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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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FOIA Release Sheds Light on Department of Interior’s Under-Scrutinized Role in Immigration: FRINFORMSUM 1/24/2019

January 24, 2019

The Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona. Photo courtesy of Lauren Harper.

No More Deaths Trials Shed Needed Light on Department of Interior’s Immigration Role

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Wright argued the first of the Trump administration’s three cases against the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths in Tucson last week. (The group leaves food and water for migrants crossing the desert and has led efforts to recover remains of those who have died.) Emails released to The Intercept under the FOIA show how the Fish and Wildlife Service, an Department of Interior agency that administers much of the land on the southern Arizona border, has targeted the organization in particular, seeking to blacklist its members from access to a number of public sites. The case is a reminder that while DHS agencies like Border Patrol and ICE have received the lion’s share of public scrutiny for their role in immigration enforcement, the Department of Interior agencies that administer much of the public lands in the American West – Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management – warrant more.

The FOIA release focus largely on the communications of Fish and Wildlife official Sidney Slone, who worked to make the permitting process for No More Deaths much more stringent. Slone’s growing frustration with the food, clothing, and plastic gallon water jugs purportedly left by the volunteers are evident throughout the exchanges. The Intercept’s Ryan Deveraux argues, “The newly released materials illustrate how generations of hard-line border enforcement measures collide with government wilderness preservation priorities, creating a situation in which thousands of people have died and the actions of those working to prevent further loss of life have been criminalized in the name of environmental conservation.”

Other emails show that Slone, who is not a law enforcement official, took issue with the description of most migrants as being people in search for work and sanctuary. In one email Slone notes, “I tell everyone that the illegal traffic on the Cabeza Prieta is almost all drug smuggling.”

On Monday U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco found the four volunteers tried in the first case guilty of misdemeanor charges, for which the maximum penalty is six months in prison.

Trove of Iraq War Documents Published

Last week the US Army War College released a massive collection of documents – over 30,000 pages – that were used by the Operation IRAQI FREEDOM Study Group to produce the U.S. Army in Iraq, Volumes 1 and 2. The study was commissioned in 2013 and finds, among other things, that “Iran was the only victor of the eight-year US campaign to remove Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and replace him with a democratic regime.”

The first volume documents the 2003 invasion, and the second covers 2007-2011.

The release comes at a time when the Army’s historical field staff – in both Iraq and Afghanistan – is having a difficult time collecting and preserving data, in large part because of records management requirements that put the responsibility to preserve records on soldiers. An excellent 2017 Atlantic article shows that the Army’s historical field staff, which maintained more than 20 historians in Saigon during Vietnam, hasn’t placed a historian in the field in Afghanistan since 2014, believing average soldiers could be trained to save documents and hand them off, along with sources of information. The Center for Military History’s Jerry Brooks says this theory overlooked the fact that “that people are lazy.” Historians dealing with Iraq have avoided some of these lapses, but still suffer from fewer personnel in the field than in past wars.

Nukes on Social Media

On New Year’s Eve US Strategic Command, a joint military command responsible for missile defense and nuclear operations, sent a tweet that was bizarre at best. It read: “#TimesSquare tradition rings in the #NewYear by dropping the ball…if ever needed, we are #ready to drop something much, much bigger,” followed by a video of a B-2 bomber dropping bombs. People were perplexed, angry, and horrified and STRATCOM pulled the tweet and issued an apology hours later.

Motherboard’s Matthew Gault reports that PhD candidate Martin Pfeiffer obtained a copy of STRATCOM’s Communication Strategy handbook via FOIA, which notes that “General tone for posting to the [Twitter] page will be professional and no-nonsense.”

STRATCOM’s Twitter account has, in addition to a few off-color Tweets, magnified factual errors. “In November of, 2017, Stratcom shared an article that included the false detail that B-1 bombers are capable of deploying nuclear weapons. Pfeiffer said that inaccurate information may change how a foreign country views US capabilities.”

