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CIA Review Keeps Operational Files Exemption as Broad as Possible: FRINFORMSUM 11/10/16

November 10, 2016


CIA Decennial Review – No New Categories Removed from Swath of Operational Files

The CIA likely did not take the opportunity during its third decennial review to remove any categories of records from the operational files category – something the agency last did during the first decennial review in 1995. This is one of the few revelations from the recently published conclusions of the Agency’s decennial review, which is required by the CIA Information Act of 1984 to “include consideration of the historical value or other public interest in the subject matter of the particular category of files or portions thereof and the potential for declassifying a significant part of the information contained therein.”

A lingering question mark from the conclusion is the status of Clandestine Service History Program files. During the second decennial review in 2005 the CIA added a new category of exemption for Policy and Management Files “Including Clandestine Service History Program files.”

Last year when the agency, as required by law, requested public comment on possible categories for removal during the third decennial review, the National Security Archive responded by highlighting the need for the CIA to reverse course grant the public the ability to request search and review of the Clandestine Service History Program files.

It is unclear if the CIA took our advice.

Steve Aftergood notes that, “The new report does not explicitly reference Clandestine Service History Program Files, however, among a few other changes in wording. The significance of that is unclear.”

Torture Documents Released thanks to FOIA Lawsuit (Reveals CIA Inappropriate use of Op Files Exemption)

Documents released through a FOIA lawsuit brought by VICE News’s Jason Leopold officially name Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell as the architects of the CIA torture program. Jason Leopold, Funmi Akinyode and Ky Henderson note in a recent article for VICE News that, “Though Mitchell and Jessen have been known for years as the architects of the program, the CIA never officially confirmed their role until now. This is, in fact, the first time the CIA disclosed the names of anyone who played roles in the interrogation of detainees held captive by the agency.”

The release of the documents to VICE also shows that the CIA’s assertion that some of the information must be withheld because it would reveal “operational details” was inaccurate. The authors of the VICE article point out, “The CIA’s previous assertion that much of the information in the report had been withheld because it contained ‘operational’ details exempt from disclosure, and because it would pose a threat to national security, is undercut by what the CIA has now unredacted. The new details suggest that the so-called intelligence was instead kept secret to conceal embarrassing information.”

Bay of Pigs history finally released.

Bay of Pigs history finally released.

Sunlight Foundation Charts Way Forward for

The Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard recently published a good path forward for building a better Among his comments, Howard recommends “Instead of building out FOIAOnline, which currently enables the public to submit requests to 14 different agencies, the next White House should consult the specialists at 18F who began to build a centralized request portal for the Department of Justice, then begin an iterative, agile development process in the open to create FOIA software that serves multiple stakeholders.” His entire proposal can be found here.

Panama FRUS Published

The State Department has released its Foreign Relations of the United States volume on Panama, 1977-1980. According to the State Department’s press release, “The volume documents the negotiations between the United States and Panama on the accessibility, security, and neutrality of the canal and its eventual transfer from the United States to Panama in 1999; the battle for public opinion, executive branch support, and congressional ratification of the canal; and the formulation of legislation necessary to implement and fund the canal. The volume further addresses other bilateral issues, such as U.S. attempts to influence Panamanian involvement in other Central American nations and Panama’s hosting of the Shah of Iran at the request of the United States.”

Archive’s New DNSA Collection on PDBs Now Available

The National Security Archive, working with our partners at ProQuest, just published a new compilation of documents on the President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that is now available online. This collection of PDBs (PDBs are Top Secret CIA digests of essential intelligence presented every morning to the president that were previously said to be too sensitive to ever be released) will serve as a rich source not only on a pivotal period in modern world history but on the workings of government and the national security system, especially presidential decision-making, CIA intelligence production, and government secrecy. The President’s Daily Brief: Kennedy, Johnson, and the CIA, 1961-1969 consists of 2,483 documents and 19,098 pages of Top Secret intelligence summaries prepared by the CIA and delivered to the president each day. Among the important topics covered by these documents are:

  • the evolution of the Vietnam war;
  • the Cuban missile crisis;
  • the Congo crisis;
  • leadership changes in the Soviet Union;
  • Soviet military aid to Cuba, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa; and
  • elections, coups, and civil unrest in Latin America.

Nate Jones at Southwestern Law School’s FOIA Symposium

Archive FOIA Project Director Nate Jones recently participated in Southwestern Law School’s FOIA symposium on “Freedom of Information Laws on the Global Stage: Past, Present and Future Symposium.” Stay tuned for a video of the event.

Jones, whose forthcoming article on FOIA founding father John Moss will remind transparency detractors that protecting “input transparency” is enormously important, will also be hosting a November 15 book talk at Walls of Books – Washington, DC at 7:00, and an International Spy Museum Podcast that will be released November 15.

Kate Doyle in Guatemala City.

Kate Doyle in Guatemala City.

The Archive’s Kate Doyle at the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland will host a conversation with the National Security Archive’s Kate Doyle on Wednesday, November 16 from 4-6 PM on “The United States, Guatemala, and Human Rights: Finding Truth in the Archives of Terror.” Doyle has worked with Latin American human rights groups, truth commissions, prosecutors and judges to obtain government files from secret archives that shed light on state violence. She has testified as an expert witness in numerous human rights legal proceedings, including the 2008 trial of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for his role in overseeing military death squads; the case before the Spanish National Court on the 1989 assassination of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador; and the 2010 trial of two former policemen in Guatemala for the forced disappearance of labor leader Edgar Fernando Garcia in 1984. RSVP for what is sure to be an illuminating event at or call at 301-405-4299.

TBT – US and UK Work to Prevent Pakistan Nuclear Proliferation

Today’s #TBT pick is a 2011 posting from the Nuclear Vault that uses declassified State Department telegrams to show that the United States and Great Britain undertook a secret diplomatic campaign in the late 1970s to prevent a major nuclear proliferation threat – Pakistan’s attempted covert purchasing of “gray area” technology for its nuclear weapons program. Some of the key documents in this posting reveal:

  • After the French government cancelled the project at Chashma, they learned that the Pakistanis had begun a secret effort to acquire technology to complete the plant.
  • The U.S. role in cancelling the reprocessing plant caused resentment at high levels of the Pakistani government with military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq asserting that U.S.-Pakistani relations were at their “lowest ebb.”
  • State Department officials wanted to “move forward to restore more normal relations” because they worried about the danger of a “disintegrating or radicalized” Pakistan and Islamabad’s loss of confidence in Washington.  Nevertheless, the restoration of economic and military aid could be jeopardized by evidence of a Pakistani nuclear program.

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Happy FOIA-ing!


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