unconfirmed Intel

In an extremely controversial move, the Trump administration has declassified uncorroborated intelligence alleging that the Chinese government is paying “non-state” actors in Afghanistan to kill American service personnel. (The intel does not specify if those non-state actors are the Taliban or another organized group.) IF the intelligence is true, it would mark a dramatic shift in the Chinese approach to the war in Afghanistan. The potential news also follows a July 2020 bombshell by the New York Times that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militias to kill American troops. 

The decision to release the unvetted intelligence is potentially dangerous and marks another instance of the Trump administration politicizing the declassification process. Late last year – both at the end of September and in early October – Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe selectively declassified information “that included sensitive intelligence about Russians discussing Hillary Clinton and her 2016 presidential campaign”. Critics have called the actions tantamount to spreading Russian disinformation for political purposes.

NARA Proposes Rule Change for Electronic Records – Public Comments Sought

The National Archives and Records Management (NARA) is seeking public comment on a proposed rule concerning the digitization of public records – namely, it is attempting  “to amend our electronic records management regulations to add a subpart containing standards for digitizing permanent Federal records so that agencies may dispose of the original source records, where appropriate and in accordance with the Federal Records Act amendments of 2014. We are also making a minor revision to our records schedule review provisions to establish a requirement for agencies to review, every five years, all records schedules that are ten years old and older, based on the date the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved the schedule.”

NARA’s challenge of managing the tsunami of incoming digital records is immense, and the agency – whose budget and staff size have shrunk while its obligations have grown – should be applauded for its ongoing work to engage the public about its efforts and challenges. Yet this proposed rule change – which comes on the heels of 2019’s “Transition to Electronic Records” memorandum issued jointly with OMB and requiring all agencies to manage all their permanent records electronically by December 31, 2022 – poses serious concerns for historians, including:

  • How much oversight will NARA have of the digitization process to ensure its carried out properly and will include all relevant metadata?
    • NARA’s oversight of agency compliance with previous rules regarding email preservation raises concerns that NARA’s approach in this instance will be relatively hands-off, and that spot checks for individual agency compliance will be few and far between. Moreover, the impending deadline of the 2019 memo, coupled with this new rule change, raises the possibility that some agencies will choose the quickest and cheapest digitization process over long-term archival requirements.
  • What happens to physical records after they have been digitized? Will agencies have free reign to dispose of them?
  • Will there be backups of digitized files if they become corrupted?

Public comments are sought on or before February 1, 2021.

Intelligence and Vietnam (II): Return of The Top Secret 1969 State Department Study

The National Security Archive recently posted an update to a 2004 E-book featuring a landmark but still relatively little-known State Department study of the Vietnam War from 1969.  Commissioned by Thomas L. Hughes, the head of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, it was a more modest account of the war than its more famous cousin, the Pentagon Papers. Yet in some ways it was more insightful and is considered essential to understanding the Department’s role in the conflict.

The Archive’s original posting presented a sometimes heavily redacted version of the document – all that was available at the time. However, after an Archive appeal under the Freedom of Information Act, the State Department released a much more complete version – most notably including an entire 275-page section consisting of specific references to INR’s contributions to various government reporting, including its own papers, CIA estimates, and other records.

In Brief

Don’t miss these two must-reads on what the Biden administration can and must do to bolster transparency and open government in 2021:

But the final piece will be advocacy. Accountability through FOIA requires the public, media, and watchdogs to keep fighting. For those of us who have paid close attention to the malfeasance and obstruction of the last four years, I don’t think that’s asking too much.

Both of these items draw on recommendations made in Accountability 2021, an outstanding  coalition report that the National Security Archive was proud to have helped with and which is full of Day 1 and sustained actions that the Biden administration can take to strengthen transparency and ethics across the federal government. 

Finally, be sure to read Democracy, history and the Presidential Records Act by the American Historical Association’s James Grossman and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations’s Richard Immerman. The authors rightly laud the efforts of Sen. Chris Murphy to introduce the Promoting Accountability and Security in Transition (PAST) Act, which seeks to close loopholes in the Presidential Records Act exploited by President Trump. The bill, which the National Security Archive enthusiastically endorses, would allow for – among other important improvements – increased judicial review of compliance with the PRA, and would “enable and promote histories that are thorough, accurate and reliable — and subject to appropriate revision as more records become available over time.”

New Digital National Security Archive Collection Publishes Thousands of Declassified “Snowflakes” from Rumsfeld’s Pentagon

December 18, 2020

The National Security Archive, with our partners at the scholarly publisher ProQuest, is publishing a new Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) collection of declassified “Snowflakes” memos authored by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The 20,975-page collection, Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part I: The Pentagon and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2001-2003, provides researchers with an unparalleled, hour-by-hour account of the office of the Secretary of Defense during the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, from 2001 to 2003. 

Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part I complements a growing collection of Archive documents on the 9/11 era, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Part II, which covers later years of Rumsfeld’s tenure from 2004 to 2006, will be published in 2021.

The “Snowflakes” – the term given to the missives that became the controversial Secretary of Defense’s trademark form of daily communication – in this collection are mostly never-before-seen material that offers an unprecedented look into nearly everything that came across Rumsfeld’s desk. These items include communications and coordination with the highest levels of government, during a dynamic period of U.S. history that continues to influence global politics to this day. Where available, staff responses to Rumsfeld’s instructions and queries are also incorporated into the collection.