MuckRock’s Three-Year Fight for the CIA’s CREST Database

National Security Counselors’ founder Kel McClanahan has a must-read posting on his efforts, on behalf of the good folks at MuckRock, to force the CIA to release its CREST database of nearly 13 million unclassified documents that were previously only available onsite at a NARA facility in Maryland. The agency’s excuses for avoiding complying with the FOIA request and the lawsuit for the database are dubious at best, ranging from lack of public interest in the records and the need for the Agency to use surveillance cameras to record everyone who visited the CREST computers in Maryland. The CIA eventually posted the documents online – but only after telling MuckRock and others that it would take 28 years and $108,000 to release the set.

From the Cyber Vault: DNC Complaint Alleges Russian Hacking After 2018 Election

This week’s Cyber Brief focuses on the January 17, 2019 amendment filed by the Democratic National Committee to their original lawsuit against the Russian Federation, the GRU, Wikileaks, the Trump Campaign, and several individuals related to the mentioned organizations. The amended complaint, the DNC’s second in the case, alleges Russian attempts to hack the DNC through a spearfishing campaign soon after the conclusion of the 2018 midterm elections.

TBT Pick – The True Story behind ‘Argo’

This week’s #TBT is chosen with the recent death of CIA officer Tony Mendez, immortalized in the film Argo as the mastermind behind the operation to rescue six American diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, in mind. This week’s pick is a 2012 Foreign Policy article written by Nate Jones that focuses on declassified CIA documents published in the CIA’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, on the origins of the rescue mission.

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Did the CIA Change its Procedure for Reviewing Historical Records? FRINFORMSUM 1/17/2019

January 17, 2019

Concerning News from CIA’s Historical Review Panel Requires Clarification

Dr. Robert Jervis, chair of the CIA’s Historical Review Panel, recently announced in an H-Diplo posting that the panel did not meet in June 2018 as planned, and that members were recently informed “the Panel is being restructured and will not meet again until this has been done. The reasons for this remain unclear to us, and no schedule for resumed meetings has been announced.” Jervis notes that the State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee continues to monitor the agency’s cooperation in producing FRUS volumes, but goes on to make several vague references to possible changes to the way the agency reviews historical documents. The announcement states that, had the panel met for its most recent meeting, it would have discussed, among other items, “the implications of the change in the reviewing of documents in the 25-year program from making redactions to the application of the pass/fail standard to the entire document, the review processes and standards for documents that are 50 years old; the possibilities of closer contact with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesters; the CIA’s role in reviewing documents for the presidential libraries; and the criteria for selecting topics for special releases.”

Clarification is needed for the opaque references to what could be significant policy changes for the historical community.

Up to Congress and the Courts to Enforce the Presidential Records Act

After news broke that President Trump confiscated notes his interpreter took during his 2017 meeting with Vladimir Putin, National Security Archive director Tom Blanton spoke with Public Radio International’s The World program to explain why – in theory – President Trump can’t destroy or hide records at whim. The Presidential Records Act, passed in 1978 because President Nixon wanted to hide Watergate tapes from the public, mandates that the president “can’t destroy records without the permission of the archivist of the United States, and the archivist of the United States is supposed to bring in the attorney general to take action and stop.” Blanton notes that it’s really up to Congress and the courts, saying “Where the big disputes are is how much review the courts can have over what the president does and how much people like us at the National Security Archive can intervene” to protect records at risk of destruction.

Of the interpreter’s notes Blanton draws another Nixon parallel:

Nixon and Kissinger were pretty famous for creating multiple versions of a transcript of a conversation with a foreign official. So, they would make one version that was complete and that would stay only in a White House safe or in Kissinger’s safe. Another would be more of a summary with kind of the cuss words cut out that could be shared with the State Department. Another would be like a one-page gist, and they’d share that with the Defense Department.

And so, for historians who’ve been putting together those conversations, the tapes really help because they showed the full Monty, if you will, and then all these partial versions that we’ve resurrected, you kind of see a consistent pattern of deceit. Trump’s effort to prevent even a transcript or so-called memoranda of conversation from being available at all is beyond the pale.

