Saturday, December 31, 2011

Captured Documents from Libya and a New Lawsuit in the U.K.

A lawsuit has been filed against the U.K. government by Abdel Hakim Belhadj (also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Sadiq), a commander of anti-Qaddafi forces in the recent conflict in Libya, based on documents captured in Tripoli indicating British (and U.S.) involvement in his earlier detention and rendition (apparently via Malaysia, Bangkok, and Diego Garcia) to Libyan custody in 2004.  Details on the lawsuit are available in this piece in the Guardian and this press release from Reprieve.

Copies of a number of the captured "Tripoli files" are posted here and here.  The documents were found by journalists and representatives from Human Rights Watch in Qaddafi's abandoned military intelligence headquarters in Tripoli in September.  According to a piece in the New York Times there were "at least three binders of English-language documents, one marked C.I.A. and the other two marked MI-6, among a larger stash of documents in Arabic." Human Rights Watch took pictures of approximately 300 of the "thousands" of documents, but left the originals in Libyan custody. For a first person account of finding the documents see Peter Bouckaert's "The Gaddafi Files" in Foreign Policy.

Captured documents relevant to Belhadj's suit in the U.K. reportedly include a letter dated March 18, 2004 from Sir Mark Allen, formerly the head of counterterrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa, the head of Libyan intelligence stating:
I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq [Belhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week.
The Belhadj lawsuit joins another one against the U.K. government filed in October by Sami al-Saadi, which also relates to involvement by U.S. and U.K. authorities in his rendition and is also based, in part, on captured documents from Tripoli.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

WWII Captured German Documents: "we can 'lose' some if we wish"

The U.K. National Archives are providing an increasing number of copies of its records online.  An interesting example that illustrates the importance of retaining notes of meetings (and not just final memoranda) for adequately documenting government activities and also demonstrates that concerns about the integrity of captured documents in foreign custody are not just conspiratorial is the record of a cabinet meeting discussion of captured German archives from October 1952.

Attendees at the meeting included Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden, and Secretary of State for War Anthony Head. The participants discussed the status of negotiations for the possible return of captured German diplomatic and military documents.

The formal memorandum of the meeting notes that, while there was every intention to eventually return the diplomatic documents, the military documents "presented more difficulty, since there were security reasons for not returning some of these to the Germans" and that preliminary discussions were needed between the U.K., the U.S. and France to "determine what classes of documents should continue to be withheld from the Germans."  The memorandum notes:

Thanks to thoughtful records retention, what survives from the meeting is not just the formal memorandum, but also the notes that were taken at the meeting.  When the notes are consulted the discussion of the German archives appears to have had a different tenor and indeed some different content.  Attributed to Secretary State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden is a statement that the U.K. could copy the documents before they are returned to German and that "we can 'lose' some if we wish."  Moreover, in contrast to the formal memorandum that speaks of granting the Minister of Defence discretion to "withhold" documents, the notes of the meeting conclude that that the "M/D" [Minister of Defence] with "C.O.S."[Chiefs of Staff] will have "discretion to destroy."

I am posting here the full memorandum and the notes of the meeting, courtesy of the U.K. National Archives.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Declassified Northern Ireland Conflict Files Online

Mural of Battle of the Bogside - pic by Sean Mack
IrishCentral has a piece (thanks to rainbyte) highlighting the online availability of declassified "Secret files from 1968-1979 about Northern Irish policy on education, politics, and security" courtesy of the University of Ulster's Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN).  The CAIN documents, which were initially publicly released in late 2010, are digital versions of selected public records relating to "the conflict and politics of the region" held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) that were cleared for public disclosure according to a 30-year rule for declassification.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New article on IMF/Hoover/Ba'ath Debate

Bruce P. Montgomery has a great new article entitled "Immortality in the Secret Police Files: The Iraq Memory Foundation and the Ba'ath Party Archive" that was recently published in the International Journal of Cultural Property.  UPDATE: here is the full-text.

