from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
August 22, 2001


As word spreads that Congress may enact legislation to make all unauthorized disclosures of classified information a felony, public outrage and opposition are beginning to mount.

"At a time when the rest of the world is looking to America for leadership on openness, Congress would make it harder for Americans to know what their government is doing," writes Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive in a powerful op-ed in today's New York Times:

The "anti-leak" proposal (which was vetoed last year by President Clinton) would criminalize disclosure of "the kind of information Americans need to debate issues like the effectiveness of Washington's military aid to Colombia's drug war or the chances for success of a new peacekeeping operation in Macedonia," the New York Times editorialized yesterday:

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which was criticized for pushing the proposal last year without an opportunity for public debate, has scheduled a seemingly perfunctory hearing on the matter on September 5.


The dawning awareness that a full-fledged genocide was taking place in Rwanda in 1994 elicited only a feeble response from official Washington, and many thousands of innocent lives that could have been saved were lost as a result.

Newly declassified records documenting official reaction to reports from Rwanda were obtained by Will Ferroggiaro of the National Security Archive, which published them on Monday.

"Until now, we could only speculate as to what U.S. officials knew about the genocide or what they were arguing in closed diplomatic forums," Mr. Ferroggiaro said. "The documents provide essential evidence of official inaction in the face of the slaughter in Rwanda in 1994." See:

These records help inform a long, gripping article in the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly entitled "Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let the Rwandan Tragedy Happen" by Samantha Power (not yet available online).

Power's account of the genocide, in which 500,000 Rwandans were killed, is passionately argued, but is unlikely to be the last word on this horror. She explains the inadequate U.S. response primarily by pointing to the personal defects of individual leaders.

"President Clinton certainly could have known that a genocide was under way, if he had wanted to know," she writes angrily and somewhat coarsely.

Power insists that the Rwandan killers' intention to commit genocide was known or "knowable" by U.S. policymakers early on. "Any failure to fully appreciate the genocide," she insists, "stemmed from political, moral, and imaginative weaknesses, not informational ones."

But this overlooks some of the "informational" complexities that appear to have conditioned the U.S. response.

During the first week of the genocide, officials in Washington received as many as a thousand separate intelligence reports on Rwanda per day, writes Alan J. Kuperman in his important new book on the Rwanda genocide, "The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention" (Brookings, 2001).

Due to the flood of often inconsistent information, "The circuits were overwhelmed," Kuperman quotes a State Department intelligence official as saying.

"One coping mechanism among veteran Washington intelligence officials faced with such information overload is to dismiss extreme, unconfirmed reports," Kuperman writes.

Thus, other executive branch agencies rejected the "extreme" estimates of the progress of the genocide that were developed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, although these would subsequently prove to be the most accurate. The other agencies explicitly noted their disagreement in intelligence summaries prepared for the President, Kuperman reports in his book.

The point is not to diminish the responsibility of U.S. officials. Rather, if Kuperman's analysis is correct, a close examination of the Rwanda case may hold practical lessons for U.S. intelligence and national security policy that go beyond reproaching the terrible failures of individual leaders.

For more information on Kuperman's book see:


Under pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department continues to defer publication of a volume of historical documents on U.S. policy towards Greece in the Johnson Administration.

The volume, "Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1964-1968: Cyprus, Greece, Turkey," which is already printed and bound, sits in storage awaiting official clearance for release.

According to news reports, some officials fear that publication of the FRUS history, which makes references to clandestine U.S. intervention in Greek elections in the 1960s, could inspire an attack by the Greek terrorist organization 17 November. Others worry that it could disrupt the upcoming Cypriot elections.

Recently, the delayed publication was analyzed in the Greek press, which mocked the CIA's reluctance to permit publication.

"Everyone who has read it believes that this is much ado about nothing," wrote reporter Alexis Papakhelas, referring Homerically to the "wine-colored" FRUS volume.

He quoted a US diplomat who said that "Even if we had nothing to hide, the CIA's behavior reinforces the suspicion and the certainty that we are trying to keep some sinful skeletons from the past buried."

Mr. Papakhelas is author of a related book (in Greek) based on documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act entitled something like "The Rape of Greek Democracy."

See his article "The CIA's Secret Files on Greece," published in the Athens newspaper To Vima on August 12 and translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, here:

The matter was investigated further by George Lardner in the Washington Post on August 17:


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

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