OPEN Government Data Act Now Law

The OPEN Government Data Act, which mandates that public information be open by default and in a machine-readable format, is now law. President Trump signed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making Act of 2018, which includes the OPEN Data Act, on January 15. As the Data Coalition notes, the law also creates “standards for making federal government data available to the public” and requires regular oversight by the Government Accountability Office.

Image courtesy of Reveal.

Tech Companies Tried to Hide Abysmal Diversity Stats Behind FOIA’s Exemption 4. Thanks to a FOIA Suit They Can’t Anymore

Silicon Valley titans Palantir Technologies and Oracle both argued for years that their diversity figures were trade secrets and couldn’t be released through the FOIA. The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) bought the argument for several years, citing Exemption 4 in denying the FOIA request for the tech companies EEO-1 federally mandated diversity reports (Exemption 4 is intended to protect trade secrets and confidential financial information). Palantir went so far as to tell the Labor Department that revealing their diversity numbers would harm them because it would allow “competitors could identify where Palantir has made significant progress in hiring women and minorities and target recruitment strategies at specific job categories to steal this talent from Palantir.”

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting appealed the Labor Department’s denial and eventually sued – and won – on the grounds that the trade secrets argument was unjustified and that none of the data was confidential. When the reports were released they showed that both Palantir and Oracle huddled towards the bottom rung of diverse workplaces, even by Silicon Valley standards; Palantir for example “had no female executives and only one woman, who was white, among its managers.”

SNAP case goes to Supreme Court with Broad Implications for Exemption 4

MuckRock’s Michael Morisy has a good rundown of the potential implications of the upcoming Supreme Court fight concerning public access to sales figures for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Investigative reporter for the Argus Leader, Jonathan Ellis – who has an excellent write-up of the case here – requested the data for the reimbursements that are part of the food stamps program, a FOIA fight he won in the district court and the appellate court. The Food Marketing Institute has appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case in April. In the interim, the Food Marketing Institute tried to sneak a B(3) exemption into the most recent Farm Bill that would have kept the information confidential; the exemption was part of the House bill but not the Senate’s and was eventually dropped.

As Morisy notes, “If the decisions in favor of release are overturned, lack of access to this data will continue to hold back public spending accountability and nutrition research around the country — and provide corporations a powerful tool to keep public data proprietary in other cases.” Kel McClanahan, Esq., executive director of National Security Counselors adds, “A ruling for the requester would mean nothing more than a continuation of the status quo, where business information can only be withheld under Exemption (b)(4) upon a showing of competitive harm. But a ruling against the requester would turn Exemption (b)(4) into some sort of super-exemption, where the mere fact that business information had not previously been made public would suffice to withhold it.”

FOIA during a Government Shutdown

Curious about the status of your FOIA request during the government shutdown? FOIA Wiki has a good entry detailing the statements put out during the 2013 shutdown by both the Office of Government Information Services and the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy. OGIS stated during the 2013 shutdown that “the Department of Justice’s Handbook for Agency Annual Freedom of Information Act Reports says that ‘even where an entire agency FOIA office is closed due to weather conditions, furloughed employees, or other circumstances outside of these specified in the statute, the agency must count those days for reporting purposes.’” OIP stated of the same shutdown, “agencies should count as part of their response times for FOIA requests and appeals the eleven days when the government was closed, which excludes the Saturdays, Sundays, and the one legal public holiday that occurred during the shutdown.”

Requesters who choose to submit FOIAs to those agencies closed during the shutdown should be conscientious about following-up to ensure that their request was received and a tracking number was issued.

Comments on Proposed DOI FOIA Changes Not Posted During Shutdown

The public has submitted at least 1,219 comments in response to the Interior Department’ proposed FOIA regulation changes that would allow the agency to preemptively reject what it defines as “unreasonably burdensome” requests, and the possibility of imposing a monthly limit to the number of either pages or requests from a single requester the agency will process, among other concerning changes. But because of the government shutdown, none of the comments have been posted “for public consumption. The result is a kind of regulatory shadow play.”