The article is an important new examination of the debate over the Iraq Memory Foundation/Ba'ath party documents currently on deposit at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

The article also repeats the fact that the U.S. government made a digital copy of the documents and discusses the fact that the IMF was a defense contractor in Iraq for several years - copies of the IMF defense contracts will be posted here. UPDATE: here they are.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Security Council Meeting on Missing Kuwait National Archives Seized by Iraq

Yesterday the UN Security Council issued this press statement and this news piece following a meeting in which members "called on Iraq to intensify its efforts to clarify the whereabouts of Kuwait's national archives, which disappeared during Iraq's 1990 invasion of the country."  Yesterday's meeting discussed the Secretary General's Thirty-second (yes, 32nd) Report "pursuant to paragraph 14 of resolution 1284 (1999)" completed earlier this month. Paragraph 14 of Security Council Resolution 1284 requested that the Secretary-General report periodically "on the return of all Kuwaiti property, including archives, seized by Iraq."

In the latest report, the Secretary-General states that he remains "concerned that no substantial progress has been made in the search for the Kuwaiti national archive, and that no credible information about its whereabouts has so far emerged."  He noted Iraq's recent letter regarding the return to Kuwait of microfilm cassettes of the archive of the official newspaper, Kuwait Today, welcomed the newly formed, high-ranking Iraqi committee to coordinate efforts on the missing archives, and looked "forward to the intensification of efforts to clarify the whereabouts of the archives by this newly established body and expect[ed] that its activities will be brought to the attention of the United Nations."

A more substantive post on the interesting history of the missing Kuwait national archives will follow in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Calls for New Investigations and the Return of Seized Documents in Panama

Relevant to the earlier posting of inventories of the documents seized in Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989, Amnesty International is reacting to the return of Gen. Noriega to Panama by calling upon the Panamanian government to launch new investigations into crimes against humanity. Amnesty's call for investigations appears to be based on two considerations. First, a concern for victims. An Amnesty Researcher on Central America Sebastian Elgueta states, "The courts owe it to the victims to clarify the extent of his involvement in these violations that took place over several decades." Second, a desire to ensure that legal proceedings against Noriega are just and fair.  In relation to previous in absentia convictions against Noriega, Amnesty argues that "trials in absentia should be avoided as they are unjust, except when the accused deliberately absents him or herself after the trial has begun." Elgueta states:
Manuel Noriega should be present to hear the full prosecution case and be able to refute facts and present a full defence. With anything less, the reliability of the verdict will always remain in doubt and justice will not be seen to be done.
Meanwhile, Newsroom Panama has a story on Gen. Noriega's return that states that an associate of Noriega's has urged:
the [Panamanian] government to ask for more than 15,000 thousand boxes of information that were confiscated by the US army of that country in the 1989 invasion, in which he claims is the truth of the dictatorship.
To be clear the associate is not part of Gen. Noriega's legal team and there is no indication that he spoke on Noriega's behalf, but it is another interesting reference to the importance of the seized documents that remain in U.S. custody nevertheless.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Classified U.S. Documents Found in Iraqi Junkyard

The N.Y. Times has a story entitled "Accounts of a Massacre, Saved From Junkyard Flames" about classified documents, including transcripts of military interviews about the 2005 killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, being found in an Iraqi junkyard:
The 400 pages of interrogations, once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.
* * * * 
Told about the documents that had been found, Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, said that many of the documents remain classified and should have been destroyed. “Despite the way in which they were improperly discarded and came into your possession, we are not at liberty to discuss classified information,” he said.
He added: “We take any breech of classified information as an extremely serious matter. In this case, the documents are being reviewed to determine whether an investigation is warranted.”
* * * * 
The documents were piled in military trailers and hauled to the junkyard by an Iraqi contractor who was trying to sell off the surplus from American bases, the junkyard attendant said. The attendant said he had no idea what any of the documents were about, only that they were important to the Americans.
He said that over the course of several weeks he had burned dozens and dozens of binders, turning more untold stories about the war into ash.
“What can we do with them?” said the attendant. “These things are worthless to us, but we understand they are important and it is better to burn them to protect the Americans. If they are leaving, it must mean their work here is done.”

Inventories of Captured Panama/Noriega Documents

I am posting today several inventories of the documents seized during Operation Just Cause.

