FC: Feds yank 50-year old spy records from National Archives

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Mon Mar 25 2002 - 18:43:14 PST

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    [From the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News 
    (www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/index.html). --Declan]
    from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
    Volume 2002, Issue No. 25
    March 25, 2002
    Thousands of pages of historically valuable documents that served as the
    basis for published research concerning intelligence in the early Cold
    War years have been withdrawn from public access over the past several
    years, to the dismay of intelligence historians and scholars who found
    them missing from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
    The records, which were part of a special collection on "Translations of
    Intercepted Enemy Radio Traffic" in Record Group 38 (Boxes 2739-2747),
    provided unparalleled insight into U.S. signals intelligence activity in
    the period 1947-49.
    Their unannounced withdrawal was discovered last week by historian
    Matthew M. Aid, who lamented their loss.
    "All in all, these records were essential reading for any serious
    researcher trying to document the successes and failures of the
    U.S.-British intelligence effort in the years after the end of World War
    II," said Aid.
    Despite their withdrawal, at least some of the substance of the missing
    documents has already been integrated into the published record of
    intelligence history.
    Matthew Aid cited them extensively in a recent book he co-edited with
    Dutch scholar Cees Wiebes entitled "Secrets of Signals Intelligence
    During the Cold War and Beyond" (London: Frank Cass, 2001).
    Historian David Alvarez, formerly a scholar in residence at the National
    Security Agency (NSA), used the collection in his paper "Behind Venona:
    American Signals Intelligence in the Early Cold War," that was published
    in the journal Intelligence and National Security in Summer 1999.
    The documents demonstrate, said Aid, that "our cryptologic successes in
    the years immediately after the end of World War II against the Soviets
    were far greater than previously believed."
    "The sensitivity of these records lies in the fact that when taken as a
    whole, they reveal the dramatic scope of the U.S.-British intelligence
    effort in the early Cold War years," Aid said.  "Virtually no nation was
    immune from the attention of the American and British codebreakers, with
    the exception of our British allies and their Commonwealth partners.
    Similarly, Alvarez noted that "A review of this material would reveal
    that in those years the US Government was intercepting and decrypting
    the diplomatic and military traffic of some 39 countries."
    So how is the withdrawal of the records from public access to be
    "As you probably know, NSA has a general policy of not declassifying
    documents dating from after the Japanese surrender in 1945," said
    Alvarez.  "The surrender, in effect, represents the boundary between an
    open period and a closed period for access to communications
    intelligence records.  Before the surrender most comint records are
    open, after the surrender hardly anything has been declassified.  The
    collection in Record Group 38 seems to have accidentally slipped through
    the declassification review."
    A National Archives official confirmed today that the records had been
    "erroneously released" and that the responsible agency (presumably the
    NSA) had requested in 1997 that the records be withdrawn.  The National
    Archives, as custodian of the records, with no independent
    declassification authority, had no choice but to comply, the official
    In principle, the records should be subject to re-review and eventual
    release, in whole or in part, according to the Archives official.  But
    it was not possible to say when that might be accomplished.
    "This is not the first time that something like this has happened," the
    official said.
    To enhance the security of the space shuttle, NASA will not announce the
    precise time of future shuttle launches until 24 hours prior to launch,
    the space agency announced recently.  Up until that time, NASA will only
    announce a four hour launch window for a particular launch.
    Critics say the new policy makes no sense because the time of launch is
    determined by objective factors that are not themselves secret.
    The new policy takes effect with the next shuttle launch, STS-110, which
    is scheduled for April 4 "during a launch period that extends from 2 to
    6 PM."
    See "NASA to Keep Launch Times Secret" by Marcia Dunn of the Associated
    "I trust everyone realizes that this is staggeringly stupid," said Allen
    Thomson, a former CIA analyst and space policy expert.
    "The shuttle is mostly used to support the international space station
    [ISS], and in order to rendezvous with ISS, it has to launch when the
    Cape is in or near the orbital plane of the station," Thomson noted.
    "That can be determined days and weeks in advance to within a couple of
    minutes from the ISS orbital elements, which are freely available at any
    number of Web sites."
    Likewise, satellite watcher Ted Molczan dismissed the NASA move as
    "pretend security."  The launch of a shuttle mission to the space
    station is constrained "to a single ten minute window on any given day,"
    he said.
    "Basically, Earth rotates under the plane of the [ISS] orbit, so that
    any latitude less than or equal to the orbital inclination will pass
    beneath the orbital plane twice per day," Molczan explained.  "The
    spacecraft will be northbound on one of the plane crossings, and
    southbound on the other. KSC [Kennedy Space Center] launches to ISS are
    limited to the northbound crossing."
    Taking this and other factors into account, Molzcan estimated that the
    next shuttle launch on April 4 will have to occur "at 22:11 UTC [5:11 PM
    local time] +/- 2 minutes."
    Instead of a bogus secret launch schedule, Molczan ventured, a more
    defensible security policy would be the establishment of a small no-fly
    zone around the site of an impending shuttle launch.  See his comments
    on the See-Sat discussion list here:
    Recorded information from NASA concerning the coming year's shuttle
    flight schedule is available by telephone at (321)867-4636.
    In a move that augurs the further devaluation of independent scientific
    advice, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has
    terminated its contract with the JASONs, an illustrious and secretive
    group of scientists who have long advised government agencies on defense
    programs, including classified programs, involving significant technical
    The action reportedly came after the JASONs declined to approve a DARPA
    request that it accept three DARPA nominees, including two corporate
    executives, as new members.
    It is not unusual for an agency to specify the particular competencies
    required in a contractor.  In contrast, however, one does not normally
    dictate the composition of a panel that is convened to perform peer
    review.  These conflicting conceptions of the JASONs' role may have
    contributed to the break with DARPA.
    See "Defense Department Agency Severs Its Ties to an Elite Panel of
    Scientists," by James Glanz in the March 23 New York Times:
    "For the first time in at least recent history, the United States
    government has arrested and jailed hundreds of individuals and kept
    their identities secret," observed several civil liberties organizations
    in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit they filed to challenge
    the continuing secrecy surrounding persons detained by the government in
    the aftermath of September 11.
    "The government's refusal to release the names of the more than 750
    detainees is a stark departure from the bedrock principle that the
    government must disclose the identity of people whom it forcibly
    deprives of liberty," the challengers said in their latest pleading.
    Initially filed last December, the lawsuit -- Center for National
    Security Studies (CNSS), et al, v. Department of Justice -- has already
    produced an instructive record that rewards attention.
    See selected pleadings from the case, particularly the plaintiff's
    latest motion of March 18, on the CNSS web site here:
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