The wide variety of “Snowflakes” highlighted in this rich collection follow the U.S. response to the September 11 attacks and the ensuing global war on terror. Readers will find material that was circulated in the Pentagon in the days following 9/11, handwritten notes from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, documents from the hunt for bin Laden, the Secretary’s communications with the CIA, records regarding legal controversies surrounding Guantanamo, all leading up to and through the invasion and occupation of Iraq in early 2003. A partial listing of topics covered by the declassified “Snowflakes” includes: 

  • the day-to-day operations of the Pentagon;
  • efforts to reorganize the Defense Department; 
  • modernization of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • “jointness” or the move toward cross service cooperation in all aspects of the military; 
  • the military budgeting process and efforts to rein in defense spending; 
  • military planning, procurement, and expenditures;
  • the September 11, 2001 attacks;
  • the Global War on Terrorism;
  • the Afghanistan conflict;
  • justification for the Iraq War; the invasion, and reconstruction;
  • nuclear issues – weapons, proliferation, safety;
  • decision making on military wages, benefits, tours of duty, and veterans issues;
  • military intelligence; 
  • Defense Department relations with the CIA and Homeland Security; 
  • Rumsfeld’s relations with the State Department and National Security Council;
  • U.S. relations with NATO; 
  • U.S. military relations with Russia, former Soviet republics, and other countries;
  • Rumsfeld’s interactions with the news media, Congress, and the public;
  • Guantanamo detainees, interrogation, and torture;
  • concerns about the International Criminal Court and U.S. liability for war crimes;
  • the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other terrorists;
  • the Joint Strike Fighter program; and
  • the emergency landing of a U.S. EP-3 at Hainan Island in 2001.

Most of the documents in this collection have never been available to the public before. The first references to “Snowflakes” appeared in media accounts in early 2001 and the memos soon gained almost mythical status.  Occasional leaks to The Washington Post and other outlets gave readers glimpses into their contents but the first significant set of them did not appear until the publication of Rumsfeld’s memoir, Known and Unknown, in 2011. 

The documents in this collection were obtained by the National Security Archive after litigation with the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act (with pro bono assistance from the law firm of Skadden Arps). An indication of their value can be found in the fact that the Archive’s collection featured prominently in the Washington Post’s massive exposé on the Afghanistan war, “The Afghanistan Papers.”

Previous related DNSA publications include U.S. Intelligence Community After 9/11, Targeting Iraq, Part 1: Planning, Invasion, and Occupation, 1997-2004 , Terrorism and U.S Policy, 1968-2002, and U.S. Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction: From World War II to Iraq.

Learn more about the DNSA, and how to get a free trial, here.

Justice for the Jesuits Suspended at Home

November 16, 2020

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By Megan DeTura

As the thirty-first anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, their housemaid, and her daughter dawns, the search for justice has hit a roadblock. On Thursday, October 29, the Supreme Court of El Salvador suspended domestic investigations into the crime. In a decision issued by the Criminal Chamber, two magistrates reversed a lower court’s 2018 decision to reopen the case, ruling that the intellectual authors of the murders should not be investigated. The suspects included six military officials and former president Alfredo Cristiani. 

The ruling comes two months after the historic conviction of Col. Inocente Montano by the National Court of Spain for acts of state terrorism and murder – a verdict reached under the concept of Universal Jurisdiction. And while Montano will continue to serve his 133-year sentence, the prospect of similar verdicts closer to home has been thrown into doubt.  

In responses published after the decision, members of the Jesuit-run University of Central America (UCA) have expressed their outrage, calling it a “corrupt sentence,” one that “gravely offends the rule of law and human rights.” Yet the statements also note that the ruling does not close all avenues for justice, as the Jesuits and families of the victims are said to be considering potential next steps. 

One potential avenue has already been set in motion. On November 5, the Attorney General’s Office submitted an appeal to the Criminal Chamber, requesting the suspension be revoked. Should the request be denied, the Office has suggested it would file an appeal before the Constitutional Chamber, prompting an internal court battle between both chambers of the Supreme Court. Given the Constitutional Chamber’s superiority, a ruling in the Jesuits’ favor would annul the October 29th decision and allow the investigations to proceed. 

Nevertheless, the implications of the Criminal Chamber’s initial decision are likely to extend to other investigations. Leonor Arteaga, Director of the Due Process of Law Foundation’s (DPLF) program on Impunity and Grave Human Rights Violation, told the Archive, “Beyond the Jesuit case, the danger of this kind of decision is that it gives a message to lower courts that no case from the civil war, especially crimes against humanity or war crimes, should advance. Otherwise, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Chamber will annul the decision.” 

Examples of those pending investigations include several high-profile cases, such as the massacre at El Calabozo and the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Both cases were reopened after the 2016 overturning of El Salvador’s Amnesty Law and remain under the purview of the country’s Attorney General’s Office. Yet progress has stalled due to a lack of political and judicial will. 

In the case of El Mozote – where Salvadoran armed forces massacred nearly a thousand residents in 1981 – actions by both President Nayib Bukele and his Defense Minister René Merino Monroy have led to a standoff between the current administration and investigators. By physically barring the doors to military archives and claiming most of the documents were destroyed, the President and Defense Minister have repeatedly blocked access to declassified military information considered essential to the case. Such steps disregard an October 9th Constitutional Court decision requiring access to the records, and have prompted condemnation by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (CIDH). Survivors have also requested an investigation into both officials on charges of arbitrary acts, disobedience, and dereliction of duty.

Whether suspending, stalling, or actively obstructing investigations, the Bukele administration’s actions highlight the diminishing window for domestic proceedings. This has led investigators to look externally in their search for evidence. For instance, the presiding judge in the El Mozote case Jorge Guzmán Urquilla has requested support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seeking the release of U.S. records. And while the State Department has yet to respond, the House of Representatives has since passed its own amendment requiring the release of Defense Department documents related to the case.  

Taken together with the Spanish Court’s verdict in the Jesuit Case, such bilateral cooperation demonstrates the continued importance of international human rights efforts. However, such efforts can only go so far. For as the families of the victims weigh next steps, an inability to prosecute at home would suggest a State that favors impunity over justice – one step further from accountability and toward amnesty.

President’s Daily Briefs Still in the Closet

September 30, 2020
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The other day I was working on a posting about John F. Kennedy’s decisions on the Vietnam war, and I had occasion to include one of the “President’s Daily Briefs” (PDBs), the super top secret personal reports the CIA and other intelligence agencies assemble every day for our senior executive. You may recall that in September 2015, when the CIA began to release this series of documents, they made a big splash of it, complete with a conference at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. The text of the PDB I selected for my subject was nearly complete, missing just two critical attributions for statements. Now, I had surveyed a number of the PDBs at the time of the release, arguing in a piece on my website, and here in UNREDACTED, that actual declassification of the PDBs had not been accomplished and was indeed in its infancy because crucial content in the reports was being routinely censored for spurious reasons. As a test, I took the PDB I selected and looked up that date in the relevant volume of the series Foreign Relations of the United States. There, in an editor’s note, were the very attributions that had been slashed out of the PDB. That volume of FRUS was published in 1991.