As was widely reported, Sunday evening Gen. Manuel Noriega returned to Panama from France after more than 20 years in foreign prisons.  I previously noted in an op-ed that thousands of boxes of documents seized by U.S. forces in Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989 are surprisingly still in the custody of U.S. Army South and I argued that, for purposes of historical and human rights research as well as for possible use in future legal proceedings related to Noriega in Panama, the U.S. should finally begin returning those documents to Panama. The inventories below provide additional details about the nature of those documents.

As background, the Operation Just Cause document exploitation effort was extensive and involved an interagency team led by the DIA.

The volume of documents and media seized in Panama was variously measured. An early DIA report from Jan. 1990 on the document exploitation effort noted that "the collected material is expected to approach 50 tons." The military's  "Operation Just Cause Lessons Learned" stated, however, that within "the first week" of the operation "it was estimated that over 120 tons of documents had been captured."  News reports usually referred to 15,000 boxes worth of seized documents.

As the DIA notes above, the documents contained quite a bit of variety, everything from "personal correspondence" to "arms inventories" to "stolen U.S. documents."  The inventories below provide additional detail.

Seized Document Inventories 

The first three are inventories - here, here, and here - of documents and other material seized in Noriega's residences and offices.  These include everything from Noriega's credit cards to membership cards to the Smithsonian to "U.S. Aircraft Charts" to "approximately $5 million cash."

The next inventory is a 50-page list of boxes of documents and media seized elsewhere.  The inventory is dated May 1991 and is entitled "Captured Document Facility" and references Charlie company, 746th Military Intelligence Batallion, 470th Military Intelligence Brigade, which continues to support U.S. Army South at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The descriptions of the boxes are very brief. You'll notice in the bottom right corner of the first page of the inventory it says "Exhibit A."  The corresponding "Exhibit B" was a classified report that gave much more extensive detail about the contents of these boxes.

The "Secret Inventory"

Not to be confused with the classified "Exhibit B" just mentioned, there was also what became known as the "secret inventory."

The "Secret Inventory" - written across the top is "Found this list wadded up as garbage"

In the lead up to Noriega's trial an investigator sent to Panama by a co-defendant found a partial inventory of documents "crumpled in a box among materials open for inspection by defense attorneys" which led to allegations that the U.S. had violated court orders in the case (see, for example, "U.S. Accused of Withholding Secret Papers on Noriega").  Here is the "secret inventory" in full.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kate Doyle on Access to Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN)

Kate Doyle at the National Security Archive has a great post "Where Archives and Human Rights Connect: Millions of pages of Guatemalan Police Archive released digitally" on Unredacted.  Over 10 million scanned images from the National Police Historical Archive of Guatemala were recently made  available for online research as a result of a collaborative project of the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, and the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas with the Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional de Guatamala.

Doyle states, "There is no parallel for on-line, unrestricted access to an archive of this magnitude anywhere in the world" and notes, "Less than one week after its first unveiling in the United States, UT Austin reports that there have been over 17,000 page-views by individuals from 47 countries."  She then addresses the issue of access and privacy protection that is highly relevant to many captured document collections:
The decision on the part of the Guatemalan Police Archive to provide unrestricted digital access to records that contain countless references to private individuals – many of them entrapped by a security system designed to identify suspected subversives and kidnap or kill them solely on the basis of those suspicions – is highly controversial within the archiving world. Even in countries with no formal privacy or archive laws such as Guatemala, standard archival practice strives to protect the privacy of the victims of repression – whether by withholding entire records or selectively deleting individual names and other identifying information.
* * * * 
This was an approach ultimately rejected by the Guatemalan Police Archive. The process by which the archive decided to open the records related to political repression without restriction involved a long internal debate within the archive’s management and staff, as well as a panel discussion held in 2009 inviting public comment. It is also described in the archive’s own report, published in June 2011.
Citing several legal instruments, including Guatemala’s Constitution and an article in the country’s freedom of information law that prohibits the denial of records relating to gross human rights violations, the report, From Silence to Memory: Revelations from the Historical Archive of the National Police, found: “The armed internal conflict and repressive practices characterized a recent historic period in Guatemala that affected and continues to affect society enormously. In the face of this reality, the conclusion is inevitable that the political events that took place between 1960 and 1996 form part of the collective history of the Nation. This should be understood in its fullest dimension, so that no one has the right to hide information that comes from the actions by the State and its officials.”  (See pp. 37-39)
For additional background on the Guatemalan archives see also Doyle's, "Recovery of the Guatemalan Police Archives - An Update" (2008) and her piece "The Atrocity Files:Deciphering the archives of Guatemala's dirty war" in Harper's in 2007.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wikileaks & Denying the Authenticity of Captured Documents

