from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 66
August 4, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration plotted to interfere in Uruguay's presidential elections in order to block the rise of the leftist Frente Amplio coalition. But when the State Department published its official history of U.S. relations with Latin America during the Nixon era last month, there was no mention of any such activities. Instead, the State Department Office of the Historian said that Uruguay-related records could not be posted on the Department web site because of "space constraints." Following repeated inquiries, however, the Historian's Office revised its position last week and said it would include Uruguay-related records in its Nixon history after all.

The United States should work "overtly and covertly" to blunt the political appeal of the Frente Amplio and to diminish its chances for victory in the Uruguayan presidential elections, advised one declassified document from 1971. Several important documentary records of that turbulent period were compiled by the National Security Archive in 2002. See "Nixon: 'Brazil Helped Rig the Uruguayan Elections,' 1971" edited by Carlos Osorio:

Meanwhile, urban guerrillas who were violently challenging the governments of several Latin American countries drew the worried attention of U.S. intelligence officials. In particular, the Uruguayan Marxist revolutionary group known as the Tupamaros, which murdered a U.S. AID official in 1970, "has had a spectacular and rapid rise to prominence during the last few years," according to a 1971 CIA analysis entitled "The Latin American Guerrilla Today."

But none of this concern over Uruguay could be discerned from the State Department's official history of U.S. policy towards the region. A July 10, 2009 State Department press release announcing the publication of the latest online volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) on American Republics, 1969-1972, mentioned almost every Latin American country except for Uruguay.

The original Preface of the new FRUS volume made the peculiar assertion that: "Due to space constraints, relations with... Uruguay... are not covered here."

This assertion is doubly strange since the new FRUS volume was only published online, not in hardcopy, so that "space constraints" are hardly a factor.

By excluding the rather intense U.S. policy focus on Uruguay, the latest FRUS volume was not just practicing bad history, it may also have been committing a violation of the law, which requires that FRUS be "thorough, accurate, and reliable."

The State Department did not respond to half a dozen inquiries over a two-week period regarding the decision to exclude Uruguay from the official history of the region or the nature of the supposed "space constraints." The State Department's Historical Advisory Committee did reply that it was unfamiliar with the issue.

But in a brief email message on July 30, FRUS Acting General Editor Dr. William B. McAllister wrote: "We have revised the Preface. This should clarify the situation." The revised Preface to the new FRUS volume now states that a chapter on Uruguay "will be added" following completion of the declassification process. The newly revised Table of Contents includes a placeholder listing for Uruguay. There is no indication of what records may be declassified, or when they might become available.

Today, the Frente Amplio coalition whose rise alarmed the Nixon Administration leads the government of Uruguay.


In May 2001, CIA officer Franz Boening submitted a memorandum to the Agency Inspector General alleging that the CIA's relationship with disgraced Peruvian intelligence official Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos may have involved violations of U.S. law.

There is no evidence that the CIA Inspector General ever took any action in response to Mr. Boening's memorandum, which was presented as a whistleblower complaint. CIA classification officials, however, responded quickly and energetically -- to silence him. Information contained in the Boening whistleblower complaint is classified, declared CIA information review officer Ralph S. DiMaio, and its disclosure "reasonably could be expected to cause damage to national security."

Pursuant to the non-disclosure agreement that Mr. Boening had signed upon employment at CIA, Agency officials forbade him from publicly revealing his allegations, though he said they were based on published news reports and other open sources. And CIA classified most of the substance of his 2001 complaint, including even (or especially) the name of Montesinos. What remained following the redaction process is here:

With the assistance of attorney Mark S. Zaid, Mr. Boening went to court to challenge the Agency's censorship of his allegations as an unlawful act of prior restraint. Eight years after submitting the document, he emerged more or less victorious, as the CIA withdrew most of its objections, and permitted publication of the 2001 whistleblower complaint regarding Montesinos with only a few remaining redactions.

Mr. Boening is still obliged to comply with his Agency nondisclosure obligations, advised R. Puhl, the chairman of the CIA Publications Review Board, and he must seek a new Agency review if he wishes to make any changes at all to the newly authorized text, including any deletions of material.

"If you add or delete material to or otherwise change the text the Board has approved for publication, you must submit these additions, deletions, or changes to us before giving them to your publisher or anyone else," Mr. Puhl wrote in a February 13, 2009 letter.


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

See also "Reducing Government Secrecy: Finding What Works" by Steven Aftergood, Yale Law and Policy Review, vol. 27, no. 2, Spring 2009:

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