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Thursday, March 31, 2011

US Reacted Strongly To Manning's Alleged Disclosure Of Documents

The US government has reacted strongly to Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosure of recent diplomatic cables via WikiLeaks. We have heard State Department officials make their good case that indiscriminate leaks of contemporary communications, however much they contribute to public understanding of foreign policy, can undermine diplomacy and endanger human lives. But what we haven’t heard is that the Department has been withholding from the public historical documents that bear strongly on two ongoing foreign policy crises.
For years the State Department has refused to publish two long-completed books of documents that would throw valuable light on the roots of America’s problems today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iran. Even 50 or more years after the events they depict, these books could have positive effects on US foreign policy.
Under a 1991 law, the State Department is required to continue to publish, within 30 years, “all records needed to provide a comprehensive documentation of major foreign policy decisions and actions” including relevant covert operations. A timely process for appropriate declassification is provided. The “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series is a primary source for researching and understanding American foreign policy and is widely used by scholars, students, journalists and diplomats. But two anticipated products of the 1991 law ‘retrospective’ volumes on Congo (1960-68) and Iran (1952-54) have never appeared. The manuscripts were completed many years ago after historians criticized earlier volumes for ignoring reported Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) programs that overthrew democratically elected governments and installed dictatorships. Incredibly, the ‘retrospective’ books have been stuck in endless ‘declassification’ reviews for up to a decade!
What’s the hold up on declassification? According to leading academic advisers to the State Department and the CIA, the latter agency has been the major force holding up the Congo and Iran publications. As years go by, the CIA keeps finding new passages in the texts where it feels declassification would be harmful. It also insists on taking new looks at previously approved portions as its reviewing officers turn over. Other reasons for delay have included disorganisation in the State Department Historian’s Office and the absence of any mechanism or political will to achieve finality in the inter-agency review process. Although the early political momentum associated with the 1991 law produced a major ‘retrospective’ volume on the CIA’s 1954 military coup in Guatemala (2003), that opening quickly closed. Consider the Congo manuscript. The State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee reviewed it in 2001, concluding: “[It] sheds new light on major, highly significant events in the history of US relations with the Congo in the 1960s.”

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