The State Department's recent response (see ACLUNY Times, and Secrecy News for summary) to the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit for official copies of 23 embassy cables published by Wikileaks is quite remarkable and relevant to the issue of captured documents.  Briefly, in response to the FOIA request, the State Department shockingly released redacted copies of a number of the records, which allowed the ACLU to create this exhibit comparing the redacted documents with the Wikileaks documents to illustrate exactly what was redacted.

What does this have to do with captured documents? While the Wikileaks documents are not "captured documents" in the strict sense, they are certainly a kissing cousin that shares many characteristics: nonpublic/sensitive/classified state documents in non-official custody that are made public despite vigorous demands for their return and allegations of illegality.  Both might be put into a larger category of "displaced" records or archives.

I find it remarkable that the government did not more aggressively and actively call into question the authenticity of the Wikileaks documents in the first place.  Among other things, a stronger response could have allowed the questionable "Wikileaks documents" to be treated as something substantively different than the classified documents they purported to replicate and arguably would have obviated the need for the restrictions on accessing Wikileaks on government computers that only served to further validate them as authentic classified documents and to chill both research and public debate.

In the context of captured documents exposed publicly, denying authenticity has historically been a primary defensive strategy.  When the Germans published a "White Book" called "Polish Documents Bearing on Events that Led Up to the War" in 1940, for example, that purportedly consisted of diplomatic documents seized by German troops from the archives of the Polish Foreign Office in Warsaw and which included purported communications from United States envoys to France and Britain, President Roosevelt referred to the documents as "sheer propaganda" and said that they "should be taken, not with one or two, but with three grains of salt."

Another example relates to the Smolensk archives, the documents famously seized by Germany from Smolensk, Russia, during World War II that the U.S. took into custody at the end of the war and later made publicly available, which led to decades of debate over their return to the U.S.S.R.  Patricia Kennedy Grimsted describes in her wonderful "The Odyssey of the Smolensk Archive: Plundered Communist Records for the Service of Anti-Communism" (Worldcat) that in 1965 the acting Archivist of the United States actually informed a Soviet official that "if the USSR were to make an official request for the return of the Smolensk Archive, undoubtedly the State Department would be prepared to resolve the matter favorably."  According to to Grimsted's research, however, despite the public availability of the documents and the passage of time, the Soviets nevertheless decided against making such a demand on the basis that:
An official petition by the Soviet Union to the State Department could be used in the USA as an official recognition of the authenticity of those documentary materials, and thus even contribute to falsified display in public exhibits and further published utilization with the aim of anti-Soviet propaganda and hence appear to substantiate concrete examples of events which took place in the 1930s.

In relation to the Wikileaks documents, both the U.N. and even Iran appeared to be using the old playbook and basically invited the U.S. to join them in undermining the authenticity of the Wikileaks documents.  As applied to the FOIA response, the State Department apparently chose not to try using a Glomar ("can neither confirm nor deny") response.  It might have been a novel usage, but one a court could have potentially found compelling under these unique circumstances.  Instead the redacted cables serve to further confirm the authenticity of the Wikileaks documents and, as the ACLU itself points out, the redacted disclosures are "perhaps more sensitive than the cables themselves, revealing what the government thinks the public should and should not be able to see."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

