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New Digital National Security Archive Collection Features Thousands of Declassified Memos from Donald Rumsfeld’s Last Two Years in Office

May 28, 2021

The National Security Archive, along with our scholarly partners at ProQuest, is publishing the second installment of Donald Rumsfeld’s “Snowflakes.” The 24,473-page set, Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part II: The Pentagon and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2004-2006, features 3,994 memos authored by the Secretary of Defense during his last two years in office. Responses to the Secretary’s inquiries are also included in the collection when available, and this back-and-forth helps provide researchers with unprecedented insights into consequential policy-making decisions that continue to impact the United States, including decisions surrounding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror, and the controversies at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

The wide variety of “Snowflakes” also provides unique visibility into the daily challenges faced by the Pentagon. On November 2, 2005, Rumsfeld wrote: “The United States Government is incapable of keeping a secret. If one accepts that, and I do, that means the U.S. Government will have to craft policies that reflect that reality.” On that same day, Rumsfeld sent an inquiry to General John Abizaid under the subject “Journalists in Iraq,” asking: “What is the current policy regarding detention of journalists? Are they treated the same as others detained by Coalition forces?” No known response was forthcoming. 

The “Snowflakes” were an idiosyncratic form of communication for the Secretary. The short memos were sent so frequently to Pentagon civilian staff, military commanders, as well as counterparts in the highest levels of the United States Government, and imposed such a burden on the recipients, that they grew, in Rumsfeld’s own words, “from mere flurries to a veritable blizzard.” According to Washington Post reporter Robin Wright, one of the first to disclose Rumsfeld’s use of snowflakes, it was not uncommon for him to send up to 60 “Snowflakes” on a given day.

The comprehensive collection, which follows 2020’s Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part I: The Pentagon and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2001-2003, provides a remarkably rare birds-eye view into daily operations of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The memoranda detail foreign policy decisions on the following topics: 

  • reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan; 
  • the Global War on Terror and the hunt for Osama bin Laden;
  • relations with Congress, the news media, and the public;
  • concern about rising opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Defense Department relief efforts in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and other natural disasters;
  • defense contracting practices and the Boeing aerial tanker scandal;
  • day-to-day operations of the Pentagon;
  • modernization of the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • “jointness” or the move toward cross service cooperation in all aspects of the military;
  • the military budgeting process and efforts to rein in defense spending;
  • military planning, procurement, and expenditures;
  • nuclear issues – weapons, proliferation, safety;
  • decision making on military wages, benefits, tours of duty, and veterans issues;
  • military intelligence;
  • Defense Department relations with the CIA and Department of Homeland Security;
  • Rumsfeld’s relations with the State Department and National Security Council;
  • U.S. relations with NATO;
  • U.S. military relations with Russia, former Soviet republics, and other countries

Both Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part I and Part II follow the Archive’s litigation (with pro bono assistance from the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom) with the Department of Defense for the entire corpus of Rumsfeld’s “Snowflakes.” The Archive filed its initial FOIA request for the corpus in 2011; but six years later without a response, the Archive was forced to file suit. In 2017 Department of Defense attorney Mark Harrington confessed at an August 7, 2017, hearing, “As far as the delay in the initial response to the request, all I can do is fall on our sword; that was too long.”  Judge Tanya S. Chutkan agreed, calling the DOD six-year delay “unconscionably long.”

The Snowflakes collections complement a growing number of Archive publications on the post 9-11 era and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Related documents can be found in U.S. Intelligence Community After 9/11, Targeting Iraq, Part 1: Planning, Invasion, and Occupation, 1997-2004, Terrorism and U.S Policy, 1968-2002, and U.S. Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction: From World War II to Iraq, among other collections.

Learn more about the Digital National Security Archive, and how to get a free institutional trial, here.

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