Jump to content
The Education Forum

Classified Documents: Article in New York Times


Recommended Posts

February 21, 2006

U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review

By SCOTT SHANE

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 — In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians.

The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records.

But because the reclassification program is itself shrouded in secrecy — governed by a still-classified memorandum that prohibits the National Archives even from saying which agencies are involved — it continued virtually without outside notice until December. That was when an intelligence historian, Matthew M. Aid, noticed that dozens of documents he had copied years ago had been withdrawn from the archives' open shelves.

Mr. Aid was struck by what seemed to him the innocuous contents of the documents — mostly decades-old State Department reports from the Korean War and the early cold war. He found that eight reclassified documents had been previously published in the State Department's history series, "Foreign Relations of the United States."

"The stuff they pulled should never have been removed," he said. "Some of it is mundane, and some of it is outright ridiculous."

After Mr. Aid and other historians complained, the archives' Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees government classification, began an audit of the reclassification program, said J. William Leonard, director of the office.

Mr. Leonard said he ordered the audit after reviewing 16 withdrawn documents and concluding that none should be secret.

"If those sample records were removed because somebody thought they were classified, I'm shocked and disappointed," Mr. Leonard said in an interview. "It just boggles the mind."

If Mr. Leonard finds that documents are being wrongly reclassified, his office could not unilaterally release them. But as the chief adviser to the White House on classification, he could urge a reversal or a revision of the reclassification program.

A group of historians, including representatives of the National Coalition for History and the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations, wrote to Mr. Leonard on Friday to express concern about the reclassification program, which they believe has blocked access to some material at the presidential libraries as well as at the archives.

Among the 50 withdrawn documents that Mr. Aid found in his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.

Another historian, William Burr, found a dozen documents he had copied years ago whose reclassification he considers "silly," including a 1962 telegram from George F. Kennan, then ambassador to Yugoslavia, containing an English translation of a Belgrade newspaper article on China's nuclear weapons program.

Under existing guidelines, government documents are supposed to be declassified after 25 years unless there is particular reason to keep them secret. While some of the choices made by the security reviewers at the archives are baffling, others seem guided by an old bureaucratic reflex: to cover up embarrassments, even if they occurred a half-century ago.

One reclassified document in Mr. Aid's files, for instance, gives the C.I.A.'s assessment on Oct. 12, 1950, that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was "not probable in 1950." Just two weeks later, on Oct. 27, some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into Korea.

Mr. Aid said he believed that because of the reclassification program, some of the contents of his 22 file cabinets might technically place him in violation of the Espionage Act, a circumstance that could be shared by scores of other historians. But no effort has been made to retrieve copies of reclassified documents, and it is not clear how they all could even be located.

"It doesn't make sense to create a category of documents that are classified but that everyone already has," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University. "These documents were on open shelves for years."

The group plans to post Mr. Aid's reclassified documents and his account of the secret program on its Web site, www.nsarchive.org, on Tuesday.

The program's critics do not question the notion that wrongly declassified material should be withdrawn. Mr. Aid said he had been dismayed to see "scary" documents in open files at the National Archives, including detailed instructions on the use of high explosives.

But the historians say the program is removing material that can do no conceivable harm to national security. They say it is part of a marked trend toward greater secrecy under the Bush administration, which has increased the pace of classifying documents, slowed declassification and discouraged the release of some material under the Freedom of Information Act.

Experts on government secrecy believe the C.I.A. and other spy agencies, not the White House, are the driving force behind the reclassification program.

"I think it's driven by the individual agencies, which have bureaucratic sensitivities to protect," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, editor of the online weekly Secrecy News. "But it was clearly encouraged by the administration's overall embrace of secrecy."

National Archives officials said the program had revoked access to 9,500 documents, more than 8,000 of them since President Bush took office. About 30 reviewers — employees and contractors of the intelligence and defense agencies — are at work each weekday at the archives complex in College Park, Md., the officials said.

