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New Film Uses Archive Documents to Help Re-Examine Mosaddeq’s Overthrow, and More: FRINFORMSUM 8/21/2020

August 21, 2020

COUP 53: New Documentary on Overthrow of Iran’s Mosaddeq

COUP 53, a new documentary that includes declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive to help re-examine the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, opens for virtual release today. One of the revelations included in the film is that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service – MI6 – took part in the 1953 kidnapping of the chief of police of Tehran, Iran. Norman Darbyshire, who helped plan the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq on August 19, 1953, made the disclosure about the kidnapping in an interview for the Granada Television series End of Empire that aired in 1985. But Darbyshire’s account never made it into the series and disappeared for more than three decades until it was obtained – from Mosaddeq’s grandson – by COUP 53 director Taghi Amirani. (The transcript is available in its entirety on the Archive’s website.)

Read more about the documentary, and the documents behind it, here.

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FOIA Shows Secret Service Wanted Tactical Aircraft to Monitor DC Protests

Secret Service documents obtained by American Oversight through the FOIA show that the agency sought tactical aircraft – complete with “fast rope” commando teams – to protect the White House during protests demanding accountability for the murder of George Floyd. The Secret Service requested the aircraft in a June 5 letter to Customs and Border Protection after protestors knocked down barricades surrounding the White House in late May. The letter was sent by the Secret Service’s Office of Protective Operations’ assistant director, Kimberly Cheatle, who said that the CBP’s Air and Marine Operations division’s “participation in the operational security plan is vital.” The Service ultimately determined that a plane was not necessary, but CBP did provide live information from a surveillance plane “so the Secret Service could track protesters’ movements near the White House and around the city.”

Judge Says White House Can’t Cite Executive Privilege to Hide Ukraine Docs

United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Amy Berman Jackson, ruled last week that the White House can’t cite executive privilege to hide 21 messages between White House aide Robert Blair and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey concerning the halting of aid to Ukraine from a FOIA lawsuit. The New York Times filed the suit for the records last November, and in May Judge Jackson ordered the documents turned over to the court for an en camera review. After her review, Judge Jackson told government lawyers that their claims were “overly general” and that the declaration “appears to be based largely on Mr. Blair’s job title, the location of his office and what assistants to the president in general ‘often’ do. … That simply doesn’t cut it.”

FBI Apologizes for Tweeting Anti-Semitic Doc Without Context

The FBI is apologizing for tweeting a “virulently anti-Semitic” document from its FOIA Records Vault without contextualizing the release. The document in question is the 1903 Russian propaganda text, “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” which claimed that Jewish citizens were attempting to take over Czarist Russia; the document was cited by Hitler and has been promoted by the KKK, among other white supremacist organizations. The document was requested through the FOIA and was released in its entirety, “along with reports from the FBI classifying the book as false. Included [in the FOIA release] is a 1964 report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which they call the text ‘fabricated’ and ‘crude and vicious nonsense.’ There are also several letters to former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover noting a troubling resurgence of the text.”

The Bureau is required under the FOIA to release the information, but was taken to task for not providing any context when it tweeted the text; the tweet garnered more than 16,000 retweets (considerably more than most @FBIRecordsVault tweets) and comments, many of which contained anti-Semitic hate speech. The FBI apologized, saying that the Twitter feed is automated, and later deleted the Tweet.

US Paid Afghans $2,000,000 in Condolence Payments 

Recently-released Pentagon data shows that the United States paid Afghan civilians over $2 million between 2015 and 2018 in condolence offerings – money paid to the families of civilians killed as a result of US military actions. The spreadsheet, which was obtained by the Washington Post and also includes “Hero” payments to the families of Afghan security forces who died, shows that the payments peaked in 2016, and vary widely – from $131 to $40,000. While the data provides little information beyond the total dollar amount, the Post’s Missy Ryan notes that this release, combined with 2019 data released earlier this year, “provides new insights as the Pentagon develops its first-ever military-wide policy on preventing and responding to civilian casualties, an initiative that began in 2018 amid scrutiny over a massive discrepancy between estimated death tolls recorded by the U.S. military and outside groups.”

Declassification at the Pentagon: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In *another* example of a dysfunctional classification regime, the Joint Staff recently redacted much of a document that has been available in the FRUS since 1996. The Archive’s Dr. William Burr’s latest blog “demonstrates that over-classification and silly secrecy are alive and well in certain quarters of the Pentagon.” The document in question was a draft memorandum from Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Kennedy on “Recommended Long Range Nuclear Delivery Forces, 1963-1967” dated 23 September 1961. Burr notes, “According to the marking on the many pages that are denied in their entirety, the Joint Staff made the implausible decision to use exemption 5 in Executive Order 13526 -war plans still in effect- to justify the extensive deletions.” Burr argues that more needs to be done to improve declassification at the Pentagon, which has failed to improve despite Congressional mandates to streamline its declassification procedures and reduce FOIA and MDR backlogs. One option is to take declassification decisions regarding historic documents out of the hands of intransigent agencies, and give the National Archives and Records Administration the authority to declassify records 40 years or older.

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