from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 108
December 23, 2013
Secrecy News Blog: http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/
- A HISTORY OF HISTORY: THE STORY OF THE FRUS SERIES
- TWO-DECADE REVIEW YIELDS HISTORY OF COVERT ACTION IN CONGO
- ORGS ASK DNI TO PRESERVE ACCESS TO WORLD NEWS CONNECTION
A HISTORY OF HISTORY: THE STORY OF THE FRUS SERIES
The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series is the official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy published by the U.S. Department of State. The origins, development and continuing evolution of the FRUS series are explored in a massive new history prepared by the State Department Office of the Historian. See "Toward 'Thorough, Accurate and Reliable': A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series" by William B. McAllister, Joshua Botts, Peter Cozzens, and Aaron W. Marrs, Department of State, December 19, 2013.
Dating back to the Civil War -- the Abraham Lincoln Administration -- FRUS long predates the existing national security classification and declassification regimes. But from the start it has manifested and reinforced the impulse towards open government to a remarkable if imperfect degree. It appears to surpass any comparable effort to systematically and publicly document foreign policy by any other government in the world.
But more than a mere expression of open government, the FRUS series has been a battleground on which fundamental issues of secrecy and disclosure have been fought. Generations of officials, historians, journalists and others have disputed the timeliness of FRUS publications and their completeness, and weighed the demands of national security against the imperatives of historical integrity, with outcomes that shifted and diverged through the series.
"One might imagine individual FRUS volumes as akin to tree rings: each iteration records the environmental conditions from which it emerged; a broader story unfolds by examining change over time," wrote historians William B. McAllister and Joshua Botts.
The advances, compromises and setbacks that characterized the evolution of the FRUS series are recounted in impressive and illuminating detail in the new historical study.
One of the themes that emerges is that the series progressed "dialectically," in a continuing clash between conflicting interests in secrecy and disclosure.
So, for example, one of the main factors in the the post-World War II development of FRUS was the unauthorized disclosure of a classified compilation known as the Yalta Papers, which was a study of FDR's wartime diplomacy. The leak of the Yalta Papers by a FRUS historian in 1954 (which in some respects prefigured the Vietnam-era leak of the Pentagon Papers) catalyzed methodological changes in the production, timeliness and oversight of the FRUS series (see Chapter 7).
Meanwhile, excesses of secrecy generated their own corrective reactions. The suppression of information about US covert action in a FRUS volume on Iran, for example, helped instigate a statutory requirement that the FRUS series must be "thorough, accurate and reliable," thereby strengthening the hand of openness advocates inside and outside the Department (Chapter 11).
The new history of FRUS is not a polemic or a piece of advocacy. It is a scrupulous account of the multiple and diverse perspectives that generated the FRUS series throughout its history. (And those who care about the series or participated in its development will find much of it gripping reading.)
But after hundreds of pages, the State Department authors allow the conclusion that in the conflict between secrecy and disclosure, it is secrecy that been the greater problem for FRUS, for the Department and for the US Government:
"The most significant negative repercussions attributable to the FRUS series have not involved damaging releases of potentially-sensitive national security or intelligence information. Rather, the reputation of the U.S. Government has suffered primarily from failures of the series to document significant historical events or acknowledge past actions."
"FRUS realizes its promise when it fulfills global expectations for openness that promote democracy and encourage human freedom."
The new FRUS history will be the subject of a panel discussion at the upcoming Meeting of the American Historical Association on January 4 in Washington, DC.
TWO-DECADE REVIEW YIELDS HISTORY OF COVERT ACTION IN CONGO
After a declassification review that lasted nearly twenty years, the history of CIA covert action in the Congo from 1960 to 1968 was finally published last week by the State Department, filling an awkward gap in the historical record.
"In August 1960, the U.S. Government launched a covert political program in the Congo lasting almost 7 years, initially aimed at eliminating [Prime Minister Patrice] Lumumba from power and replacing him with a more moderate, pro-Western leader," an editorial note introducing the new publication stated. See Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1964-1968, Volume XXII, Congo, 1960-1968.
"The U.S. Government provided advice and financial subsidies.... These funds were to be channeled in such a way as to conceal the U.S. Government as a source."
"At the same time, based on authorization from President Eisenhower's statements at an NSC meeting on August 18, 1960, discussions began to develop highly sensitive, tightly-held plans to assassinate Lumumba. After Lumumba's death at the hands of Congolese rivals in January 1961, the U.S. Government authorized the provision of paramilitary and air support to the new Congolese Government...."