Archives officials could not provide a cost for the program but said it was certainly in the millions of dollars, including more than $1 million to build and equip a secure room where the reviewers work.

Michael J. Kurtz, assistant archivist for record services, said the National Archives sought to expand public access to documents whenever possible but had no power over the reclassifications. "The decisions agencies make are those agencies' decisions," Mr. Kurtz said.

Though the National Archives are not allowed to reveal which agencies are involved in the reclassification, one archivist said on condition of anonymity that the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency were major participants.

A spokesman for the C.I.A., Paul Gimigliano, said that the agency had released 26 million pages of documents to the National Archives since 1998 and that it was "committed to the highest quality process" for deciding what should be secret.

"Though the process typically works well, there will always be the anomaly, given the tremendous amount of material and multiple players involved," Mr. Gimigliano said.

A spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency said he was unable to comment on whether his agency was involved in the program.

Anna K. Nelson, a foreign policy historian at American University, said she and other researchers had been puzzled in recent years by the number of documents pulled from the archives with little explanation.

"I think this is a travesty," said Dr. Nelson, who said she believed that some reclassified material was in her files. "I think the public is being deprived of what history is really about: facts."

The document removals have not been reported to the Information Security Oversight Office, as the law has required for formal reclassifications since 2003.

The explanation, said Mr. Leonard, the head of the office, is a bureaucratic quirk. The intelligence agencies take the position that the reclassified documents were never properly declassified, even though they were reviewed, stamped "declassified," freely given to researchers and even published, he said.

Thus, the agencies argue, the documents remain classified — and pulling them from public access is not really reclassification.

Mr. Leonard said he believed that while that logic might seem strained, the agencies were technically correct. But he said the complaints about the secret program, which prompted his decision to conduct an audit, showed that the government's system for deciding what should be secret is deeply flawed.

"This is not a very efficient way of doing business," Mr. Leonard said. "There's got to be a better way."

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 37
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

The government is (rightly, I am afraid) assuming that the only mechanism that can prevent this from becoming a reality is 'an irate American public,' which begs the question, is there anything that can outrage the American public into gasp, protesting?

The generation of the 1970's antiwar activists would look at our culture and probably think that 'we deserve whatever we get,' and I tend to agree.

Link to post
Share on other sites

From the article:

Among the 50 withdrawn documents that Mr. Aid found in his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.

But what if our enemies could peruse the documents and discover such schemes and use them against us? That is one of the reason why many of these decades old programs must remain classified! It is just typical of the Clinton Administration to risk the security of our nation by declassifying such documents!

Can you imagine some terrorist organization using balloons to drop their propaganda perhaps even into our children's playgrounds?

Edited by Tim Gratz
Link to post
Share on other sites

Bob Dole asked "Where's the outrage?" in 1996 (referring to the acts of the president at the time). That was 10 years ago, and things have only gotten worse, lately at a seemingly exponential rate. What's going on at the National Archives is just another early symptom of, or another open step toward, fascism (in the name of "national security"), and I agree with Robert that Americans deserve what they're getting from their government. Another 10 years should pretty well do it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
From the article:

Among the 50 withdrawn documents that Mr. Aid found in his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.

But what if our enemies could peruse the documents and discover such schemes and use them against us? That is one of the reason why many of these decades old programs must remain classified! It is just typical of the Clinton Administration to risk the security of our nation by declassifying such documents!

Can you imagine some terrorist organization using balloons to drop their propaganda perhaps even into our children's playgrounds?

I daresay you do consider this as some kind of joke. However, as Robert and Ron have pointed out, this is a serious matter. What has happened is that some documents have been declassified by mistake and so they have removed them before historians have been able to work out their significance. It seems like another example of Bush's government covering-up for the CIA again. It is in stark contrast to Clinton's actions in 1995.

Link to post
Share on other sites

In case you missed the article from the Times below, the Bush had previously shown a sensitivity to parallels between past foreign policy shenanigans and thier own.