Two points. First, classified material selected to be included in the Foreign Relations series undergoes full review prior to its release, so in in its highly-touted 2015 re-release, the CIA was re-classifying material that had been in the public domain—in fact in print—for nearly a quarter of a century. Second, the CIA was taking another bite of the apple. Public spokespersons for a variety of Washington entities have been fond lately of claiming raising questions about anything amounts to re-litigating. Here CIA does that on a routine basis.

The Tet Declassified project inexplicably posts documents that have been previously released with far fewer redactions, such as this November 14, 1967 PDB.

My earlier complaint had been that CIA was taking credit for declassification work it had hardly done. Take, for example, the PDB of November 14, 1967, declassified on June 28, 2018—now half a century. Of its thirteen pages only a smattering—two—were released. All of it was on Vietnam. Every other subject was supposedly secret. This kind of tunnel vision is very common. Look at the PDBs from the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East. In the five days from June 5 through June 9, the Middle East text is almost the only substance opened. That had been opened in 1993. In 2015, leaving the PDB in that state ought to have raised questions.

I thought it might be useful to take a fresh look at the PDBs from the perspective of these kinds of shenanigans. We have a basis for comparison because, before the PDBs were re-framed as being so secret, they were regularly subjects of declassification action. At least seventeen were in the public domain before the agency made its series releases. Ten of them the National Security Archive featured in an Electronic Briefing Book in 2004, when Dr. Larry Berman was suing for PDB release under the Freedom of Information Act. I took documents we had in hand and compared them with the series-release versions from 2015 and later. The results are uneven. The most common result is no difference between then and later. For example, the June 8, 1967 PDB was “declassified” in 1985, 1993, and 2015. The text is the same. The April 1, 1968 PDB? That was declassified in 1989 and 2015. The same. May 29, 1967? That was declassified in 2004 and in 2015 without change. Agency censors took credit for work done long ago, to which they added nothing.

February 15, 1962 President’s Intelligence Checklist (“PICL”)

Worse are the cases where work actually was done. Let’s start with the February 15, 1962 President’s Intelligence Checklist (as the PDB was known until 1964). It was declassified in January 1990 and again in July 2015. The censors gutted this document in 1990. An initial section on incidents in the air corridors to West Berlin was all cut. In 2015, when this text was restored, it was revealed to have been about several U.S. and French government and private aircraft that had been threatened, though not attacked. The rules for keeping things secret specify that information can be redacted if its release poses a demonstrable threat to the national security of the United States. By 1990 the Berlin Wall had fallen, East and West Germany were on the path to reunification, West Germany was negotiating a Soviet withdrawal from the East, and the whole Cold War had begun winding down. That details of aerial incidents in the foggy past of 1962 threatened national security in 1990 is plain silly. The reverse is also true. The PICKL (also abbreviated as PICL) that day had an item on Laos that recorded political maneuvering between Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma and military strongman Phoumi Nosavan, then a U.S. favorite. The 1990 version of the PICKL contained the full item. It was a routine iteration of some of the stunts common in Laos—Phoumi wanted to block Souvanna’s visit to the king. The 2015 the entire text regarding Phoumi is censored. How its release would damage the national security after 25 years already in public is the puzzle. Classification operates in a bizarre fashion.

There are further examples but its better to move on. The August 7, 1965 PDB (by then it was the PDB) was declassified in July 1993 and again on September 10, 2015. In the PDB one item reported the loss of a couple of Taiwanese patrol boats in the Formosa Straits, and that one of them had radioed of sinking several targets. In the 2015 redaction the part about the patrol boats sinking targets was cut. What was the national security damage there? That PDB also contained an item on the Dominican Republic that mentioned rebel extremists were attempting to recruit youths from the countryside. Censors in 2015 clipped out that whole text. National security damage? I’ll venture none.

The November 5, 1966 PDB declassified in 1992.

And the same PDB declassified again in 2015.

Here’s the PDB for November 5, 1966, which was declassified under a request filed at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in 1992, and again on July 24, 1915. The 1992 release reported that communist China had carried out a 4th nuclear test, which apparently took Russia by surprise (the discussion of which the censors deleted). In 2015 the censors cut the entire item. The PRC nuclear test was a matter of public record since geologists routinely monitor for seismic shocks and radiological effects of nuclear blasts. That did not prevent the cut. The PDB also reported on German politics, where the chancellor was stepping down. In 1992 about ¾ of a line was cut, but in 2015 the cut expanded to six lines, including the part where CIA recorded who the chancellor favored as his successor. Damage to U.S. security? Nil.

The biggest howler? The same PDB had a pretty long item, most of a page in the original, about the British defense budget. This was a much-discussed subject in the 1960s—the British military position “East of Suez.” Whole books were written about it, along with journal articles, scholarly papers, think tank publications, talks at conferences, and more. A run on the pound sterling and on British gold was in the open, even being manipulated in U.S. foreign policy. Here the PDB speculates that before the British could finalize their budget they might have to have another “Great Debate” on the issue of Europe versus the Far East. The CIA credited U.S. and Australian political pressures as keeping the British engaged, and implied London had come to the end of its rope by saying it might “have to present the US with a basic decision on the issue.” In 2015 this entire passage was regarded as so sensitive it was made secret when the PDB was released. The markings (censors are supposed to note the reason something is secret) indicate foreign government information.

That may be, but something isn’t secret just because an Englishman told it to me. It had to be actually secret. That the British needed to have a debate? No secret there. That American and Australian encouragement kept British shoulders to the wheel? That was a bit of political analysis anyone could add. That the British would have to come to a decision and inform Washington? A conclusion that follows the postulates. Again, anyone could have come to it. You tell me what was the damage to U.S. national security.