The comment period is scheduled to end on January 28, but a coalition of more than 150 organizations requested the period be extended at least 120 days.

Taiwan’s Bomb

From the late 1960s until the late 1980s, U.S. government officials worried that Taiwanese leaders might make a “fundamental decision” to develop nuclear weapons. Documents published recently for the first time by the National Security Archive illustrate Washington’s efforts to keep tabs on military and scientific research and to intervene when they believed that Taiwan’s nuclear R&D had gone too far. The posting builds on and adds documentary detail to an important recent publication by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), David Albright and Andrea Stricker’s Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program: Nuclear Weapons on Demand. Their book provides the most comprehensive account to date of the nuclear program, in part by drawing on documents from the National Security Archive.

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Tom Blanton’s ISOO 40th Anniversary Keynote Speech

January 15, 2019

Our director Tom Blanton recently gave the keynote speech at the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) 40th anniversary event. ISOO, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is charged with standardizing classification and ensuring that information is properly shared.

Blanton, whose speech begins at the 21-minute mark, discussed the origins of ISOO, praised former Director Steve Garfinkel’s ability to push through bulk declassification, and spelled out what NARA needs to do to bring its declassification programs into the twenty-first century.

The whole video is available here:

FOIA Shows How Congressional Diversity Helps Underrepresented Groups, OPEN Data Act Poised to Become Law, and More: FRINFORMSUM 1/11/2019

January 10, 2019

FOIA Shows Benefits of Diversity in Congress

A Washington Post analysis found that legislators from underrepresented groups “disproportionately advocate for these communities.” For example, “Legislators who are women, minorities and/or veterans advocate more actively for citizens from their respective groups. In fact, they’re about six to nine percentage points more likely to contact agencies on behalf of constituents with whom they share a background, compared to their non-veteran, male or white fellow legislators.” The Post’s Kenneth Lowande, Melinda Ritchie, and Erinn Lauterbach made this discovery when they sent 73 Freedom of Information Act requests to various agencies to “to study whether legislators who are members of minority groups are more likely to advocate and intervene with the bureaucracy on behalf of those communities.” Fifteen agencies responded to the FOIA requests with logs that included “correspondence from all members of Congress who served from 2005 to 2014.” The study was undertaken to see if members of underrepresented communities have reason to be optimistic with the new Congress, which is the most diverse in history.

OPEN Data Act Poised to Become Law

The OPEN Government Data Act recently passed Congress as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act and awaits President Trump’s signature. As the Data Coalition notes, “The bill sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.” The Act would make an agency’s failure to use open data “legally questionable,” and requires agencies to “maintain, and publish, a comprehensive data inventory of all data assets. The data inventory will help agencies and open data advocates identify key government information resources and transform them from documents and siloed databases into open data.”

Open Government Partnership Places US Under Review

Alex Howard recently published an update on the US’s lackluster involvement in the Open Government Partnership under the Trump administration. In 2017 the administration committed itself to participating in the multilateral initiative to promote open government, but the US has been placed under review for procedural violations after failing to deliver its 4th National Action Plan for Open Government. Howard notes that “if the USA fails to deliver a new NAP during this Review period (in this case, by August of this year), the OGP Steering Committee will likely vote to agree to making the country inactive.”

Trump Visitor Logs On Appeal in 2nd Circuit

The National Security Archive, together with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), is continuing the fight to open the White House visitor logs and the records of presidential visitors to Trump properties, including Mar-a-Lago. The Obama administration routinely released the logs, which are created and controlled by the Secret Service, with no harm to national security or personal privacy. The three organizations filed an appeal in the Second Circuit this week, arguing that the logs are agency records clearly subject to the FOIA, not presidential records that only become available starting five years after the president leaves office.

Read the appeal and the rest of the story here.