Vietnam Study, Casting Doubts, Remains Secret

E-Mail This

Printer-Friendly

Permissions

Save Article

By SCOTT SHANE (NYT) 1400 words

Published: October 31, 2005

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 - The National Security Agency has kept secret since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that during the Tonkin Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam War, N.S.A. officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence to cover up their mistakes, two people familiar with the historian's work say.

The historian's conclusion is the first serious accusation that communications intercepted by the N.S.A., the secretive eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, were falsified so that they made it look as if North Vietnam had attacked American destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964, two days after a previous clash. President Lyndon B. Johnson cited the supposed attack to persuade Congress to authorize broad military action in Vietnam, but most historians have concluded in recent years that there was no second attack.

The N.S.A. historian, Robert J. Hanyok, found a pattern of translation mistakes that went uncorrected, altered intercept times and selective citation of intelligence that persuaded him that midlevel agency officers had deliberately skewed the evidence.

Mr. Hanyok concluded that they had done it not out of any political motive but to cover up earlier errors, and that top N.S.A. and defense officials and Johnson neither knew about nor condoned the deception.

Mr. Hanyok's findings were published nearly five years ago in a classified in-house journal, and starting in 2002 he and other government historians argued that it should be made public. But their effort was rebuffed by higher-level agency policymakers, who by the next year were fearful that it might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq, according to an intelligence official familiar with some internal discussions of the matter.

Matthew M. Aid, an independent historian who has discussed Mr. Hanyok's Tonkin Gulf research with current and former N.S.A. and C.I.A. officials who have read it, said he had decided to speak publicly about the findings because he believed they should have been released long ago.

''This material is relevant to debates we as Americans are having about the war in Iraq and intelligence reform,'' said Mr. Aid, who is writing a history of the N.S.A. ''To keep it classified simply because it might embarrass the agency is wrong.''

Mr. Aid's description of Mr. Hanyok's findings was confirmed by the intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the research has not been made public.

Both men said Mr. Hanyok believed the initial misinterpretation of North Vietnamese intercepts was probably an honest mistake. But after months of detective work in N.S.A.'s archives, he concluded that midlevel agency officials discovered the error almost immediately but covered it up and doctored documents so that they appeared to provide evidence of an attack.

''Rather than come clean about their mistake, they helped launch the United States into a bloody war that would last for 10 years,'' Mr. Aid said.

Asked about Mr. Hanyok's research, an N.S.A. spokesman said the agency intended to release his 2001 article in late November. The spokesman, Don Weber, said the release had been ''delayed in an effort to be consistent with our preferred practice of providing the public a more contextual perspective.''

Mr. Weber said the agency was working to declassify not only Mr. Hanyok's article, but also the original intercepts and other raw material for his work, so the public could better assess his conclusions.

The intelligence official gave a different account. He said N.S.A. historians began pushing for public release in 2002, after Mr. Hanyok included his Tonkin Gulf findings in a 400-page, in-house history of the agency and Vietnam called ''Spartans in Darkness.'' Though superiors initially expressed support for releasing it, the idea lost momentum as Iraq intelligence was being called into question, the official said.

Mr. Aid said he had heard from other intelligence officials the same explanation for the delay in releasing the report, though neither he nor the intelligence official knew how high up in the agency the issue was discussed. A spokesman for Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was the agency's. director until last summer and is now the principal deputy director of national intelligence, referred questions to Mr. Weber, the N.S.A. spokesman, who said he had no further information.

Many historians believe that even without the Tonkin Gulf episode, Johnson might have found a reason to escalate military action against North Vietnam. They note that Johnson apparently had his own doubts about the Aug. 4 attack and that a few days later told George W. Ball, the under secretary of state, ''Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish!''

But Robert S. McNamara, who as defense secretary played a central role in the Tonkin Gulf affair, said in an interview last week that he believed the intelligence reports had played a decisive role in the war's expansion.

''I think it's wrong to believe that Johnson wanted war,'' Mr. McNamara said. ''But we thought we had evidence that North Vietnam was escalating.''