Big declassification projects like the one for the PDBs soak up money, as well as the experts who work on declassification. When the projects spin wheels by not doing any new declassification they are wasting money and staff work. When they spend money to reclassify material that has already been released, especially on silly or spurious grounds, they go beyond waste. There are thousands of these PDBs, and so far only the ones for Presidents Kennedy through Ford are accessible. The CIA has long displayed a predilection for re-litigating secrecy and it’s doing that again here. Every single one of these (mostly) daily reports is going to have to be individually evaluated for classified information under the present system. Then there will be the appeals—another round. Then the re-request when the first attempt is denied. And so on. It’s time to change the system. Bulk declassification is the only possible solution.

The United States government is drowning in secret documents that cost money to protect. Funds for declassifying government records are limited. Every round of secrecy review costs money—and the daily protection of the secrets costs more. In the past few years, along with cuts in the budget for the National Archives and Records Administration, the overall situation has become quite worrisome. When a big thing like the PDB project merely opens up the document for more requests it is actually generating even more costs. The original secrets still have to be protected. Every reclassified piece of information adds to the price-tag. Space must be found for the gerrymandered copies of the documents. Money will have to be found for the re-reviews that may, someday, open up full documents. To repeat, bulk declassification is the solution.

Six Years On, Ayotzinapa Investigations Advance

September 29, 2020

Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero, President Andres Manuel López Obrador,
Undersecretary of Human Rights Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, and María Martinez Zeferino,
mother of a disappeared student, display cloths embroidered by mothers of the 43.

National Security Archive Partners with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting on FOIA Litigation

by Megan DeTura

As Mexico marks the sixth anniversary of the tragic disappearance of 43 teacher trainees from the Ayotzinapa School, the National Security Archive announces a new collaboration with reporters and lawyers at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to bring legal action against agencies of the US Government for their refusal to release information about the case.

The Mexican government shared the latest advances in its investigation into the notorious 2014 crime during a news conference held on Saturday, September 26, before families of the disappeared students. From the National Palace in Mexico City and via livestream, President Andres Manuel López Obrador joined members of Mexican Attorney General’s office, the Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas, and a representative of the International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) in reconfirming their commitment to providing answers and accountability to the families of the 43.

Special Prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo at the Sixth Anniversary news conference.

Essential aspects of what happened in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, on the night of September 26 and into the early morning of September 27, 2014 remain a mystery, including the students’ ultimate fate and current whereabouts. Yet through the efforts of the Commission for Truth and Justice and the Special Prosecutor’s unit dedicated to the Ayotzinapa case, the Lopez Obrador government has made headway toward uncovering new facts about the violent attacks six years ago.

Building on the most recent break in the investigation – the identification of the remains of a second student, Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, announced in July – Saturday’s news conference shed more light onto the Peña Nieto government’s intentional mishandling of the case. The office of Special Prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo has detained 80 individuals for their involvement in the case, including members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel and federal, state, and municipal police officers. And for the first time, Gómez announced arrest warrants for military personnel who, together with the police, are believed to be the “material and intellectual authors” of the disappearances.

The Attorney General’s team has also identified high-level officials implicated in the crime and cover-up, issuing arrest warrants for Tomas Zerón, former head of Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC), and some of his top aides. In July, a leaked video showed Zerón’s participation in the torture of a detainee, and recent financial probes have alleged Zerón’s involvement in the theft of millions of pesos to orchestrate the concealing and fabrication of evidence in the Ayotzinapa case. Zerón is currently believed to be in Israel and the Mexican Government has issued a formal request for his extradition.

Family members of the 43 disappeared students at the Sixth Anniversary news conference.

Recent progress in the Ayotzinapa investigation stands in contrast to the previous government’s gross mishandling of the case. And critical to that progress is the new information investigators have been able to obtain from a variety of sources. According to Alejandro Encinas, the Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of the Navy, and Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit – among other institutions and individual informants – have provided unprecedented cooperation and fresh evidence in the case.

If Mexican agencies have begun to provide critically needed information for the investigation, US agencies have not been so forthcoming. Instead, six years after the violent attacks, the United States Government has yet to release a single document of significance regarding the Ayotzinapa case, including pivotal records concerning the Guerreros Unidos cartel—the same gang implicated in the disappearances.

Beginning in 2015, the National Security Archive has sent a total of 140 Freedom of Information Act requests to eleven federal agencies. These requests cover the full scope of the crime and its aftermath, including the attacks, the botched “investigation” that followed, the cover-up, key institutions and individuals, and ongoing developments, with the most recent requests sent in September 2020. Of the 140, only six have resulted in the release of documents—records that have all been either heavily redacted or, in multiple occasions, nothing more than assorted news media articles.

Neither the CIA nor the FBI has released one document, electing instead to fully withhold all records and, in some instances, even refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents in their possession. The Defense Intelligence Agency has dragged its feet in processing our requests: 13 are pending, some of them years after they were received. And despite its issuing of estimated dates of completion – a seeming lifeline for requests that will hopefully be processed by 2022 – the State Department still has yet to process one of our requests, including those whose estimated dates have come and gone.

Undersecretary of Human Rights Alejandro Encinas addresses the audience gathered at the National Palace.

In response to the government’s flagrant refusal to release information in the Ayotzinapa case, the National Security Archive has partnered with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to initiate legal action. We seek to challenge the government’s stonewalling and to expedite the processing of our long-delayed requests.

“Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting is pleased to be working on this litigation with the National Security Archive,” said it’s general counsel D. Victoria Baranetsky. “These publicly acknowledged records are an important part of history.”

As María Martínez Zeferino, mother of one of the disappeared students, reminded President López Obrador and investigators on Saturday, much more remains to be done to resolve the Ayotzinapa case. Speaking on behalf of the parents of the 43, Martínez stated, “You promised that you would help us to find our sons…we are glad to see that you are more human than those who came before you, but we ask that you push a little more. We wanted to arrive today on the 26th with something more. Understand us. Six years on and we still have nothing.”

Six years on, the National Security Archive continues to call for transparency in the Ayotzinapa case—not only from Mexico, but from the US as well. Together with Reveal, we heed the words of Ms. Martínez as we push a little more, and we ask that the United States government do the same.

