SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 35
April 25, 2003

NSA MAY RELEASE USS LIBERTY DOCS

The National Security Agency says it may be willing to declassify electronic intercepts concerning the 1967 attack on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli forces, according to the plaintiff in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking their disclosure.

The Israeli attack on the Liberty, a U.S. intelligence vessel, resulted in the deaths of 34 American sailors. It is officially deemed an accident of war, but it has spawned lingering controversy among those who do not accept the official explanation and believe the attack must have been deliberate and witting.

A. Jay Cristol, a bankruptcy court judge in Miami who has studied the attack in depth and who concluded it was a tragic mistake, filed suit against the NSA earlier this year to compel declassification of electronic communications monitored by or near the Liberty at the time of the attack.

In response to his lawsuit, "An NSA representative called me and said 'I have some good news -- they're talking about giving you some of the material you want'," Judge Cristol told Secrecy News on April 24.

A reply to Cristol's lawsuit had been due in May. The NSA asked Cristol for a 60 day extension, until July 7, to complete its review and its presumptive release of selected documents.

A copy of Judge Cristol's January 21 FOIA lawsuit is posted here:

His web site concerning his book "The Liberty Incident" (Brassey's, 2002) is here:

The web site of USS Liberty survivors is here:


NSA FOIA EXEMPTION PENDING

Ironically, the kind of effort undertaken by A. Jay Cristol and others to compel the release of certain NSA historical information through the Freedom of Information Act could soon be rendered impossible if a proposed FOIA exemption for NSA "operational files" is enacted by Congress.

The exemption is part of the pending Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004. It would permit the National Security Agency to turn away FOIA requests for operational files "that document the means by which foreign intelligence or counterintelligence is collected through technical systems."

The provision was proposed by the Department of Defense, which argued opportunistically that processing such requests "may require Agency personnel to be diverted from key mission areas, such as fighting the war on terrorism."

The text of the proposed exemption, section 933 of S.747, may be found here:


UPDATE ON EXPORT CONTROLLED DOC

The export controlled document that was posted on the world wide web and described in the previous issue of Secrecy News is not really export controlled, it turns out.

"We've been getting a ton of email about it," said Kris Tope, Vice President of URS Corporation, which posted the document. She asked Secrecy News to publish a clarification that "The document itself does not contain any data that limits distribution; however, the [password-protected database associated with the document] does."

The document carries an export-control warning as a "reenforcement" of the restricted status of the associated database and software. Defense Department sponsors decided both to publish the document on the web, and to retain the export control warning.

Ms. Tope did not disagree with the suggestion that this is poor security policy.

The document has now been modified. It still includes the fearful export control warning on the front page, but a disclaimer has been added noting that the warning does not actually apply to the document. See:


IRAQ: ARCHIVES FOR PEACE

The documentary history of Iraq is not simply a matter for historians and academics. It is a vital component of any future civil society in Iraq.

It follows that an active effort to collect, restore, declassify and otherwise make available the diverse records of recent Iraqi history can contribute to reconstruction of that country in a profound way.

That is the interesting argument presented by George Washington University historian James G. Hershberg in an April 19 article in Salon.com. Non-subscribers can view the full text of the article if they are willing to endure a brief advertisement. See:


IN THE NEWS

The declassified documents on Chernobyl that were noted in the previous Secrecy News were discussed in an April 22 BBC news story "Secret Chernobyl archives released" here (thanks to RK):

See also "Russia and Ukraine Bicker Over Chernobyl" by Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor, April 25:

Congress should narrow the Freedom of Information Act exemption for so-called deliberative documents because it allows Presidents to withhold too much information, writes Bruce Fein in the Washington Times, citing the dispute over access to records of Clinton Administration pardons.

"Presidential communications that cannot be honorably defended to the satisfaction of the public are not worth receiving," he writes in a somewhat rare defense of the FOIA from a politically conservative point of view. See "Rethinking presidential advice," April 22 (thanks to PM):

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

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