More Detail on Seized Osama bin Laden Docs

In an article entitled "Osama bin Laden 'was not in charge of al-Qaeda at time of raid'" the Telegraph in London cites an unnamed U.S. expert who reviewed the documents seized from bin Laden's Abottabad home in reporting that:
the 200 pieces of evidence – notebooks, files, computers and USB drives – recovered by the US commandos who staged the raid in which he died, showed "it had been quite a while since he was involved in the day-to-day management of the organisation."
"The writings we recovered are mostly general position papers, along the lines of 'We must continue to attack the US' or 'Can the Somali Shebab be trusted?" the source said.
"In one small blue notebook from February 2010, he wonders if one member should be promoted, who should be named to replace another killed in a drone raid. But nothing about operational management of the organisation," the source added.
About a third of the items confiscated were about personal family matters including efforts by one of his wives to find a husband for one of their daughters, the source added.
"In any event, for security reasons, he only received messages one or two times a month. How can you run a network in those conditions?" the expert said.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Japan transferring Korean Royal Archives to South Korea

According to a news report from the Mainichi Daily News, Japan will be transferring Korean royal archives to South Korea within the next few days.  The royal archives which are known as "Uigwe" date to the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and were seized by Japan during its colonial rule of Korea from 1910-1945. The Uigwe are royal archives that documented royal events and ceremonies. They were inscribed in UNESCO's Memory of the World project in 2007.  The nomination form noted that the Uigwe in Japan were taken from the Odaesan archive in 1922.

The Uigwe from Japan will now join nearly 300 other Uigwe transferred earlier this year from the Bibliotheque nationale de France to South Korea.  The Uigwe in France were seized in military operations in Korea in 1866.

Virtual U.S. Embassy for Iran

The State Department launched a virtual U.S. Embassy for Iran yesterday which has apparently already been blocked by Iranian officials.  There is another historical, virtual U.S. Embassy for Iran of sorts in the form of the collection of U.S. documents seized during the 1979 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Copies of seized documents were published as a series called "Documents from the U.S. Espionage Den" volumes of which are available online.

The publishers of the documents reportedly utilized skilled carpet weavers to reconstruct documents that had been shredded, a technique that would likely impress DARPA.

Unclear whether there are any plans for similarly publishing documents recently seized from the British Embassy in Tehran. For additional information on the publication of the U.S. embassy documents, see this post by the Federation of American Scientists.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"National Archives and International Conflicts" (article)

New article in latest American Archivist entitled "National Archives and International Conflicts: The Society of American Archivists and War" available here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Government digital copies of IMF/Hoover documents?

The debate over the documents obtained by the Iraq Memory Foundation from Ba'ath Party Headquarters in Iraq and that are now on deposit at the Hoover Institution at Stanford is epic.

Access to the documents at Hoover requires physically traveling to Stanford and signing an agreement available here, that, among other things, forbids "commentary for public use in print media or over the Internet that uses or quotes from the IMF Collection without prior written permission from Mr. Kanan Makiya of the Iraq Memory Foundation." There are certainly important and valid reasons for restrictions on access to, and disclosure of, these documents given that they contain, among other things, personal information on victims. Restrictions on access to government documents that require such personal written permission from a specific individual, however, seems a bit odd.  I was therefore interested in a detail in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece that said the following (emphasis mine):
According to Hassan Mneimneh, director of the Iraq Memory Foundation's documentation project, the group reached an agreement with the U.S. military in February 2005 to have the documents shipped to the United States, where government contractors would complete the digitizing process at a much faster rate. That agreement also provided for the U.S. government to keep a digital copy of the collection.
I had assumed the most likely government entity to hold that digital copy would be the DIA. Therefore I requested via FOIA last year a sampling of these records on the basis that, regardless of the ownership of the original documents, the digital copies in the possession of the government ought to constitute agency records within the meaning of FOIA.  Morever, access to the government copies would be governed by established FOIA standards for redaction and withholding rather than by the personal restrictions at Hoover.

After more than a year and a half, I finally received the response below indicating that "no documents responsive to your request were found."  Perhaps the search conducted was inadequate or perhaps the DIA is not the governmental entity that has custody of the digital copies after all.  Not knowing which specific agency has custody or authority over seized records is a recurring obstacle.