Monday, July 30, 2012

Kuwait Deputy Prime Minister on Iraq and Missing Kuwaiti Archives

Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al Hamad Al Sabah recently dispatched a letter to the President of the U.N. Security Council regarding the "the latest developments in the matter of Iraq's outstanding obligations pursuant to the Security Council resolutions" including Iraq's obligation to return Kuwait's national archives seized by Saddam's Iraq. Al Sabah's letter references the Secretary-General's recent report and states:
With regard to progress made in the matter of Kuwaiti property and the national archive, Iraq has returned some Kuwaiti property belonging to certain Kuwaiti Government authorities and, in December 2011, established a ministerial committee to follow up on this matter. However, this committee has not presented any reports on its work. The fate of the Kuwaiti national archive, which includes important documents pertaining to the Amiri Diwan, the Diwan of the Crown Prince and the Diwan of the Prime Minister, remains unknown.
The references to specific collections of archives, although very general, is more detail about the missing archives than is normally given.  Back in 2000, Kuwait did submit this more detailed list of the archives it sought.  The list of archives and records Iraq claimed to have subsequently returned to Kuwait in 2002 is enclosed here.

Kuwait News Agency coverage of Al Sabah's letter is here.  Previous coverage of the controversy over the missing Kuwaiti national archives is here, here, and here.

N.Y. Times Magazine on the Aleppo Codex

Ronen Bergman had a fascinating piece in yesterday's N.Y. Times Magazine called "A High Holy Whodunit" on the history and controversies surrounding the Aleppo Codex.  It begins:
One day this spring, on the condition that I not reveal any details of its location nor the stringent security measures in place to protect its contents, I entered a hidden vault at the Israel Museum and gazed upon the Aleppo Codex — the oldest, most complete, most accurate text of the Hebrew Bible. The story of how it arrived here, in Jerusalem, is a tale of ancient fears and modern prejudices, one that touches on one of the rawest nerves in Israeli society: the clash of cultures between Jews from Arab countries and the European Jews, or Ashkenazim, who controlled the country during its formative years. And the story of how some 200 pages of the codex went missing — and to this day remain the object of searches carried out around the globe by biblical scholars, private investigators, shadowy businessmen and the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency — is one of the great mysteries in Jewish history.
Portions of the recent book Bergman cites in the article, Matti Friedman's "The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible" are available in a Google Books preview here.  The Ben-Zvi Institute also has a special page on the Aleppo Codex here, which includes scanned images.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Destruction of U.S. Rendition Flight Manifests at Diego Garcia?

Jason Lewis, investigations editor for the Sunday Telegraph, recently had a piece on his Not 4 Attribution blog called "UK admits it does hold records on secret 'Rendition' base."  Lewis posts a June 2012 letter from Henry Bellingham from the U.K. Foreign Office informing Andrew Tyrie of the House of Commons that an answer Bellingham gave in response to a January 2012 Parliamentary question regarding records kept by the U.K. of U.S. flights landing in Diego Garcia in March 2004 was inaccurate.

The question had resulted from the documents seized in Libya that contained, among other things, the 2004 CIA flight plan pictured above which includes a March 2004 stop over in Diego Garcia (previous coverage of the seized Libyan documents is here, here, and here). Bellingham notes that his original answer to the Parliamentary question in January 2012 was:
The UK does not hold any flight manifest information on flights which landed in Diego Garcia in March 2004. British Indian Ocean Territory immigration authorities hold immigration cards for civilians arriving in Diego Garcia during that period.
But based on "further enquiries," Bellingham states that there is actually "information in three other sets of documents held in Diego Garcia by the [British Indian Ocean Territory] Administration" including "General Declarations made by arriving flights" that include "details of owner/operator, marks of registration and nationality; flight number; date; departed from; crew number and sometimes names; sometimes the number of passengers but never names."  Lewis notes this is "the second time Ministers have had to admit they misled Parliament over Britain's role in rendition" (on the earlier occurrence see this Wikileaks cable that purports to be a U.S. State Department cable from 2008).

The additional U.K. records on Diego Garcia are interesting enough, but what particularly intrigues me is another part of Bellingham's letter in which he states that his "further enquiries," which clearly included a consultation with the U.S. government, "have confirmed that flight manifests are only held by the US air transport provider, Air Mobility Command (AMC) - and then only for a period of three years" (emphasis mine). The Air Mobility Command is part of the U.S. Air Force and therefore the three year period would appear to refer to a retention period for flight manifests in an Air Force records schedule (many of which are available from the National Archives here - I have not yet attempted to pinpoint the relevant schedule or item).

