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Rumsfeld Memos Won by NSArchive Play Key Role in “The Afghanistan Papers”: FRINFORMSUM 12/13/19

December 13, 2019

Rumsfeld Memos Play Key Role in “The Afghanistan Papers”

Donald Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes” – memos that the former Secretary of Defense was as fond of sending subordinates as President Trump is of tweeting – play an important role in the Washington Post’s massive exposé on the Afghanistan war, The Afghanistan Papers. The series draws on both “lesson learned” interviews conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, as well as Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes” that were obtained by the National Security Archive and provided to the Post (both the interviews and the snowflakes were obtained through FOIA lawsuits).

Several of the snowflake highlights include:

  • An April 17, 2002 snowflake, Subject: Afghanistan, in which Rumsfeld states “We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see there is something going on that will provide the stability necessary for us to leave. Help!” (From “At War With the Truth”)
  • An October 21, 2002 snowflake, Subject: Meeting with President, that shows Afghanistan had become an after-thought as the George W. Bush administration plodded towards the invasion of Iraq. Rumsfeld asked the president if he wanted to meet with Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, who had been the commander of US forces in Afghanistan for six months. “He said, ‘Who is General McNeill?’ I said he is the general in charge of Afghanistan. He said, ‘Well, I don’t need to meet with him.’” (From “Stranded Without a Strategy”)
  • An April 1, 2002 snowflake, Subject: Warlords, that would be a harbinger for US-sponsored corruption among Afghan warlords. Rumsfeld writes, “It seems to me the interagency group ought to have a plan for how we are going to deal with each of these warlords – who is going to get money from whom, on what basis, in exchange for what, what is the quid pro quo, etc.” On June 26, 2002 Rumsfeld followed up with the question, “Is the DoD giving any food, weapons or money to any of the warlords or to Karzai? Is the CIA doing that? Is State doing it? How are the donor funds coming in? We need to get a sense of the balance.” (From “Consumed by Corruption).

NDAA Declassification Provisions

Two provisions of the House-Senate conference version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act could be good news for researchers (thanks to Steve Aftergood for highlighting them in his Secrecy News blog). The first provision would require the Defense Department to plan how it will meet its declassification requirements, including for “legally mandated historical declassification, and reduce its backlog. (Language in the House bill that would have required similar reports from the State Department and the CIA were dropped from the final bill.) The well-meaning provision is not accompanied by any new funding for declassification or development of new technologies, however, and does not specify what happens if the DOD fails to meet its goals.

The second provision requires the DOD to produce an unclassified report on nuclear weapons programs in the US, China, and Russia. This is a welcome development after the DOD stopped releasing the current size of the United States’ nuclear stockpile, which it had been releasing annually since 2010.

While the declassification provisions are welcome, other components of the NDAA are not. The Reporters Committee’s Melissa Wasser writes that the expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act “could indefinitely criminalize the disclosure of the identity of ‘covert agents,’ regardless of whether the disclosure would present a risk of harm.” In July, the National Security Archive joined Reporters Committee and 27 other open government groups asking Congress to remove the provision criminalizing reasonable disclosure.

The House voted to pass the NDAA on December 12, sending it to President Trump for a likely signature.

Trapped in the Archives: The U.S. Government’s System for Declassifying Historical Documents is in Crisis

The government’s processes for declassifying historical records are antiquated at best, and the entire system threatens to buckle under the weight of terabytes of incoming electronic records, this according to Archivist William Burr’s recent must-read Foreign Affairs article. Burr lays out a number of the systemic failures – from Congress not adequately funding key records management agencies, like the National Archives and Records Administration, to individual agencies compounding resource constraints with needless secrecy.

These problems, in addition to being a headache for requesters and FOIA processors, are bad for America’s self-governance. As Burr notes, “Declassification is vital to a thriving democracy. Not only does it help the public hold leaders accountable; it also allows for a more accurate and comprehensive accounting of the past… Only by unsealing its archives can the United States live up to its ideals as an open society and learn from its past.” And perhaps the best first step to unsealing the archives is for Congress to increase NARA’s budget; other suggestions include establishing advisory panels at key agencies like the Defense Department and CIA, requiring the DOD to create a centralized FOIA processing system, and forcing agencies to treat ISCAP declassification decisions as binding precedent.

New Digital National Security Archive Document Collection Covers US Policy toward Iran from 1978-2015

An extensive new Digital National Security Archive collection covering US policy towards Iran from the Carter through Obama years is now available! Most of the documents in the 1,761-document collection (produced with our partners at ProQuest) were obtained through FOIA and have never been published elsewhere.

The extensive breadth and depth of the set encompasses all major events of importance, such as Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s flight from Iran during the revolution which ultimately led to the 444-day hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 that continues to shape the narrative of Iran’s rulers, Iran’s explosive internal political scene during the 1990s, and the more recent post 9-11 landscape where terrorism and the nuclear issue have been the main drivers of global concern.

Nuclear Weapons and Ukraine: American, Ukrainian, and Russian Cooperation Eliminated World’s Third Largest Nuclear Force in 1990s

The global threats faced by the ICBMs, strategic bombers, and nuclear warheads that were left in Ukraine when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, were eliminated by cooperation between the US, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation – this according to declassified documents recently published by the Archive.

The documents detail the intensive trilateral diplomacy over Ukraine’s nuclear legacy beginning even before December 1991 and describe the vital role played by the Nunn-Lugar initiative. According to Tom Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya, the posting also “directly addresses current narratives in all three countries that are historically misleading. In the U.S., the impeachment controversy features almost total amnesia about the extraordinary contribution to U.S. national security made by Ukraine’s decision to disarm, removing over 1,900 strategic weapons targeted on the U.S. In Russia, the new nationalist discourse dismisses the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction as forced disarmament, forgetting that the consolidation of the Soviet nuclear legacy in Russia directly served Russia’s security interests. In Ukraine, nostalgia for nuclear status is on the rise, fueled by the Russian annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas, while ignoring the enormous costs to Ukraine (diplomatic, financial, environmental, and more) had nuclear weapons been retained in the 1990s.”

Peter Kornbluh Interviews Chile’s Mónica González

The Archive’s Chile Documentation Project director, Peter Kornbluh, recently interviewed Chilean journalist Mónica González about the ongoing protests in Chile for The Nation. Chileans are protesting economic inequality (the country is one of the 20 most unequal in the world despite its economic prosperity), corruption, and an array of government abuses. Government forces have killed more than 22 people, blinded more than 200 with rubber bullets, injured more than 2,000, and arrested more than 6,000 since the protests began. Read the wide-ranging interview here.

ISCAP Releases NSSE Order

This week’s last item comes from FRINFORMSUM reader Austin Nolen, who recently received a previously-classified 2007 George W. Bush administration order on reforming National Special Security Event authorities from the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). (NSSEs are events – like the upcoming Republican and Democratic National Convention – that the Department of Homeland Security deems important enough to be a potential target for terrorist or criminal activity.) As Austin notes, “The document references back to Bush HSPD 7, unclassified, which appears to be the first time the DHS Secretary received NSSE designation authority, which had previously been given to the [Attorney General] and Treasury when NSSEs were first created by Clinton in NSC-62.” Thank you very much to Mr. Nolen for making these available to Unredacted and its readers!

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