State Dept Offers New Caveat on Nixon Tapes

The transcripts of Nixon White House tape recordings that are published in the State Department’s official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series are merely “interpretations,” not official records, the State Department acknowledged in the latest FRUS volume that was released this month.  As such, those transcripts are susceptible to revision and correction.

“Readers are advised that the tape recording is the official document, while the transcript represents solely an interpretation of that document,” the new FRUS volume states in the Preface.  The statement goes beyond previous FRUS references to poor tape quality.  It is evidently a response to a simmering scholarly controversy over the accuracy of published FRUS transcriptions of the Nixon tapes, which appear to include clear errors.

Here are some examples of suspect “interpretations” from the Nixon FRUS Volume XIV (Soviet Union, October 1971-May 1972) that was published in December 2006 (with audio clips courtesy of

FRUS, as published (p.171):  Kissinger: “On the other hand, you and I know that you were going to go for broke against the North.”
Probable Correction:  Kissinger: “On the other hand, you and I know that you weren’t going to go for broke against the North.” (.mp3).

FRUS, as published (p.172): “What they do is they’re asking for, cuddling for, the things we are going to do anyway. Like troop withdrawal.”
Probable Correction: “What they do is they’re asking toughly for the things they know we’re going to do anyway, like troop withdrawals.” (.mp3)

FRUS, as published (p.743):  Nixon: “You see, that’s the point [South Vietnamese President Nguyen] Thieu made which is tremendously compelling.”
Probable Correction:  Nixon: “You see? That’s the point that you made which is tremendously compelling.” (.mp3)

FRUS, as published (p.746): Nixon: “And, you see, I’m going to lift the blockade as I’ve said. It’s not over yet–the bombing’s not over yet.”
Probable Correction: Nixon: “And, you see, that I’m going to live with the blockade as I’ve said. Well, it’s an ultimatum.” Kissinger: “Yeah.” Nixon: “Bombing is not an ultimatum.” (.mp3)

There is widespread agreement that it is not possible to produce a perfect transcript of the Nixon tapes.  “Audio fidelity was never one of the design considerations of the original, surreptitious taping system,” said one former official.  But by publishing the transcripts alongside other undisputed archival records, the FRUS series has appeared to boast a higher level of transcription accuracy than it has in fact provided.

“It is perfectly possible for two experienced auditors to transcribe two conflicting versions of the same conversation,” said Dr. William B. McAllister, the Acting General Editor of the FRUS series, though he admitted that only one of them could be correct.  He said that the problem of interpreting official records was not altogether new and was also not limited to the Nixon tapes.  The renowned Long Telegram that was sent by George Kennan in 1946 has some garbled text that has been interpreted in different ways.  And with the growing importance for historians of audio, video, and even twitter records, “It’s only going to get more tricky.”

“Readers are urged to consult the recordings themselves for a full appreciation of those aspects of the conversations that cannot be captured in a transcript,” the FRUS volumes recommend, “such as the speakers’ inflections and emphases that may convey nuances of meaning, as well as the larger context of the discussion.”

A growing selection of Nixon audio tapes can be found online at

The interesting new FRUS volume on “American Republics,” which is the first FRUS publication in 2009, addresses U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean between 1969 and 1972, including covert action.  The new volume, published online only, excludes materials on Bolivia, which the editors say have not yet been declassified, and it also omits records on Chile, which are to be published separately.  The Preface states that documents on Uruguay are not being published “due to space constraints.”  In fact, however, space is not at a premium in online “e-volumes,” and Secrecy News is told that the Uruguay compilation has not been declassified, which ought to have been noted.

JFK Urged Release of Most Diplomatic Records After 15 Years

The latest volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the official record of U.S. foreign policy, reflects events that took place from 1969 to 1972, or nearly forty years ago.  This represents a continuing violation of a 1991 statute which requires the Secretary of State to publish FRUS “not more than 30 years after the events recorded.”  But even that seemingly unachievable goal is insufficiently ambitious, according to a 1961 directive issued by President John F. Kennedy.