"In addition, the covert program included organizing mass demonstrations, distributing anti-Communist pamphlets, and providing propaganda material for broadcasts," the editorial introduction said.
The new publication supplements previously published official histories of U.S. policy during the Congo Crisis, which were harshly criticized by historians and others for withholding documentary evidence of U.S. covert action.
By excluding CIA covert action, the 1994 FRUS volume on the Congo Crisis "omitted vital information, suppressed details concerning US intervention, and generally provided a misleading account of the Congo crisis," wrote David N. Gibbs, a political scientist at the University of Arizona in a review entitled "Misrepresenting the Congo Crisis" (African Affairs: Journal of the Royal African Society, vol. 95, no. 380, pp. 453-459, 1996).
In another 1995 paper on "Secrecy and International Relations," Prof. Gibbs said the persistent classification of the Congo covert action exemplified the use of secrecy to evade the democratic process.
"According to this approach, governments seek to conceal potentially controversial activities or ones that could generate public opposition," he wrote. "In the Congo case secrecy successfully concealed government activities (such as the efforts to assassinate Lumumba) that were potentially very controversial."
Historian Philip Zelikow told his colleagues on the State Department Historical Advisory Committee in 1999 that by refusing to admit the role of covert action, the earlier Congo volume "did enormous damage to the credibility of the Foreign Relations series and of the CIA."
The current Historian of the State Department, Dr. Stephen P. Randolph, acknowledged that the earlier FRUS volumes "did not... contain documentation of the U.S. covert political action program. There were also no records in the two volumes concerning U.S. planning and preparation for the possible assassination of Patrice Lumumba."
"This volume consists of a selection of the most significant of those previously unavailable documents," Dr. Randolph wrote in the Preface to the new FRUS volume.
The first part of the new volume "contains numerous CIA cables to and from the Station in Leopoldville, which documents the chaotic nature of the Congo crisis and the pervasive influence of U.S. Government covert actions in the newly independent nation," he wrote.
The second part "documents the continuation of the U.S. covert political action programs and their role in providing paramilitary and air support to the Congolese Government in an effort to quell provincial rebellions."
Astonishingly, "The declassification review of this volume began in 1994 and was finally completed in 2013." Even so, it resulted in a number of redactions, some of which are not very credible.
The Central Intelligence Agency insisted on censoring cost figures for its covert action programs, even when they are half a century old. So, for example, document 170 in the new collection states that "To date covert support of Adoula's government has cost a total of [dollar amount not declassified]."
A helpful editorial note (at p. 5), however, supplies some of the missing information: "The Special Group/303 Committee-approved aggregate budget for covert action in the Congo for the years 1960-1968 totaled approximately $11,702,000 (Political Action, $5,842,000; Air Program, $3,285,000; and Maritime Program, $2,575,000)."
The State Department Historical Advisory Committee, composed of non-governmental historians, advised and supervised the preparation of the final manuscript, and ultimately recommended its publication.
Even with the remaining redactions, the Committee said it "assesses the volume as a reliable guide to the trajectory of U.S. policy toward the Congo from 1960 until 1968 and an exceptionally valuable addition to the historical record."
ORGS ASK DNI TO PRESERVE ACCESS TO WORLD NEWS CONNECTION
More than a dozen professional societies and public interest groups wrote to the Director of National Intelligence last week to ask him to preserve public access to foreign news reports gathered, translated and published by the Open Source Center and marketed to subscribers through the NTIS World News Connection.
The CIA, which manages the Open Source Center for the intelligence community, intends to terminate public access to the World News Connection at the end of this month. ("CIA Halts Public Access to Open Source Service," Secrecy News, October 8.)
Among other things, the groups said that this move is inconsistent with the President's Open Government National Action Plan.
Rather than reducing the existing level of public access, "the U.S. government should expand public access to open source intelligence by publishing all unclassified, uncopyrighted Open Source Center products."
The December 18 letter was coordinated by the National Coalition for History
Mary Webster, the Open Source Center Deputy Director for Information Access at CIA, did not respond to a request for comment.
BBC Monitoring in the United Kingdom provides a global news aggregation service that is comparable to the NTIS World News Connection and even includes many of the same translations. A spokeswoman for BBC Monitoring told Secrecy News that her organization would gladly welcome new American customers if the US Government is unable or unwilling to meet their needs.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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