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“This was a key moment that raised the Soviet sense of threat”: Declassified Documents Show Moscow’s Fear of an Afghan Flip: FRINFORMSUM 1/31/2019

January 31, 2019

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, 1979: Declassified Documents Show Moscow’s Fear of an Afghan Flip

President Trump’s claim that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to get rid of terrorists who were coming over the border is false, according to declassified U.S. and Soviet documents released through FOIA and posted by the National Security Archive. Just as false, according to the documents, were the repeated U.S. media assertions at the time, driven by President Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, that the Soviet motivation was “the age-long dream of Moscow to have direct access to the Indian Ocean.”

Soviet Politburo documents that first became available in the 1990s show the real Soviet fear was that the head of the Afghan Communist regime, Hafizullah Amin, was about to go over to the Americans. (Egyptian president Anwar Sadat famously flipped in 1972, ejected thousands of Soviet advisers, and became the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. foreign aid.)

The New York Times’ Peter Baker featured the documents in a recent article that provides an important history lesson for the current president. “This was a key moment that raised the Soviet sense of threat,” Archive director Tom Blanton says. “It’s a fascinating case study of the necessity in all of these international affairs of putting yourself in the other guy’s place — what does it look like over there?”

Dept. of the Interior Proposed FOIA Regulations Now Closed to Public Comment

The comment period has ended for the Department of the Interior’s proposed FOIA regulations changes. The proposed rule changes – which garnered more than 65,000 comments – include allowing the DOI to preemptively reject what it defines as “unreasonably burdensome” requests, the possibility of imposing a monthly limit to the number of either pages or requests from a single requester the agency will process, and a host of other changes that may make it more difficult to obtain fee waivers and expedited processing. Time will tell whether DOI takes public concern into account when drafting the final rule, which must be sent to Congress and the Government Accountability Office before it goes into effect. As the Federal Register notes, Congress can address concern about new rules “by 
restrictions.” The National Security Archive signed onto Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s (CREW) comments opposing the rule change.

Prosecutor’s Office Charged $36,000 for Denying Open Records Request

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson’s violation of Missouri’s Sunshine Law is costing his office $36,000. Richardson unlawfully told Aaron Malin that the records Malin sought in his open records request (communications between the prosecutor’s office and the local drug task force) were “closed under the law.” The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court ruling finding and awarded Milan $12,100 in damages and over $24,000 in attorney fees. In her ruling, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce wrote that Richardson violated the open government statute “with full awareness of the consequences and conscious design to violate the law.” Richardson is a licensed attorney and municipal court judge who taught a class for state agency officials how to respond to public records requests.

Maryland FOI Request Shows University Commission Members Profited from Probe into Football Player’s Death

A FOIA request from Washington Post sports writer Rick Maese won the release of 110 pages of invoices showing members of a special commission investigating the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair billed the university $1.57 million – “with four of eight members of a special commission billing the university more than six figures apiece for their two months of work.” The 192-page report, which was the ultimate product of a commission charged with determining if the football program was toxic, made no personnel recommendations in the wake of the death, but the Marylan board of regents relied on the report to retain head coach DJ Durkin. The decision prompted swift and immediate backlash, and Durkin was fired the next day.

Bill to Eliminate PACER Fees to be Introduced

Representatives Doug Collins (R – GA) and Mike Quigley (D – IL) are reintroducing the Electronic Court Records Reform Act (ECRRA), which would do away with PACER fees, next week. PACER currently charges users 10 cents a page when downloading documents, and in 2015 courts collected $150 million in PACER fees, more than it costs to run the site. The bill would make the records available within a 5-day deadline, allegedly to address privacy concerns, and mandates the records be posted in a searchable, machine-readable format. The posting delay is not ideal and filed documents should be immediately available to everyone, but the bill will nonetheless improve access to court records and bring greater transparency.

The FBI’s Roger Stone File

The recent indictment of Roger Stone, aptly described by national security journalist Emma Best as a “serial bagman”, is a good opportunity to highlight a September 2018 article Best wrote that details Stone’s “long history of finding himself entangled in FBI investigations into election meddling, political sabotage, and espionage.” Best and Property of the People published 10 FBI documents on Stone’s role as the Nixon campaign bagman, including a copy of the FBI’s interview with Stone. Best says, “The FBI documents include a list ‘highlights’ of acts of political sabotage in which Stone was either directly involved or served as the handler for the relevant operative. In one case, Stone sent 200 Democrats invitations to a non-existent primary campaign breakfast… In yet another, Stone saw to it that phone lines used by a Democratic primary campaign were tampered with. This resulted in Democratic failure to contact many potential voters, while others were potential voters were inadvertently contacted ‘numerous times.’”

Read the documents here.

FOIA and You: Tips, Tricks, and War Stories

Will you be in the DC area on February 13? If so, join the Archive’s Nate Jones, former ISOO director William Leonard, BuzzFeed News’ Jason Leopold, and others discuss the state of FOIA, tricks to crafting the most successful requests possible, and hear some FOIA “war stories” at CATO’s “FOIA and You” seminar. There will be a livestream available for those who can’t attend in person.

The cover page of the NSA’s Top Secret report on the USS Pueblo.

TBT Pick –The USS Pueblo

This week’s #tbt pick is chosen with recent release of new information on the USS Pueblo (in response to a Mandatory Declassification Review request) in mind. The Pueblo’s capture was an intelligence breach of enormous proportions, and, followed by the downing of a US reconnaissance EC-121 plane over the Sea of Japan in 1969 by a North Korean MiG-17, encouraged the Nixon Administration to develop contingency plans that would allow the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Pyongyang. Sailors from the Pueblo are pushing for compensation in the wake of Congress awarding $4.4 million to each of the American hostages held for 444 days in Tehran, although some worry that a lack of awareness about the incident may hamper their efforts. A 2014 Archive posting co-authored by Archive senior fellow John Prados and author Jack Cheevers shows, among other things, that “A small committee secretly appointed by LBJ to get to the bottom of the Pueblo debacle criticized the planning and organization of the ship’s mission. But the committee’s blunt report, which was initially to be given to Congress, was instead ordered destroyed by Defense Secretary Clark Clifford.”

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