“It has long been a point of pride of our government that we have made the historical record of our diplomacy available more promptly than any other nation in the world,” President Kennedy wrote.

“In recent years the publication of the ‘Foreign Relations’ series has fallen farther and farther behind currency,” he wrote back then.  “The lag has now reached approximately twenty years.  I regard this as unfortunate and undesirable.  It is the policy of this Administration to unfold the historical record as fast and as fully as is consistent with national security and with friendly relations with foreign nations.”

“In my view, any official should have a clear and precise case involving the national interest before seeking to withhold from publication documents or papers fifteen or more years old,” President Kennedy concluded.  See National Security Action Memorandum No. 91, “Expediting Publication of ‘Foreign Relations’,” September 6, 1961.

FAS Obtains Key Report on US Arms Exports

Deliveries of arms through the Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program decreased by nearly a billion dollars in fiscal year 2008, according to the most recent edition of the Annual Military Assistance Report. The report, which is often referred to as the “Section 655 Report” after the section in the Foreign Assistance Act that requires it, is compiled each year by the Defense Department and the State Department. The Defense Department’s contribution to the report was acquired by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to this year’s report, FMS deliveries in FY08 totaled $10,996,180,000 – nearly $1 billion less than the $11,910,160,000 delivered in FY2007.  This is surprising given the significant increase in FMS agreements in recent years.   FMS agreements jumped from $9.5 billion in FY2005 to more than $18 billion in FY2006, and nearly doubled again to $36 billion in FY2008. One possible explanation for the apparent lag is that deliveries, and particularly deliveries of big-ticket items, can take years.  If this is the case, FMS delivery totals are likely to rise sharply over the next few years.

Adam Willner contributed to this report.

Click here to read the full article

State Department Confirms FAS Warhead Estimate

Retirement of the W62 warhead will be completed in 2009.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. State Department has confirmed the estimate made by FAS on this blog in February that the United States had already reached the limit of 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads set by the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The confirmation occurred earlier today in a fact sheet published on the State Department’s web site: “As of May 2009, the United States had cut its number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 2,126.”

This is a reduction of 77 warheads from the 2,203 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads deployed on February 5, 2009, and probably reflects the ongoing retirement of the W62 warhead from the Minuteman III ICBM force, scheduled for completion later this year.

The total U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile includes approximately 5,200 warheads.

Barriers to Archival Access Stymie Historical Research

Notwithstanding official proclamations of a new era of transparency, public access to declassified historical records continues to be obstructed by procedural potholes, limited resources for processing records, competing priorities and, sometimes, bad faith.

At the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), declassified files that used to be open to the public have been withdrawn indefinitely so that they may reviewed for inadvertent releases of classified nuclear weapons-related information, pursuant to the 1999 “Kyl-Lott” Amendment.  Nearly all Navy records there dating from the 1960s forward are now completely unavailable to the public, said historians Larry Berman of UC Davis and William Burr of the National Security Archive.

The blanket closure of entire collections, they suggested in an April 29 letter (pdf), is “wholly inconsistent with the spirit of the new presidential administration.”

As an alternative, Berman and Burr asked the Navy to at least permit expedited review of specific records in response to researcher interests, as the National Archives did when it implemented a similar Kyl-Lott review. Earlier this month, their proposal was denied.

“I regret to inform you that the Navy is unable to support your request at this time due to previously established government declassification priorities,” wrote Vice Admiral J.C. Harvey, Jr. (pdf), Director of the Navy Staff on July 1.

Not only that, he said, but the barriers preventing public access to Navy historical records will remain in place for at least several years to come.  “A Kyl-Lott review of the NHHC holdings may start in 2012 barring any change in, or additions to, government priorities.”

Until then, researchers interested in Navy history are stymied.  “Any researcher who wants to look at Navy records from the early 1960s forward is frozen out by this policy,” said Mr. Burr of the National Security Archive.  “If  David Vine, the author of the recent book on Diego Garcia ‘Island of Shame,’ which made good use of records at the Navy Yard, was starting his work this year he would be totally out of luck.”

