from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 25
March 25, 2002


Thousands of pages of historically valuable documents that served as the basis for published research concerning intelligence in the early Cold War years have been withdrawn from public access over the past several years, to the dismay of intelligence historians and scholars who found them missing from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

The records, which were part of a special collection on "Translations of Intercepted Enemy Radio Traffic" in Record Group 38 (Boxes 2739-2747), provided unparalleled insight into U.S. signals intelligence activity in the period 1947-49.

Their unannounced withdrawal was discovered last week by historian Matthew M. Aid, who lamented their loss.

"All in all, these records were essential reading for any serious researcher trying to document the successes and failures of the U.S.-British intelligence effort in the years after the end of World War II," said Aid.

Despite their withdrawal, at least some of the substance of the missing documents has already been integrated into the published record of intelligence history.

Matthew Aid cited them extensively in a recent book he co-edited with Dutch scholar Cees Wiebes entitled "Secrets of Signals Intelligence During the Cold War and Beyond" (London: Frank Cass, 2001).

Historian David Alvarez, formerly a scholar in residence at the National Security Agency (NSA), used the collection in his paper "Behind Venona: American Signals Intelligence in the Early Cold War," that was published in the journal Intelligence and National Security in Summer 1999.

The documents demonstrate, said Aid, that "our cryptologic successes in the years immediately after the end of World War II against the Soviets were far greater than previously believed."

"The sensitivity of these records lies in the fact that when taken as a whole, they reveal the dramatic scope of the U.S.-British intelligence effort in the early Cold War years," Aid said. "Virtually no nation was immune from the attention of the American and British codebreakers, with the exception of our British allies and their Commonwealth partners.

Similarly, Alvarez noted that "A review of this material would reveal that in those years the US Government was intercepting and decrypting the diplomatic and military traffic of some 39 countries."

So how is the withdrawal of the records from public access to be explained?

"As you probably know, NSA has a general policy of not declassifying documents dating from after the Japanese surrender in 1945," said Alvarez. "The surrender, in effect, represents the boundary between an open period and a closed period for access to communications intelligence records. Before the surrender most comint records are open, after the surrender hardly anything has been declassified. The collection in Record Group 38 seems to have accidentally slipped through the declassification review."

A National Archives official confirmed today that the records had been "erroneously released" and that the responsible agency (presumably the NSA) had requested in 1997 that the records be withdrawn. The National Archives, as custodian of the records, with no independent declassification authority, had no choice but to comply, the official said.

In principle, the records should be subject to re-review and eventual release, in whole or in part, according to the Archives official. But it was not possible to say when that might be accomplished.

"This is not the first time that something like this has happened," the official said.


To enhance the security of the space shuttle, NASA will not announce the precise time of future shuttle launches until 24 hours prior to launch, the space agency announced recently. Up until that time, NASA will only announce a four hour launch window for a particular launch.

Critics say the new policy makes no sense because the time of launch is determined by objective factors that are not themselves secret.

The new policy takes effect with the next shuttle launch, STS-110, which is scheduled for April 4 "during a launch period that extends from 2 to 6 PM."

See "NASA to Keep Launch Times Secret" by Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press:

"I trust everyone realizes that this is staggeringly stupid," said Allen Thomson, a former CIA analyst and space policy expert.

"The shuttle is mostly used to support the international space station [ISS], and in order to rendezvous with ISS, it has to launch when the Cape is in or near the orbital plane of the station," Thomson noted. "That can be determined days and weeks in advance to within a couple of minutes from the ISS orbital elements, which are freely available at any number of Web sites."

Likewise, satellite watcher Ted Molczan dismissed the NASA move as "pretend security." The launch of a shuttle mission to the space station is constrained "to a single ten minute window on any given day," he said.

"Basically, Earth rotates under the plane of the [ISS] orbit, so that any latitude less than or equal to the orbital inclination will pass beneath the orbital plane twice per day," Molczan explained. "The spacecraft will be northbound on one of the plane crossings, and southbound on the other. KSC [Kennedy Space Center] launches to ISS are limited to the northbound crossing."

Taking this and other factors into account, Molzcan estimated that the next shuttle launch on April 4 will have to occur "at 22:11 UTC [5:11 PM local time] +/- 2 minutes."

Instead of a bogus secret launch schedule, Molczan ventured, a more defensible security policy would be the establishment of a small no-fly zone around the site of an impending shuttle launch. See his comments on the See-Sat discussion list here:

Recorded information from NASA concerning the coming year's shuttle flight schedule is available by telephone at (321)867-4636.


In a move that augurs the further devaluation of independent scientific advice, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has terminated its contract with the JASONs, an illustrious and secretive group of scientists who have long advised government agencies on defense programs, including classified programs, involving significant technical challenges.

The action reportedly came after the JASONs declined to approve a DARPA request that it accept three DARPA nominees, including two corporate executives, as new members.

It is not unusual for an agency to specify the particular competencies required in a contractor. In contrast, however, one does not normally dictate the composition of a panel that is convened to perform peer review. These conflicting conceptions of the JASONs' role may have contributed to the break with DARPA.

See "Defense Department Agency Severs Its Ties to an Elite Panel of Scientists," by James Glanz in the March 23 New York Times:


"For the first time in at least recent history, the United States government has arrested and jailed hundreds of individuals and kept their identities secret," observed several civil liberties organizations in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit they filed to challenge the continuing secrecy surrounding persons detained by the government in the aftermath of September 11.

"The government's refusal to release the names of the more than 750 detainees is a stark departure from the bedrock principle that the government must disclose the identity of people whom it forcibly deprives of liberty," the challengers said in their latest pleading.

Initially filed last December, the lawsuit -- Center for National Security Studies (CNSS), et al, v. Department of Justice -- has already produced an instructive record that rewards attention.

See selected pleadings from the case, particularly the plaintiff's latest motion of March 18, on the CNSS web site here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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