MuckRocks Breaks Down What’s in the Interior Department’s Proposed FOIA Changes

MuckRock and Russ Kick recently published an excellent piece breaking down what’s in the Interior Department’s proposed FOIA changes. The proposed FOIA regulation changes were published in the Federal Register the week between Christmas and New Years and the public only has until January 28th to comment. Of highest concern are DOI’s attempt 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.

Digital National Security Archive named 2018’s Outstanding Academic Title

Choice Magazine, the publishing arm of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), recently named the Digital National Security Archive an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2018.  The annual award goes to publications deemed especially worthy of attention from academic librarians seeking to build research collections. DNSA is the Archive’s flagship publication launched in 1989 that includes over 50 collections of declassified documents obtained through in-depth archival research and targeted requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Documentation consists of White House records, international summit meeting transcripts, top-level briefing papers, CIA assessments and covert action reports, military planning documents, State Department telegrams, and other high-level, previously classified materials resulting in what the Washington Journalism Review has called “a state-of-the-art index to history.”

Review the entire collection series here.

When Hackers Went to the Hill — Revisiting the L0pht Hearings of 1998

More than 20 years ago, in May 1998, seven hackers from the Boston-based “hacker think tank” L0pht Heavy Industries, appeared alongside Dr. Peter Neumann, a private sector expert on computer security, before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs for one of the first-ever Congressional hearings focusing specifically on cybersecurity. Two decades later, many of the problems these experts pointed to are still being confronted

The Archive’s Cyber Vault recently published the transcripts of these ground-breaking hearings along with a variety of subsequent official reports, testimony, and related materials that trace the evolution of U.S. government and public awareness of and approaches to the challenges, problems, and threats posed by the world of cyber. Taken together, the documents offer a glimpse into the scope and complexity of numerous issues that still lack meaningful answers.

TBT Pick – Revisiting the Soviet War in Afghanistan

A 2001 series from the Archive’s John Prados and Svetlana Savranskaya analyzes declassified records and the memoirs of former Soviet officials to examine Soviet policymaking, military operations, and lessons learned from the USSR’s war in Afghanistan – a bloody, ten-year conflict that pitted Soviet military forces against CIA-backed Afghan rebels. The collection also includes excerpts from an essay written by analyst Steve Galster as an introduction to the Archive’s microfiche collection, Afghanistan: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1973-1990, published in 1990.

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“Choice” Magazine Names “Digital National Security Archive” an Outstanding Academic Title for 2018

January 8, 2019

Choice Magazine, the publishing arm of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), has named the Digital National Security Archive an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2018.  The annual award goes to publications deemed especially worthy of attention from academic librarians seeking to build research collections.

The Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) is the Archive’s flagship publication series featuring declassified documents obtained through in-depth archival research and targeted requests under the Freedom of Information Act. It was launched in 1989 and includes 54 collections as of the end of 2018.  It is published by the academic publisher ProQuest.

Curated by foreign policy specialists with guidance from former officials and top academic experts, the materials are indexed by librarians using extensive item-level metadata and an in-house database of over 100,000 controlled authority terms.

Documentation consists of White House records, international summit meeting transcripts, top-level briefing papers, CIA assessments and covert action reports, military planning documents, State Department telegrams, and other high-level, previously classified materials resulting in what the Washington Journalism Review has called “a state-of-the-art index to history.”

Researchers can easily browse or search and identify specific records via multiple points of access (title, date, origin, destination, keyword, etc.), and go straight to facsimiles of the individual records.  Transcriptions of difficult-to-read items are provided, as are separate versions of materials that have been excised differently by government authorities at various times.

Topics range from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the war on terrorism, Afghanistan to Iraq, Argentina to the Philippines, and presidential directives to military uses of space.

A sampling of DNSA’s most recent publications includes:

CIA Covert Operations, Part III: From Kennedy to Nixon

The third in the Archive’s unparalleled series of primary sources on the CIA’s dark side, curated by Pulitzer-nominated author John Prados, takes the story from the Bay of Pigs disaster into the most controversial secret programs of the Vietnam War such as the Operation Phoenix assassinations.