Watch the news conference here: A seis años de la desaparición de 43 normalistas de Ayotzinapa


Declassification at the Pentagon II: More Silly Secrecy

August 31, 2020

A recent declassification decision by the Department of Defense illustrates the agency’s chronic inability to make wise decisions when reviewing classified historical records. In this decision, Pentagon reviewers denied almost the entirety of a Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum from 1969 that had already been declassified for years. The same document was released in full in 2009 by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). Unbeknownst to me until recently, the same document that ISCAP had declassified was also in a file at the National Archives for which I requested declassification review in 2011. The file of documents concerned SEAGA (Selective Exercise of Air and Ground Alert), a Strategic Air Command nuclear alert program. In 2015, the National Archives informed me that the Defense Department had denied one of the SEAGA documents in its entirety, which turned out to be the one that ISCAP had declassified.

The DoDs recent release, nearly entirely redacted.

Not knowing what the document was but aware of its subject matter, I appealed the denial in 2015 and a few weeks ago the National Archives informed me that the Defense Department had approved partial release. The copy the Archives sent me was massively excised. When I saw it, I realized that it was the document that ISCAP had declassified in 2009. According to NARA’s letter, the Defense Department had ruled that release of the denied information would harm U.S. diplomatic relations and would also “reveal formally named or numbered U.S. military war plans that remain in effect.” Of course, that is irrelevant because as sensitive as this document was during the Cold War, ISCAP has decided over ten years ago that its release would not cause any harm to U.S. national security.

ISCAP’s 2009 release, entirely unredacted.

The document that ISCAP had fully released concerns the Selective Exercise of Air and Ground Alert, which was a program to raise alert levels of B-52 bombers in a defense emergency. Strategic Air Command and Pentagon planners created SEAGA after a B-52 bomber crashed in January 1968 on Greenland; its nuclear bombs were destroyed and spilled radioactive debris on the ice near Thule Air Base. The bomber had been on airborne alert, which had put nuclear-armed B-52s in the air twenty-four hours a day. With airborne alert terminated, SAC planners wanted contingency plans to raise air and ground alert levels for B-52s in crisis conditions.

If war broke out, the bombers could proceed to strike one of the target sets, probably urban-industrial, in the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the U.S. nuclear war plan. In the event that the U.S. decided to activate SEAGA, the plans envisaged nuclear-armed flights over Canadian territory, which required Ottawa’s consent. The U.S. already had an agreement with Canada allowing nuclear overflights, but it would expire at the end of June 1969 and had to be renewed. It is the information on Canada that Defense Department officials believe would somehow harm U.S. relations with that country.

When I made the request for SEAGA documents, I was interested the role that SEAGA had played in a secret nuclear alert ordered by President Nixon in early October 1969 on which I was co-writing a book with Jeffrey Kimball. Following top-level orders for actions that would be “discernible to the Soviets but should not be threatening, the Pentagon implemented what was officially known as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test. Accordingly, as one of a number of aerial, ground, and naval actions that U.S forces secretly took during October 1969, the Defense Department instructed the Strategic Air Command to implement GIANT LANCE, the SEAGA “Show of Force” option. For the first time since the Thule accident, nuclear-armed B-52s would be in the air, in this instance over northern Alaska. Lasting several days in late October 1969, the GIANT LANCE flights were one of the last steps of the secret readiness test. While Nixon hoped that this exercise of the “Madman Theory” would make the Soviets more amenable to helping with the Vietnam negotiations, that was not to be.

In 2015, when I appealed the denial, I suspected that the denied document was about SEAGA. To make my case that the document could be released without harm to national security, my appeal included a number of previously declassified documents on the subject; ironically, one of them was the very item that ISCAP had declassified in 2009. That, however, made absolutely no difference for the handling of the appeal. It’s difficult to know what happened: perhaps the Pentagon decision to keep the JCS memorandum largely classified was more or less a knee-jerk reaction and the ISCAP declassification was not even noticed. Perhaps the Pentagon reviewers believe that the ISCAP decision was mistaken or improper, but their attempt to reclassify is futile. As White House Chief of Staff H.R Haldeman said back in the days of Watergate, “once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s very tough to get it back in.”

This pointless decision demonstrates why the Defense Department needs to change the way that it uses its declassification authority. The Department needs competent reviewers whose first instinct is not to preserve secrecy and who can tell the difference between historical information that should be declassified and information that is still sensitive, and who are aware of what has already been declassified. The Pentagon needs centralized quality control to prevent poor decisions by Defense Department or Joint Staff reviewers from going forward. Moreover, when classified Defense Department records are held at the National Archives, that agency should have a substantive role in the declassification process. NARA reviewers could provide necessary quality control if they had the authority to stop a bad decision from going forward and to require a better outcome. Such a change would probably require an amendment to the executive order on classified information policy or, even better, a change in the law.

This incident is a perfect example of why ISCAP declassification decisions ought to have a far weightier impact than they do. Each ISCAP decision should provide the ground rules or parameters for future declassification decisions on a given topic. When it makes a decision, ISCAP should notify the agencies that basic information on topic X, e.g., SEAGA, is no longer classified. Agencies would be required to observe the decisions. While putting ISCAP in the role of a precedent setter has been discussed for years, it has become more and more necessary. To make that possible would also require a change in the executive order.

New Film Uses Archive Documents to Help Re-Examine Mosaddeq’s Overthrow, and More: FRINFORMSUM 8/21/2020

August 21, 2020

COUP 53: New Documentary on Overthrow of Iran’s Mosaddeq

COUP 53, a new documentary that includes declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive to help re-examine the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, opens for virtual release today. One of the revelations included in the film is that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service – MI6 – took part in the 1953 kidnapping of the chief of police of Tehran, Iran. Norman Darbyshire, who helped plan the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq on August 19, 1953, made the disclosure about the kidnapping in an interview for the Granada Television series End of Empire that aired in 1985. But Darbyshire’s account never made it into the series and disappeared for more than three decades until it was obtained – from Mosaddeq’s grandson – by COUP 53 director Taghi Amirani. (The transcript is available in its entirety on the Archive’s website.)

Read more about the documentary, and the documents behind it, here.