Mr. McNamara, 89, said he had never been told that the intelligence might have been altered to shore up the scant evidence of a North Vietnamese attack.

''That really is surprising to me,'' said Mr. McNamara, who Mr. Hanyok found had unknowingly used the altered intercepts in 1964 and 1968 in testimony before Congress. ''I think they ought to make all the material public, period.''

The supposed second North Vietnamese attack, on the American destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy, played an outsize role in history. Johnson responded by ordering retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnamese targets and used the event to persuade Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin resolution on Aug. 7, 1964.

It authorized the president ''to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,'' to defend South Vietnam and its neighbors and was used both by Johnson and President Richard M. Nixon to justify escalating the war, in which 58,226 Americans and more than 1 million Vietnamese died.

Not all the details of Mr. Hanyok's analysis, published in N.S.A.'s Cryptologic Quarterly in early 2001, could be learned. But they involved discrepancies between the official N.S.A. version of the events of Aug. 4, 1964, and intercepts from N.S.A. listening posts at Phu Bai in South Vietnam and San Miguel in the Philippines that are in the agency archives.

One issue, for example, was the translation of a phrase in an Aug. 4 North Vietnamese transmission. In some documents the phrase, ''we sacrificed two comrades'' -- an apparent reference to casualties during the clash with American ships on Aug. 2 -- was incorrectly translated as ''we sacrificed two ships.'' That phrase was used to suggest that the North Vietnamese were reporting the loss of ships in a new battle Aug. 4, the intelligence official said.

The original Vietnamese version of that intercept, unlike many other intercepts from the same period, is missing from the agency's archives, the official said.

The intelligence official said the evidence for deliberate falsification is ''about as certain as it can be without a smoking gun -- you can come to no other conclusion.''

Despite its well-deserved reputation for secrecy, the N.S.A. in recent years has made public dozens of studies by its Center for Cryptologic History. A study by Mr. Hanyok on signals intelligence and the Holocaust, titled ''Eavesdropping on Hell,'' was published last year.

Two historians who have written extensively on the Tonkin Gulf episode, Edwin E. Moise of Clemson University and John Prados of the National Security Archive in Washington, said they were unaware of Mr. Hanyok's work but found his reported findings intriguing.

''I'm surprised at the notion of deliberate deception at N.S.A.,'' Dr. Moise said. ''But I get surprised a lot.''

Dr. Prados said, ''If Mr. Hanyok's conclusion is correct, it adds to the tragic aspect of the Vietnam War.'' In addition, he said, ''it's new evidence that intelligence, so often treated as the Holy Grail, turns out to be not that at all, just as in Iraq.''

Photo: Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defense, briefing reporters in 1964 on the day of the supposed att

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is from a 12-2-05 follow up story in NYT

Some intelligence officials said they believed the article's release was delayed because the agency was wary of comparisons between the roles of flawed intelligence in the Vietnam War and in the war in Iraq. Mr. Hanyok declined to comment on Wednesday. But Don Weber, an agency spokesman, denied that any political consideration was involved.

Link to post
Share on other sites
From the article:

Among the 50 withdrawn documents that Mr. Aid found in his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.

But what if our enemies could peruse the documents and discover such schemes and use them against us? That is one of the reason why many of these decades old programs must remain classified! It is just typical of the Clinton Administration to risk the security of our nation by declassifying such documents!

Can you imagine some terrorist organization using balloons to drop their propaganda perhaps even into our children's playgrounds?

Tell me this post was a joke. Please tell me.

Let's see if I have this right. You're saying its a good thing that documents relating to a half-assed 1948 scheme to drop leaflets from ballons in Iron Curtain countries should remain classified because terrorists might get wind of it (excuse the pun) and copy the idea.....in 2006? When those children in the playgrounds read these pamphlets they will be enraged, and yell "Hey man, we've been lied to. Let's become terrorists".

I have to know. You're submitting this as a serious post, are you?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course I am serious, Mark. As you know, kids love balloons, so they would probably believe any terrorist propaganda that arrived on their playground via a colorful balloon.

