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FRINFORMSUM 4/10/2014: Feinstein Asks WH to Declassify CIA torture Report instead of CIA, USAID’s Sham “Cuban Twitter” Account, the CIA’s Role in Publishing “Doctor Zhivago” in USSR during Cold War, and Much More.

April 10, 2014
Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn't want the CIA to declassify her committee's torture report for obvious reasons. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn’t want the CIA to declassify her committee’s torture report for obvious reasons. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Earlier this week, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein asked the White House to oversee the declassification of her committee’s report on the CIA torture program rather than the CIA itself. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to declassify portions of the report, which accuses the CIA of misleading the Senate about the program, with the condition that the executive branch redact information that compromises national security. In what the Senate and others have called a clear conflict of interest, however, the White House announced last week that the CIA would lead this declassification effort.

Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood posits that the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) could help in the declassification process if the White House accepted Feinstein’s request. The PIDB’s mandate is to “review and make recommendations to the President…with respect to any congressional request, made by the committee of jurisdiction, to declassify certain records or to reconsider a declination to declassify specific records.” The PIDB is made up of non-governmental personnel and does not have the authority to declassify the report on its own, but could provide support to the White House, which would be “unlikely to possess the detailed knowledge of the underlying records that would be needed to do so independently.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) –overseen by the State Department and best known for delivering billions of dollars in humanitarian aid– secretly built a sham “Cuban Twitter” account to stir political unrest in the communist country. Documents obtained by the AP show the agency intended to build a large subscriber base through innocuous messages only to transition them to overtly political ones once the platform obtained enough followers. The messages would be meant to inspire ‘Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”’ USAID officials said the program had been “debated” by Congress, but wasn’t covert and therefore didn’t require the administration’s approval. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy, however, called the program “cockamamie,” and said that it had not been described adequately to Congress. A sham social media platform is only a drop in the bucket when compared to other sordid chapters in the USAID’s history, including: its Office of Public Safety’s role in training local police torture techniques in countries like Brazil and Uruguay; funding dictator Alberto Fujimori’s mass sterilization program in Peru; and secretly funding Russian oligarch Anatoly Chubais, “who oversaw the complete destruction of Russia’s social welfare system.”  

Soviet writer and poet Boris Pasternak near his home in the countryside outside Moscow on Oct. 23, 1958. (HAROLD K. MILKS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Soviet writer and poet Boris Pasternak near his home in the countryside outside Moscow on Oct. 23, 1958. (HAROLD K. MILKS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Declassified documents show the CIA played an instrumental role in publishing and distributing Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” in the Soviet Union in 1958 in an effort to stir political unrest. 130 newly declassified documents show the operation to publish the book was led by the CIA’s “Soviet Russia Division, monitored by CIA Director Allen Dulles and sanctioned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Operations Coordinating Board.” One document notes, “[t]his book has great propaganda value, not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”

The CIA has changed course –in at least one case– after a federal judge decided last month that the agency’s common practice of refusing to release electronic versions of its records might be illegal. IT expert Jeffrey Scudder sued the agency for refusing to release 419 Studies in Intelligence articles in electronic format in response to his FOIA request. Scudder contended that the CIA was frustrating his efforts to obtain the documents –and charging him double for doing so– by claiming the documents could only be released in paper form–ostensibly for security reasons– even though the documents were already in electronic format. After District Court judge Beryl Howell agreed with Scudder, writing “[a] FOIA request for records in an existing format should not be frustrated due to the agency’s decision to adopt a production process that nonetheless renders release in that format highly burdensome,” the CIA and Scudder found a “creative” solution: putting PDF copies of the requested records on its website where they can be freely downloaded.

The State Department’s inspector general issued a “management alert” –the second in the agency’s 224-year history– over $6 billion in contracting money that can’t be accounted for. The alert cited “significant financial risk and . . . a lack of internal control.” Inspector General Steve Linick issued both this and the preceding management alert, which addressed “significant and recurring weaknesses in the Department of State Information System Security Program” in the wake of Chelsea Manning’s leaks.

United Nations Helicopter in Rwanda, circa September 1994. Photo from personal collection of Prudence Bushnell.

United Nations Helicopter in Rwanda, circa September 1994. Photo from personal collection of Prudence Bushnell.

Declassified documents show the Clinton administration refused to label the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda as a genocide. One State Department document read: “Be careful … Genocide finding could commit U.S.G. to actually ‘do something.'” Archivist Emily Willard spoke to Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman earlier this week about this document and others, published as part of the Archive’s “Rwanda 20 Years Later” project. The Archive also published the complete series of daily and weekly situation reports written by UN peacekeepers in Rwanda at the time of the genocide as part of the project.

Government Attic recently posted the State Department’s September 2012 “Guide for Exemption from Automatic Declassification” to its website. The guide explains the State Department’s criteria for exempting documents that are 25 years old, 50 years old, and older –“information of permanent historical value”– from automatic declassification. The document does not disclose why some of the material “of permanent historical value” cannot be declassified.

Be sure to read the memo the National Security Archive gave to Associate Attorney General Tony West on the steps the DOJ needs to take to fix its sizable FOIA credibility gap. Hopefully AAG West reads it as well.

west 1

Finally this week, don’t miss the Archive’s #tbt document pick -a 2004 posting on the declassification of the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief, “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.”

Happy FOIA-ing!

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