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FOIA Shows Secret Service Wanted Tactical Aircraft to Monitor DC Protests

Secret Service documents obtained by American Oversight through the FOIA show that the agency sought tactical aircraft – complete with “fast rope” commando teams – to protect the White House during protests demanding accountability for the murder of George Floyd. The Secret Service requested the aircraft in a June 5 letter to Customs and Border Protection after protestors knocked down barricades surrounding the White House in late May. The letter was sent by the Secret Service’s Office of Protective Operations’ assistant director, Kimberly Cheatle, who said that the CBP’s Air and Marine Operations division’s “participation in the operational security plan is vital.” The Service ultimately determined that a plane was not necessary, but CBP did provide live information from a surveillance plane “so the Secret Service could track protesters’ movements near the White House and around the city.”

Judge Says White House Can’t Cite Executive Privilege to Hide Ukraine Docs

United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Amy Berman Jackson, ruled last week that the White House can’t cite executive privilege to hide 21 messages between White House aide Robert Blair and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey concerning the halting of aid to Ukraine from a FOIA lawsuit. The New York Times filed the suit for the records last November, and in May Judge Jackson ordered the documents turned over to the court for an en camera review. After her review, Judge Jackson told government lawyers that their claims were “overly general” and that the declaration “appears to be based largely on Mr. Blair’s job title, the location of his office and what assistants to the president in general ‘often’ do. … That simply doesn’t cut it.”

FBI Apologizes for Tweeting Anti-Semitic Doc Without Context

The FBI is apologizing for tweeting a “virulently anti-Semitic” document from its FOIA Records Vault without contextualizing the release. The document in question is the 1903 Russian propaganda text, “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” which claimed that Jewish citizens were attempting to take over Czarist Russia; the document was cited by Hitler and has been promoted by the KKK, among other white supremacist organizations. The document was requested through the FOIA and was released in its entirety, “along with reports from the FBI classifying the book as false. Included [in the FOIA release] is a 1964 report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which they call the text ‘fabricated’ and ‘crude and vicious nonsense.’ There are also several letters to former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover noting a troubling resurgence of the text.”

The Bureau is required under the FOIA to release the information, but was taken to task for not providing any context when it tweeted the text; the tweet garnered more than 16,000 retweets (considerably more than most @FBIRecordsVault tweets) and comments, many of which contained anti-Semitic hate speech. The FBI apologized, saying that the Twitter feed is automated, and later deleted the Tweet.

US Paid Afghans $2,000,000 in Condolence Payments 

Recently-released Pentagon data shows that the United States paid Afghan civilians over $2 million between 2015 and 2018 in condolence offerings – money paid to the families of civilians killed as a result of US military actions. The spreadsheet, which was obtained by the Washington Post and also includes “Hero” payments to the families of Afghan security forces who died, shows that the payments peaked in 2016, and vary widely – from $131 to $40,000. While the data provides little information beyond the total dollar amount, the Post’s Missy Ryan notes that this release, combined with 2019 data released earlier this year, “provides new insights as the Pentagon develops its first-ever military-wide policy on preventing and responding to civilian casualties, an initiative that began in 2018 amid scrutiny over a massive discrepancy between estimated death tolls recorded by the U.S. military and outside groups.”

Declassification at the Pentagon: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In *another* example of a dysfunctional classification regime, the Joint Staff recently redacted much of a document that has been available in the FRUS since 1996. The Archive’s Dr. William Burr’s latest blog “demonstrates that over-classification and silly secrecy are alive and well in certain quarters of the Pentagon.” The document in question was a draft memorandum from Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Kennedy on “Recommended Long Range Nuclear Delivery Forces, 1963-1967” dated 23 September 1961. Burr notes, “According to the marking on the many pages that are denied in their entirety, the Joint Staff made the implausible decision to use exemption 5 in Executive Order 13526 -war plans still in effect- to justify the extensive deletions.” Burr argues that more needs to be done to improve declassification at the Pentagon, which has failed to improve despite Congressional mandates to streamline its declassification procedures and reduce FOIA and MDR backlogs. One option is to take declassification decisions regarding historic documents out of the hands of intransigent agencies, and give the National Archives and Records Administration the authority to declassify records 40 years or older.

Declassification at the Pentagon: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

August 13, 2020

A recent declassification decision at the Department of Defense, in response to a mandatory declassification review appeal by the National Security Archive, demonstrates that over-classification and silly secrecy are alive and well in certain quarters of the Pentagon. Recently, in response to an appeal to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) filed in 2013 by the National Security Archive for documents from the files of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, NARA released two documents that had previously been denied in their entirety. One of them, processed by Joint Staff reviewers, was massively excised although most of the document’s contents was published decades ago in the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States series.  The other, which Air Force reviewers had processed, was released in full as it should have been.  Both documents had overlapping contents and the discrepant treatment reveals much about the way that declassification reviews can go badly or well at the Pentagon.  

“Recommended Long Range Nuclear Delivery Forces, 1963-1967″ – page 1

“Recommended Long Range Nuclear Delivery Forces, 1963-1967″ – page 4, almost entirely redacted.

The massively excised document was a draft memorandum from Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Kennedy on “Recommended Long Range Nuclear Delivery Forces, 1963-1967.” dated 23 September 1961.  This was the beginning of the series of draft presidential memoranda (DPMs) on a variety of defense policy issues that McNamara would prepare during his tenure in office. The version released by the Pentagon had most of the text withheld. According to the marking on the many pages that are denied in their entirety, the Joint Staff made the implausible decision to use exemption 5 in Executive Order 13526 -war plans still in effect- to justify the extensive deletions. In addition, Defense Department reviewers used the Atomic Energy Act to withhold some “formerly restricted data”.

The fuller version of the text is available in the FRUS.

As noted, the McNamara DPM has been declassified for years in various releases, including publication in the Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS] in 1996. Readers can see for themselves what the Joint Staff’s reviewers chose to withhold: almost all of the written text, including “Target Destruction Requirements,” “Relationship of Recommended Force to Soviet Forces,” and “Basis for Recommendations on Specific Weapon System Choice”, as well as various tables of targets, “percent expected kill,” etc.