Faced with such an uncompromising response, researchers can still employ the Freedom of Information Act, which is arguably even more burdensome for the government to implement but which is legally enforceable.

But Prof. Berman said this option was problematic as well.  The Navy “denied access to their finding aids because they feared this would ease my FOIA request,” he said.  And Navy officials also denied his request for a FOIA fee waiver on the extraordinary grounds that the records he requested will be used to support his work on the first scholarly biography of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt.  “Imagine that, a historian plans to write a book,” he said.

It is well established in FOIA case law that scholarship, like news gathering, is not a private commercial interest that would disqualify a requester from receiving a fee waiver.  Prof. Berman said he would appeal the denial.

New Light on Intelligence Notifications to Congress

The White House has threatened to veto the FY2010 intelligence bill if it amends the National Security Act to permit expanded notification of sensitive intelligence activities to more members of the intelligence committees, as the House Intelligence Committee proposed.  However, based on the findings of a new report from the Congressional Research Service, the controversial amendment may not be necessary in order to achieve the intended result.

The new CRS report (pdf) explains the role of the “Gang of Four,” meaning the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who are to be informed of particularly sensitive intelligence activities.  (When the Bush Administration first notified Congress of its warrantless surveillance program, it limited the disclosure to the “Gang of Four.”)

The “Gang of Four,” the CRS explains, is distinct from the “Gang of Eight,” which includes the leaders of the intelligence committees as well as the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate.  The Gang of Eight is notified regarding sensitive covert action programs.  The Gang of Four is notified in cases of certain non-covert action intelligence programs, mainly sensitive intelligence collection programs.  The Gang of Eight has a basis in statute.  The Gang of Four does not.

Both notification arrangements have been criticized for unduly restricting the ability of congressional leaders to consult colleagues and staff.  Rep. Jane Harman, for example, complained in 2006 that members of the Gang of Eight who are granted official notifications of covert actions “cannot take notes, seek the advice of their counsel, or even discuss the issues raised with their committee colleagues.”  It is these sort of restrictions that the proposed House amendment aimed to revise.

But remarkably, the idea that such internal disclosures are barred seems to be more a matter of convention than a binding requirement, the CRS report concluded.

“There arguably is no provision in statute that restricts whether and how the Chairman and Ranking Members of the intelligence committees share with committee members information pertaining to intelligence activities that the executive branch has provided only to the committee leadership, either through Gang of Four or Gang of Eight notifications.  Nor apparently is there any statutory provision which sets forth any procedures that would govern the access of appropriately cleared committee staff to such classified information.”

And as a matter of fact, “there have been instances when intelligence committee leadership has decided to inform the full membership of the intelligence committees of certain Gang of Four notifications,” the CRS found.

A copy of the CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “‘Gang of Four’ Congressional Intelligence Notifications,” July 14, 2009.

Classified Intelligence Leaks, 2001-2008

Between September 2001 and February 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated and closed the investigation of 85 reported leaks of classified intelligence information, “all of which concerned unauthorized disclosures of classified information to the media,” FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told the Senate Intelligence Committee in a written response to questions (pdf) dated February 4, 2008.

“None of these cases reached prosecution,” he said.  As of February 2008, “21 such cases are [still] under investigation.”

This information appeared in questions for the record that were appended to “Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States” (pdf), a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that was held January 11, 2007.  The complete hearing volume was finally published last month, and the newly published questions for the record are excerpted here.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has renewed its practice of including questions for the record (QFRs) in published hearing volumes, for which one may be thankful, even when the answers are classified or are not provided by the agencies at all. Some additional QFRs, also newly published last month, appear in “Statutory Authorities of the Director of National Intelligence” (pdf), Senate Intelligence Committee, February 14, 2008.

