from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 29
March 26, 2008

Secrecy News Blog:


In a memorable TV interview with former Secretary of State James Baker, prankster "Ali G" (Sasha Baron Cohen) wondered about the possibility of confusing "Iran" and "Iraq."

"Do you think it would be a good idea if one of them changed their name to make it very different sounding from the other one?" he asked Secretary Baker.

"Ain't there a real danger that someone give like a message over the radio to one of them fighter pilots whatever saying bomb 'Ira...' and the geezer don't hear it properly and bomb Iran rather than Iraq?"

"No danger," Secretary Baker gamely replied.

In an official history published on its web site, however, the Defense Intelligence Agency really has confused Iran and Iraq.

Among the "world crises" that transpired during the 1980s, the DIA history cites "an Israeli F-16 raid to destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor."

See "Defense Intelligence Agency: A Brief History" (originally published in 1996) at page 14:

or here:

But there never was an Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear reactor.

Rather, "The description appears to match Israel's raid on Iraq's [Osirak] nuclear reactor" in 1981, observed Gideon Remez, an Israeli scholar who is co-author of the recent book Foxbats Over Dimona (Yale, 2007).

"Today's preoccupation with Iran's nuclear program seems to have been projected onto the events of 27 years ago," Mr. Remez suggested this week in an email message to DIA public affairs.

"If that is indeed the case, I'd recommend a correction," he wrote.


Close examination of several recent volumes of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series has turned up errors and questionable editorial judgments.

The record of conversations between Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai and Henry Kissinger that was published in FRUS last month failed to include what is arguably among the more sensitive and significant discussions that they held, regarding Kissinger's offer to establish a US-China "hotline," development of contingency plans for accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear-armed missiles, and provision of warning information in the event of Soviet moves against China. That discussion, which does not appear in FRUS, was memorialized in this document:

Fortunately, this memorandum and many more of comparable significance were collected and published by William Burr of the National Security Archive in his 1999 volume "The Kissinger Transcripts":

In another surprising editorial lapse (in Nixon FRUS volume XXIX on Eastern Europe, document 77, page 203, footnote 2), the editors state that "On January 17 [1969] student Jan Palach set himself on fire in the center of Prague to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia."

"Anyone who knows this subject is aware that Palach immolated himself on the 16th of January, not the 17th," said Mark Kramer, editor of the Journal of Cold War Studies at Harvard. "This date is very well known in Czech society, and no one would confuse it with the 17th."

Interestingly, while the State Department got this date wrong, Wikipedia got it right.

Needless to say, everyone makes errors. The FRUS series remains a crucial resource for historical understanding, even with the occasional error. And a robust FRUS publication schedule with some errors is vastly preferable to a gridlocked schedule with no errors. Still, there may be room for improvement in the editorial process.


The Homeland Security Council (HSC), a White House agency that advises the President on homeland security policy, has become one of the darkest corners of the U.S. Government.

The Council was established by President Bush shortly after September 11, 2001 and it was chartered as an agency within the Executive Office of the President in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

"Thereafter, the HSC disappeared from the public record," a new report from the Congressional Research Service noticed.

In particular, according to CRS: The Homeland Security Council "does not appear to have complied with requirements for Federal Register publication of such basic information as descriptions of its central organization."

It has never disclosed "where, from whom, and how the public may obtain information about it." Nor has it published the required "rules of procedure, substantive rules of general applicability, and statements of general policy."

Moreover, "No profile of, or descriptive information regarding, the HSC or its members and staff has appeared, to date, in the annual editions of the United States Government Manual."

This peculiar state of affairs was described by Harold C. Relyea of the Congressional Research Service in "Organizing for Homeland Security: The Homeland Security Council Reconsidered," March 19, 2008:

Last week, President Bush appointed assistant attorney general Kenneth L. Wainstein to be homeland security adviser and chair of the Homeland Security Council, succeeding Frances F. Townsend.


Legislation pending in the Russian Duma [parliament] would impose new Russian government controls on online content, according to an analysis of Russian news reports from the DNI Open Source Center.

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Duma, was quoted as saying: "We know that the Internet is all too often used as an instrument for destabilization and for terrorism. That kind of use of the Internet must be stopped."

"Bloggers expressed varying degrees of alarm over the potential danger the law would pose to their community, with some alleging [that a sponsor of the legislation] is trying to use the law to silence his opponents and dismissing the law as unlikely to be passed," according to the OSC report.

See "Russia--Increased Attempts to Regulate Internet," DNI Open Source Center, March 24, 2008:


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following.

"Satellite Surveillance: Domestic Issues," March 21, 2008:

"The Next Generation Bomber: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress," March 7, 2008:

"U.S. Nuclear Cooperation With India: Issues for Congress," updated February 12, 2008:

"Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National Security Policy: Past, Present, and Prospects," updated January 28, 2008:

"U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress," updated February 1, 2008:

"Direct Overt U.S. Aid, Export Assistance and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2009," March 24, 2008:

"Cybercrime: An Overview of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Statute and Related Federal Criminal Laws," updated February 25, 2008:


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

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