The purpose of the DPM was to delineate and justify the force level of ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers that McNamara believed were enough to retaliate against a Soviet attack and thereby “deny the Soviet Union the prospect of either a military victory or of knocking out the U.S. retaliatory force.” Even if the Soviets struck first, according to McNamara, the U.S., with its higher strategic force levels, would still retain “military superiority.”  Such force levels would be “designed to avoid the extremes of a ‘minimum deterrence’ posture on the one hand, or a ‘full first strike capability’’ on the other.  Minimum deterrence could destroy Soviet cities but would not provide enough forces to destroy Soviet nuclear threat targets, while a first strike capability would be “infeasible”, unlikely to knock out all Soviet ICBMs. and unduly provocative.

Following the DPM’s discussion of the strategic rationale was an analysis of target or “aim point” priorities, 200 urban-industrial systems and 150 bomber bases, which would be most threatening to the U.S.  Other priority targets included nuclear storage sites, defense suppression, and intermediate-range ballistic missile bases threatening NATO allies.  As for the prospective Soviet ICBM force during 1965-67, its size and its basing (e.g., possibility of protected or “hardened” sites) were matters of “considerable uncertainty.”  Also uncertain was “the performance of our forces in striking back after a Soviet attack—uncertainties associated with the weight and effectiveness of possible Soviet attacks, the ability of our forces to survive under attack, the reliability of our missiles, and the ability of our forces to penetrate Soviet defenses.” 

Some of the information withheld from the FRUS release was declassified in a release of the DPM sometime in the 1980s or 1990s. For example, one of the passages in the DPM noted that the calculations of fatalities and material destruction did not include theater nuclear forces “though SIOP ’62 includes about 270 alert aircraft and missiles from these forces.  On the other hand, with the exception of the defense suppression targets, no targets in China or the other satellites were included.” The Defense Department did not “now expect China to develop a significant long range nuclear delivery force in the time period under consideration.”  The references to 270 and China were not included in the FRUS version. That same release included much of Appendix I, “Assumed Operational Factors for 1965 and 1967 Target Damage Calculations.”

Much more could be said about the DPM; plainly it was highly sensitive at the time it was created and for years thereafter. Nevertheless, that most of text could be published in the FRUS and released in another version indicates that as of 1996 or so, security reviewers in the government believed that the DPM had lost most of its sensitivity and was substantially eligible for declassification.  Nevertheless, the Joint Staff thought otherwise. And even though the document is in the collections at the National Archives, it does not have the authority to overrule bad decisions such as this one.

This is not the first time that this writer has raised questions about the flawed declassification work of the Joint Staff.1 The military officers who have responsibility there are on temporary assignments and the default mode has been to keep information classified, lest a “wrong” decision interfere with the reviewer’s career path.  For JS reviewers, declassifying a sixty-year old document could be a threat to national security if it includes any discussion of targets and strategy, even if the document had been substantially released years earlier.  Even if the document is in the possession of the National Archives, as in this case, NARA’s declassification staff is powerless to reject or modify an unreasonable decision by JS reviewers. 

The Air Force memorandum released in this case was declassified in its entirety by that agency’s reviewers. It consists of a memorandum from Secretary of the Air Force Eugene Zuckert to Secretary of Defense McNamara with a memorandum attached by Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay; both commented on the substance of McNamara’s DPM from September 1961.  Yet  Zuckert and LeMay expressed disagreements with McNamara, arguing for the value of a “credible first strike option,” even though a U.S. pre-emption attack on the Soviet Union could have led to “severe” or “substantial” damage to the United States.  Zuckert and LeMay expressed other disagreements; for example, LeMay urged that Soviet command and control facilities be included among the priority targets. Failure to target them could have a “seriously adverse impact upon our ability to reduce damage to the U.S. and its allies.”  

That is exactly the kind of information that the Joint Staff reviewers exempted from McNamara’s DPM. Plainly, the Air Force reviewers did not find it necessary to make the laughable claim that U.S. war plans still in effect should prevent declassification of this nearly 60 year-old document.   Although the Air Force has had a bad reputation for its handling of declassification requests for records at the National Archives, in this case its reviewers did a good job.2

The Joint Staff could learn much from the example provided by Air Force reviewers, if it chose to.  That, however, cannot be counted on.   Major reforms at the Department of Defense are essential.  The U.S. Congress is becoming aware of the problem and in last year’s budget authorization, Congress tasked the Department to produce a plan to improve declassification, especially in reducing backlogs.  That has not yet been done, with the Pentagon informing Congress that the pandemic will delay work on a plan until the end of 2020. Whatever the Defense Department has in mind, it ought to centralize declassification review to ensure that the work is of the highest quality and credibility. The Joint Staff declassification unit should not go on as it has, without additional quality control and more effective supervision. And to reduce backlogs and to put declassification on a more credible basis, the Defense Department should cede to the National Archives authority over declassification review of its documents that are, say, over 40 or 50 years old.  Without such changes, declassification review at the Joint Staff and other offices at the Defense Department will stay on their present bad course.

1.  See William Burr, “Trapped in the Archives, Foreign Affairs, 29 November 2019.

2. Nicholson Baker, Basesless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act (new York, Penguin Press, 2020), at page 5, citing National Archives official David Fort that the Air Force is the “worst” in responding to declassification requests.

GSA Hides Trump Transition Meeting Notes with FOIA’s Ex. 5, New DHS Guidance Expands Surveillance of Social Justice Protesters, and More: FRINFORMSUM 7/30/2020

July 30, 2020

Trump Administration Redacts Transition Meeting Notes

Thanks to the 2015 Presidential Transitions Improvement Act amendments to the 1963 Presidential Transition Act, each presidential administration must “establish a White House coordinating committee and council of agency transition directors six months prior to the election.” The council, which deliberates on what preparations the administration is making for a potential transition, met on May 27 – and the FOIA sleuths at Government Executive requested the meeting minutes from both the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget.

GSA released one document – almost entirely redacted pursuant to FOIA’s widely-abused Exemption 5, often called the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. This discretionary exemption protects agencies’ “deliberative process” privileges, a wide carve-out that allows agencies to withhold “interagency or intra-agency communication,” as well as any agency-claimed “draft,” from the public.

The Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University, Paul Light, said, “If there’s anything that needs to be redacted that’s a sign that there’s something that shouldn’t be going on. This should be an open and fully transparent process.” Government Executive is appealing the “partial” denial.

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Former CIA Director Brennan Denied Official Records

In a sharp break from tradition, the CIA denied former director John Brennan access to his official records, “including his notes and any documents that he had reviewed and signed that were classified,” which he sought to compile his memoir. Brennan – a frequent Trump critic – reveals in his memoir, “Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, at Home and Abroad” – currently slated to be published in October – that in August 2018, President Trump issued a directive allegedly forbidding anyone in the intelligence community from sharing classified information with him (that same month, Trump threatened to revoke Brennan’s security clearance, something that Brennan said never came to pass because there was no legal basis).

Mark Zaid, a lawyer who frequently represents government whistleblowers and former intelligence officials navigating the murky prepublication review process, called the move “unprecedented”.

In January 2020 Brennan wrote to current CIA director Gina Haspel, arguing that “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Agency’s refusal to grant my request reflects the current administration’s desire to punish and retaliate against me for speaking out as a private citizen — an abuse of power designed to chill the exercise of my First Amendment rights”. Haspel has not responded to the letter.

New DHS Guidance Expands Surveillance of Social Justice Protesters

New, unclassified Department of Homeland Security guidance reported by Lawfare authorizes DHS employees to collect information on protesters who threaten to damage statues or memorials, regardless of whether they are on federal property. The undated guidance comes as protesters are targeting and removing Confederate statues across the country. The expansion to include non-federal property is a significant expansion of Executive Order 12333, “United States Intelligence Activities,” which has traditionally been used to protect landmarks from potential terrorist attacks. The three-page memo, from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, is entitled “Job Aid: DHS Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A) Activities in Furtherance of Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, Statues, and Combatting Recent Criminal Violence.”

Paul Rosenzweig, senior fellow at the R Street Institute and former DHS official during the W. Bush administration, told the Washington Post that the guidance is “a complete misapplication of existing authorities” and that President Trump “is morphing DHS into his private little rogue, secret army.”

Argentina’s House of Horrors: CIA Document Leads Human Rights Investigators to Previously Unidentified Clandestine Torture Center

Forty-four years after the Argentine military began disappearing thousands of citizens following the March 24, 1976, coup, human rights investigators have located one of the first clandestine torture sites used by state intelligence operatives. The clandestine center was identified after the declassification of thousands of U.S. intelligence records last year, among them a secret CIA report on the disappearance of an Argentine diplomat which stated that he had been kidnapped by agents of the State Intelligence Secretariat (SIDE) and “taken to a house at Bacabay (sic) 3570 in the Federal Capital which SIDE rents and uses for official operations….”

The National Security Archive first called attention to the CIA document, entitled “Kidnapping and Assassination of Argentine Ambassador to Venezuela by a Group Associated with Argentine State Intelligence Secretariat (SIDE) Without SIDE Knowledge or Authorization,” by posting it on the day it was declassified, April 12, 2019. The Archive recently re-posted the formerly secret CIA cable, along with a State Department report on U.S. citizen Mercedes Naveiro Bender, who was kidnapped in May 1976 and held at the Bacacay house, according to a new investigative report by federal Judge Daniel Rafecas.

“Without the declassification of this document perhaps we would never have been able to identify this clandestine center,” said Albertina Caron, an assistant to Judge Rafecas. The discovery of the Bacacay facility, she noted, has vindicated victims who had described the house of horrors in testimony over the years. “For dozens of survivors,” Caron said, locating the place where they were tortured after more than four decades “has provided a catharsis.”

Since the discovery of the Bacacay house, human rights advocates have stepped up pressure on Argentina’s new president, Alberto Fernandez, to order the declassification of all remaining Argentine intelligence records from the period of dictatorship.

The U.S. Nuclear Presence in Western Europe, 1954-1962

Recent debates over U.S. nuclear weapons in Western Europe make it worth looking at how those forces got there in the first place. In the 1950s, when fear of Soviet military power was at its height, NATO allies like West Germany and Italy were remarkably compliant to U.S. wishes regarding the storage of nuclear armaments on their soil – and ultimately their potential use in a European war – according to newly released State Department and Defense Department records posted by the Archive. The governments in Bonn and Rome made no objections when Washington came calling and did not even pose questions about when or how the weapons might be used.

Other governments, notably France, did raise concerns but sometimes very different ones. In one important new document reporting on a sensitive North Atlantic Council meeting from October 1960, the Greeks wondered whether the Americans would consult with their allies before resorting to nuclear war, while the French, who wanted their own force de frappe, told the group their worry was Washington might not use their weapons at all in a crisis.

The posting provides a significant window into the delicate issues surrounding the creation and management of the nuclear stockpile in Europe.  Much about this topic is still classified. Along with allied perspectives, the documents describe inter-agency disputes between State and Defense over issues such as whether to grant certain allies’ custody over the weapons.

New Digital National Security Archive Collection Publishes Thousands of Declassified Nixon and Ford President’s Daily Briefs

The National Security Archive, with our partners at the scholarly publisher ProQuest, has published a new collection of declassified President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Nixon and Ford administrations. The collection, The President’s Daily Brief: Nixon, Ford, and the CIA, 1969-1977, offers researchers an unparalleled look into daily intelligence briefings provided to the White House by the CIA from 1969 to 1977.

The new comprehensive 28,300-page collection adds 2,527 documents to the Digital National Security Archive’s ongoing procurement of PDBs, which are Top Secret documents containing the most current and significant intelligence information that the CIA believes that the President needs to know. The PDBs are so sensitive that CIA Director George Tenet once claimed they could never be released for publication “no matter how old or historically significant it may be,” and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer described the document as “the most highly sensitized classified document in the government.”

The President’s Daily Brief: Nixon, Ford, and the CIA, 1969-1977 compliments the substantial collection of Archive documents from the Nixon-Ford era. Previous DNSA collections on the Nixon-Ford presidencies include “The Kissinger Transcripts: A verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1976, “The Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977”, and  The Kissinger Conversations, Supplement: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977.