Soviet-U.S. Relations: The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991

This extraordinary collection includes declassified transcripts of every word the Soviet and American leaders actually said to each other in the historic summit meetings from Geneva 1985 through Moscow 1991, together with the previously secret preparatory and after-action reports from both the Russian and American sides.

Cuba and the U.S.: The Declassified History of Negotiations to Normalize Relations, 1959-2016

Over 1,700 high-level documents on more than 50 years of secret dialogue between the U. S. and Cuba. Based on years of research, this unique set reveals the hidden history of back-channel presidential diplomacy that led to the historic re-establishment of relations in 2015.

Targeting Iraq, Part I: Planning, Invasion, and Occupation, 1997-2004

2,000+ internal documents on one of the most significant U.S. foreign policy issues of our era.  Previously secret policy records from official U.S. and British sources encompass plans for regime change, war and occupation, and the controversy over weapons of mass destruction.


New Digital National Security Archive Document Collection Spotlights Soviet-U.S. Relations at Cold War’s End

December 19, 2018

The National Security Archive, working with our partners at ProQuest, is publishing a new compilation of documents on Soviet-U.S. relations at the end of the Cold War. The 1,911-document collection, Soviet-U.S. Relations: The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991, is relevant for researchers studying a range of issues, including:

  • The transformation of U.S.-USSR relations from perestroika until the dissolution of the Soviet Union;
  • The dynamics of superpower relations at the end of the Cold War;
  • And the transformation of the international system in the late 1980s.

The collection features a complete series of U.S.-Soviet summit transcripts from Geneva 1985 through Madrid 1991, between Gorbachev and U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as memoranda of numerous phone calls between Bush and the Soviet leader, and Reagan and Gorbachev’s letters to each other. From early exchanges of letters between Reagan and Gorbachev after the latter came to power in March 1985 to the last phone call with Bush on December 31, 1991, these documents show the development of a productive relationship based on trust and a mutual interest in reversing the arms race, which provided a basis for spectacular achievements across the entire spectrum of foreign policy issues for both countries and even domestic reform in the USSR.

During the seven years covered in the set, U.S.-Soviet cooperation produced major advances in bilateral relations and in settling third world conflicts. In the most important area of arms control, the two countries signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in December 1987, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapon for the first time in history. In 1990, members of NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization signed the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty reducing force levels in Europe. In July 1991, at the Moscow Summit, Bush and Gorbachev signed the START I Treaty which decreased numbers of strategic nuclear arms. Documents on negotiations of these treaties from both sides are part of this set, including very rare verbatim records of military-to-military negotiations from the Soviet side.

The end of the Cold War and the new partnership between the United States and the Soviet Union allowed the superpowers to actively engage in mediation of third world disputes, often putting pressure on their own allies in the local conflicts to resolve them peacefully. Primary sources documenting U.S.-Soviet negotiations and joint work on issues such as ending the Soviet war in Afghanistan, resolving conflicts in Southern Africa and Central America, and promoting democratic elections in Nicaragua show how far both sides were willing to go to transform the entire system of international relations and alliances.

In Europe, where the effect of the end of the Cold War was most dramatic, the set covers negotiations on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe, the evolution of Gorbachev’s idea of the “common European home,” as well as Bush’s concept of “Europe whole and free,” and the interactions of both U.S. and Soviet officials with leaders of East European countries. Discussions of German unification and the related issues of the future of NATO and the Warsaw Pact constitute an important facet of the collection.

U.S. documents in this collection were obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the State Department, Defense Department, the CIA, and the Clinton and Bush presidential libraries. On the Soviet side, notes of Politburo sessions produced by official stenographers and by Gorbachev’s chief foreign policy adviser Anatoly S. Chernyaev document crucial Soviet discussions and evolving cooperative policy toward the United States. Soviet materials relating to the period covered in the set were obtained by National Security Archive staff with the cooperation of the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow and from declassifications in key Russian archives.

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