from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
March 19, 2001


In a last-minute good deed that has gone entirely unnoted, President Clinton on January 19 rejected an appeal by the secretive President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and directed that hundreds of pages of historical PFIAB records loosely related to the assassination of President Kennedy be released to the National Archives.

Several years ago, the JFK Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) had identified excerpts of 17 PFIAB documents dating from 1961 to 1963 as "assassination records" that were subject to a 1992 law requiring their release to the fullest extent possible.

Despite the clear language of the statutory requirement, however, the PFIAB objected to the ARRB action. PFIAB chairman Sen. Warren Rudman challenged the ARRB's authority to designate its records as assassination records or to dictate their release. The PFIAB waited until late 1998 when the ARRB was about to be disbanded and then filed an appeal to the President seeking to block disclosure of the designated PFIAB records. Due to the lateness of the appeal, the Review Board was unable to reply.

But in an unprecedented repudiation of the PFIAB's habitual secrecy, President Clinton rejected the appeal the day before his term ended. The decision was disclosed last Friday by Clinton's chief of staff John Podesta, who spoke at a Freedom of Information Day conference at the Freedom Forum in Arlington, VA. The President also turned down an appeal by the US Secret Service to withhold assassination records, Mr. Podesta revealed.

The newly released records relate to U.S. and Cuban exile operations against Cuba between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, said Prof. Anna Nelson, a historian at American University and a member of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board. "These are records that will give you new insight into that period," she said.

"What is unique [about the records] is PFIAB's take on the world and how they presented it to the President," said Steven Tilley, a specialist at the National Archives who reviewed each of the several hundred pages of newly accessioned PFIAB documents, which are now open to researchers at the JFK assassination records collection at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

As a larger consequence of President Clinton's action, it may now become easier to win public access to other historical records of the PFIAB, whose arrogance is remarkable even by prevailing intelligence community standards.

The PFIAB, possibly confusing the United States with some other country, has contended that it "owns" its records and that they are beyond the reach of the law.

In a December 2000 report to the Secretary of State, the State Department's Historical Advisory Committee warned it was "gravely concerned about the efforts of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) to block access to and to delay declassification of its documents. PFIAB seeks a permanent exemption of its records from the declassification statute on the dubious grounds that it provides personal and private information to the President." The PFIAB claim conflicts with the State Department's legal obligation to publish a thorough, accurate and complete record of U.S. foreign policy.

A PFIAB spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Information about the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection at the National Archives is available here:


Former CIA covert operations officials, Kennedy White House aides, and members of the 2506 Brigade force that invaded Cuba in April 1961 will travel to Havana this week to participate in a historic conference on the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

This extraordinary event is co-sponsored by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, together with the University of Havana and several Cuban government agencies.

The Castro government has announced that it will present declassified Cuban records on the invasion at the conference.

See the National Security Archive press release here:


Most scholarly discussion of Venona -- the program to decrypt nearly 3000 Soviet cable messages that were intercepted from 1942-45 -- has centered on Soviet espionage during World War II and the theft of US secrets, nuclear and otherwise. But in a rather startling dispatch in The Nation, journalist Stephen Schwartz stresses the insights that Venona offers into Soviet efforts to assassinate leading figures of the non-Stalinist left.

Schwartz (who is not to be confused with Stephen I. Schwartz, the worthy publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, or others of the same name) wrote in the letters column of the April 2 issue of the Nation, replying to critics of a book review he wrote in January.

Dismissing questions about the guilt of Alger Hiss, Lauchlin Currie, and Harry Dexter White, Schwartz writes: "I am much less interested in the fates of these three bourgeois careerists than I am in those of such dissident revolutionists as Ignacy Porecki-Reiss, Andreu Nin and Leon Trotsky."

"I have never understood the moral compass of certain U.S. intellectuals who consider the sufferings of White and Hiss, or of the heirs of Currie, to be more compellingly tragic than the assassination of Reiss, the death by torture of Nin or the smashing of Trotsky's brain by an ice ax" by Soviet agents, writes Schwartz.

He goes on to note how Venona records corroborate and complement other information about Soviet actions against dissident leftists and others. This exchange is not available online, but further information about The Nation may be found here:

Schwartz, one of what must be a very small group of writers whose work appears in both the leftish Nation and the conservative National Review, developed his case further in his recent book Intellectuals and Assassins (Anthem Press, London, 2000).

"It is certainly clear from Venona that the hunting down and liquidation of Trotskyists was a goal of the N.K.V.D. [the Soviet intelligence service, predecessor of the KGB] that far exceeded many others in importance," he wrote there.

And in a particularly noteworthy conclusion, he asserts: "The success of the American military codebreakers, along with the vigilance of the F.B.I., may have had a completely unanticipated, unknown, and, to many, inconceivable outcome: the protection of American radicals from the N.K.V.D."

Schwartz's work is erudite, passionate, and quite original, but also openly polemical. Nor is he beyond error. He proposes, in the course of a linguistic analysis of Venona terms, that the Yiddish word "landsman" (meaning compatriot) is equivalent to the Hebrew term "am haaretz" (which usually means ignoramus). Secrecy News is prepared to bet money that isn't so.


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