The Big Picture – what is really at stake with the START follow-on Treaty

by Alicia Godsberg

There is cause for cautious optimism after Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed their START follow-on Joint Understanding in Moscow last Monday – the goal of completing a legally binding bilateral nuclear disarmament agreement with verification measures is preferable to letting START expire without an agreement or without one that keeps some sort of verification protocol.  The Joint Understanding leaves some familiar questions open, such as the lack of definition of a “strategic offensive weapon” and what to do about the thousands of nuclear warheads in reserve or awaiting dismantlement.  But so far few analysts on either side of the nuclear debate have been talking about the big picture, what for the vast majority of the world (and therefore our own national security) is really at stake here – the viability of the nonproliferation regime itself. Continue reading

Al Qaida: Western Spies Multiply “Like Locusts”

From the point of view of an al Qaida military leader, Western intelligence agents are now ubiquitous in the lands of Islam, and their operations have been extraordinarily effective.  The Western spies are unfailingly lethal, leaving a trail of dead Islamist fighters behind them.  Worst of all, they have managed to recruit innumerable Muslims to assist their war efforts.

“The spies… were sent to penetrate the ranks of the Muslims generally, and the mujahidin specifically, and [they] spread all over the lands like locusts,” wrote Abu Yahya al-Libi, an al Qaida field commander in Afghanistan, in a new book called “Guidance on the Ruling of the Muslim Spy” (pdf).

“The spies are busy day and night carrying out their duties in an organized and secret manner… How many heroic leaders have been kidnapped at their hands? How many major mujahidin were surprised to be imprisoned or traced?  Even the military and financial supply roads of the mujahidin, which are far from the enemy’s surveillance, were found by the spies.”

Al Qaida operations have been severely impeded by the intelligence war against them, al-Libi said.  “As soon as the mujahidin get secretly into an area on a dark night, they are confronted by the Cross forces and their helpers.  Many are killed or captured.”

Western spies are found under every conceivable cover, al-Libi wrote.  “They have among them old hunchbacked men who cannot even walk, strong young men, weak women inside their house, young girls, and even children who did not reach puberty yet.  The spy might be a doctor, nurse, engineer, student, preacher, scholar, runner, or a taxi driver.  The spy can be anyone….”

“The occupation armies completely rely on recruiting spies and informants from the Muslim lands they usurped and conquered… The spy lives among Muslims, being one of them: living their life, wearing their dress, eating what they eat… Therefore, he can access what the armed soldiers of the occupation cannot put hands on.”

In the new book, published in Arabic (pdf) on jihadist websites on June 30, al-Libi ruminated at length on the religious and legal problem of the Muslim spy.  Can there be a Muslim who spies against other Muslims or, since such a person would by definition be an apostate, is a Muslim spy a contradiction in terms?  May such a person be killed?  (It depends.)  To convict a spy nowadays is it necessary to rely on the traditional two witnesses?  (Again, it depends.)  What about a person who is mistakenly executed as a spy?  (God will reward him.)

Pervading the book is a sense of the overwhelming impact of U.S. and Allied intelligence operations on jihadist forces, and the willingness of indigenous Muslims to act with Western intelligence against those forces.

“Everyone who lives in the jihad battlegrounds… knows well that the occupation forces could not do one-tenth of what they do now if they did not recruit spies and informants….  Most of the mujahidin and their soldiers were killed or captured because of the intelligence information that the infidel forces have obtained from the secret soldiers whom they recruit, like swarms of locusts, from the native citizens who talk our language and pretend they are Muslims.”

“Guidance on the Ruling of the Muslim Spy” by Abu Yahya al-Libi was translated, rather clumsily, by the DNI Open Source Center.  A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

The book cited the use of electronic homing devices to guide air-launched missiles to their targets and images of several such devices were included in the original Arabic version of the book (at page 146).  The purported use of the devices was discussed in “CIA Drone Targeting Tech Revealed, Qaeda Claims” by Adam Rawnsley, Wired Danger Room, July 8, 2009. also prepared a proprietary translation of the new Al-Libi book, which was reported by Fox News last week.