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State’s Historical Advisory Committee Report Slams DOD’s FRUS Performance and More: FRINFORMSUM 8/16/2018

August 16, 2018

“But the Department of Defense…has performed more negligently—and violated the statute more egregiously.”

State’s Historical Advisory Committee Report Slams DOD’s FRUS Performance

The State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) takes the Defense Department’s Office of Prepublication and Security Review (DOPSR) to task for its “unconscionably tardy and inattentive” attitude towards its obligation to declassify select documents for the Foreign Relations of the United States series. In its annual report HAC notes that the Defense Department “completed only one out of eleven volumes submitted for review throughout the entire year.” It also criticizes the CIA, which “performed below the expectations produced over the several preceding years.”

The FRUS series is statutorily obligated to publish a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” record of US foreign policy “no later than 30 years after the events that they document.” Steve Aftergood notes that, “To a large extent, FRUS is dependent on — and also helps to motivate — declassification of national security and foreign policy records. Such declassification in turn depends on the cooperation of other agencies who are called upon to review selected documents.”

The report also sheds light on problems faced by the State Department’s History Office (HO), “The unexpected and unprecedented decision of the State Department’s leadership in December to reject HO’s request to renew three HAC members unsettled both the committee and the office.”

Gina Haspel CIA Torture Cables Declassified: Archive Wins FOIA Lawsuit for Thailand Black Site Reports

Declassified CIA cables won by the Archive in a FOIA lawsuit show that current CIA director Gina Haspel described graphic acts of deliberate physical torture, including the waterboarding of a suspected Al-Qa’ida terrorist under her supervision, when she was chief of base at a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002. The Haspel cables detail conditions the public has only seen in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs from Iraq of detainees hooded and shackled, forced nudity, wall slamming, and box confinement, as well as “enhanced techniques” never photographed such as the simulated drowning of suspects on the waterboard. “Release of Gina Haspel’s torture cables shows the power of the Freedom of Information Act to bring accountability even to the highest levels of the CIA,” said Archive director Tom Blanton, who first identified the Haspel cables from a footnote (336 on p. 67) in the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report declassified in 2014.

Conviction in Murder of Jaime Garzon

Jose Miguel Narvaez, the former deputy head of Colombia’s intelligence agency, has been convicted for the 1999 murder of popular comedian and political satirist Jamie Garzon. A 2011 Archive posting on the murder published declassified State Department cables supporting longstanding allegations that Colombian military officials ordered the killing. Written just days after the murder, the cable from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia says that Garzón “had been killed by paramilitaries in league with ‘loose cannon’ active or retired members of the security forces.”

NSA on FOIA: It’s a Dirty Job 

Adam Marshall from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press highlighted a particularly illuminating edition of the National Security Agency’s internal newsletter, SIDtoday, that shows the agency’s dismissive attitude towards responding to FOIA requests. The title of the article is “What is A FOIA Request? And Why is S02L3 Always Bugging Us?” It calls FOIA a “dirty job,” apologizes for taskings disrupting mission elements’ day-to-day operations, and promises to make the challenge of responding to pesky FOIA requests as “painless as possible.” This is not the appropriate attitude for an agency to foster about its statutory responsibilities under the open records law, and one that should be challenged by both the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy and the Office of Government Information Services.

Classified Human Subjects Research

Documents released through the FOIA show that last year the Department of Energy conducted a dozen classified programs involving research on human subjects. The programs, all identified as having minimal risk to the subject, include names such as “Little Workers,” “Hidden Valley,” and “Moose Drool.” Steve Aftergood points out that these programs could involve “physical procedures that are performed on the subjects, or simply interviews and other forms of interaction with them.” The document was released after 2016 guidelines mandated that the DOE produce a listing of all classified programs involving human subjects.

© Misty Keasler

Guatemala Police Archive under Threat

Guatemala’s renowned Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) is in crisis after its director Gustavo Meoño Brenner was abruptly removed in one of a series of recent actions orchestrated by the Guatemalan government and a United Nations office. The actions also placed the AHPN’s remaining staff of more than fifty people on temporary contract, and transferred oversight for the repository from the country’s national archives, where it had functioned since 2009, to the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The unexpected move threatens to jeopardize the stability of the AHPN’s enormous collection of fragile National Police documents. Since their discovery in an abandoned and deteriorating state on a Guatemala City police base in 2005, hundreds of volunteers and paid employees have cycled through the AHPN under Meoño’s leadership to clean, organize, scan, and make public over twenty million pages of the estimated 8 linear kilometers of paper records. A UNDP employee with no experience in archival management has been named to replace Meoño as director.

The National Security Archive is collecting institutional and individual signatures and will help coordinate the international response.  To sign, send your name (individual or institutional) to with the subject line “AHPN signature.”

Able Archer on The War Nerd

The Archive’s FOIA director and Able Archer expert Nate Jones stopped by The War Nerd  to discuss his book The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War. You can listen here.

Cyber Command’s Internet War Against ISIL

The latest from the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault explores how U.S. Cyber Command’s strategy for curtailing ISIL’s ability to exploit the internet may, at least partially, be paying off. This assessment is based on an  analysis of recently declassified documents obtained under the FOIA by Motherboard and the Archive. The documents focus on Operation GLOWING SYMPHONY, a USCYBERCOM activity authorized in late 2016 to deny the Islamic State use of the internet.

Correlating new information in the records with the results of academic research (for instance, from the George Washington University Program on Extremism) allows for at least a preliminary judgment about the operation’s success. The records offer other research benefits, including the ability to assess how cyber is changing the ways terrorist groups conduct operations and the increasing lethality of counterterrorist responses through the integration of cyber with precision-strike tactics.

#TBT Pick – Too Much Transparency? Not So Much.

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with a recent Washington Post op-ed by former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels disingenuously arguing that government transparency has gone too far in mind. Daniels incorrectly argues, like Matthew Yglesias before him, that emails aren’t documents – both are wrong.

This week’s pick is a 2016 Nate Jones article, “Against Transparency?” pointing out that that emails argument:

 “is the exact argument made by the Reagan Administration to the National Security Archive as it attempted to delete all traces of its emails before turning the keys to the White House over to the H.W. Bush Administration in January 1989. Attempting to justify deletion of the email, the responsible official at NARA told the National Security Archive that federal emails were akin to telephone messages slips, not worthy for preservation. Fortunately, for all journalists not named Yglesias, U.S. District Court judge Barrington D. Parker rejected this assertion, ruled for the Archive and against Reagan’s acting Attorney General John Bolton (yes, that one), and granted the restraining order that preserved the Reagan Administration’s emails from deletion. After years of legal battles with both Democratic and Republican administrations, the National Security Archive eventually won the preservation of several hundred thousand White House emails from the Reagan presidency, nearly a half million from the Bush-41 term, 32 million from Clinton, and an estimated 220 million from Bush-43.  Our settlement with the Obama administration ensures that all of his White House emails (along with Blackberry messages) will also be preserved and per the Presidential Records Act, will be available for FOIA requests as early as five years after he leaves office.”

The rest of Jones’ must-read defense of transparency can be found here.

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