In fact, this may have been the CIA idea in the first place: bombard the youth of the Iron Curtain countries with anti-Communist propaganda via colorful balloons.

I don't want any ael quaeda propaganda landing in my daughter's school playground via a pretty blue balloon.

We can't let the terrorists get ahold of the nefarious plots cooked up by the geniuses in the CIA! They might get ideas they do not already have. Is this not obvious?

Edited by Tim Gratz
Link to post
Share on other sites

Ron and Dole are right. Where is the outrage? All over Washington are statues that depict our history. One inscribed imploring us to "Study the Past" another telling us how truth sets us free. Where does the historian go when the trail gets hijacked?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Ron and Dole are right. Where is the outrage? All over Washington are statues that depict our history. One inscribed imploring us to "Study the Past" another telling us how truth sets us free. Where does the historian go when the trail gets hijacked?

Call me suspicious... but I'm wondering if the re-classification of many of these harmless documents isn't designed to disguise what they're REALLY re-classsifying. It could all be a smokescreen. I'm curious if any of the Guatemalan Operation have been re-classified. I'm wondering if some of the JFK documents haven't been withdrawn. Besides what happened at the Gulf of Tonkin, what else are they trying to hide? Sickening.

Freedom of speech except when you've got something to say that we don't want to hear.

Right to privacy except when we want to listen to whatever you have to say.

Right to a speedy trial except when we suspect you're a bad guy.

Freedom of information except when there's something we don't want you to know.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Of course I am serious, Mark. As you know, kids love balloons, so they would probably believe any terrorist propaganda that arrived on their playground via a colorful balloon.

In fact, this may have been the CIA idea in the first place: bombard the youth of the Iron Curtain countries with anti-Communist propaganda via colorful balloons.

I don't want any ael quaeda propaganda landing in my daughter's school playground via a pretty blue balloon.

We can't let the terrorists get ahold of the nefarious plots cooked up by the geniuses in the CIA! They might get ideas they do not already have. Is this not obvious?

Call me suspicious... but I'm wondering if the re-classification of many of these harmless documents isn't designed to disguise what they're REALLY re-classsifying. It could all be a smokescreen. I'm curious if any of the Guatemalan Operation have been re-classified. I'm wondering if some of the JFK documents haven't been withdrawn. Besides what happened at the Gulf of Tonkin, what else are they trying to hide? Sickening.

It is interesting how Tim always tries to turn stories about the CIA or George Bush into some sort of joke. In a democratic society the classifying of documents revealing government corruption is a serious matter. Freedom of information goes to the heart of democracy. How can the electorate make logical judgements about their politicians if they are allowed to keep important facts out of the public domain?

It seems that on March 25, 2003, President Bush signed executive order 13292. This little-known document grants the greatest expansion of the power of the vice-president in US history. It gives the vice-president the same authority to classify intelligence as the president. Is it Cheney who has been deciding to classify released CIA documents?

Lewis “Scooter” Libby is currently arguing that he leaked classified material at the behest of Cheney. It now appears that the material was not really classified because it had been declassified by Cheney.

The first US vice-president, John Adams, called his position, “the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” It seems that executive order 13292 has changed the situation. In fact, Sidney Blumenthal has claimed that this executive order was part of a coup d’etat.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sidney Blumenthal has claimed that this executive order was part of a coup d’etat.

I'll be honest with you, just to show you how paranoid I am. I had serious doubts that Bill Clinton would leave office. With everyone in fear of the millenium bug as 2000 approached, I thought he might use the chaos created by computer crashes as an excuse to suspend the Constitution for purposes of "national security."

After 2000 came and nothing happened, I thought Clinton might use the Constitutional crisis created by the 2000 election mess as an excuse to stay in office. I felt relieved when the crisis passed as Bush successfully stole the election, having no idea at the time what that was going to mean.

I now have serious doubts that the present gang in power is going to leave office. But I'm hopeful, because I've been wrong before.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...