Assuming it's accurate, the 3-year retention period for the AMC flight manifests -- no doubt cited to Bellingham by U.S. officials -- illustrates quite well one of the central shortcomings of records control schedules. In particular, they very often fail to capture the distinction between an unremarkable record like a normal, routine flight manifest, which has limited value and for which a 3-year retention period might be appropriate, and an extraordinary record like a flight manifest documenting a flight that, without the apparent knowledge of the government on whose territory the flight was landing, carried individuals seized in foreign operations who were accused or suspected of terrorism and that were being rendered to Qaddafi's Libya, which has exponentially more value, both legal and historical. The language in the letter gives the impression that the 3-year period has been consistently and mechanically applied to all of them.

There is, however, an argument that the standard retention period should have been overridden for the rendition flight manifests on the grounds of foreseeable litigation or relevant investigations.  As just one example, in February 2007 -- that is, prior to the expiration of the purported 3-year retention period on the March 2004 rendition flight manifest -- the same Andrew Tyrie to whom Bellingham's recent letter was addressed wrote this letter on behalf of the House of Commons to then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and current Vice President of the United States, Joseph Biden asking him to investigate whether, among other things, "the United States conducted any rendition flights through the United Kingdom for which the United Kingdom did not give permission, or of which the United Kingdom had no knowledge?" Not long afterward the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held this hearing.

Of course, this is not the first time the integrity of military airport logs have been the subject of considerable controversy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

1945 Restoration of Captured Documents Manual

The Combined Arms Research Library has recently uploaded to its Digital Library a 1945 manual called "Restoration of Captured Documents" (available here) from the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, South West Pacific Area.  The manual was "designed to facilitate the extraction of intelligence from illegible documents of Japanese origin" and notes that the "methods described have given excellent results at ATIS, SWPA and other organizations in the same field."

The manual notes:
"Captured documents have been found to be an excellent source of intelligence but, frequently, the extraction of information from them has been difficult, if not impossible, because of their poor condition. Picked up on the field of battle and elsewhere in conquered or liberated territory, these manuscripts are usually wet and often covered with mud, mold, blood or excreta."
The manual provides detailed written guidance and pictures on the "rehabilitation of dirty documents," "deciphering illegible writing," and the "treatment of charred documents."

NMIA's 2012 Counterintelligence Symposium UPDATE

UPDATE: Cryptome has retrieved and posted a cached copy of the full schedule here (thanks to John Young and John Cook).

The National Military Intelligence Association's 2012 Counterintelligence Symposium will be held on July 26, 2012.  Attendance is restricted to U.S. intelligence professionals with at least a Secret security clearance, but some interesting topics will be covered.

In particular, Andrew Staller from the National Media Exploitation Center, Defense Intelligence Agency, is scheduled to talk on new "tools" in counterintelligence including a "Document Exploitation Triage Tool," a "Media Exploitation Triage Tool," and something called the "Social Media Residual Information Tool (SMIRK)," which sounds fascinating, frightening, and disturbing all at once. Unfortunately, in another illustration of the need to download anything interesting on the internet before it disappears (which I guess is part of the reason the world needs tools like SMIRK), the NMIA's detailed schedule of the Symposium is no longer on their website.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Did the U.S. Really Offer Half of the Iraqi Jewish Archives to Iraq?

Following up on recent Iraqi allegations that the U.S. refuses to return the Iraqi Jewish archives to Iraq (and even charges that the U.S. has sold a portion of the archives to Israel), there are now new allegations coming from the Iraqi Minister of Tourism that he has rejected an offer from the United States to return half of the Iraqi Jewish archives to Iraq provided that the Iraqis agree not to claim the remaining portion of the archives (see hereherehere, and here - the original Arabic article in Al-Sabah on which the other reports are based is here).

The State Department did provide one earlier denial (stating that the Iraqi Jewish archives were in the "temporary custody" of NARA and that "all the material will return to Iraq at the conclusion of the [conservation] project"). Otherwise, however, the U.S. has not been actively rebutting the steady flow of questionable allegations from the Iraqi Minister of Tourism, which has reportedly had the not insignificant consequence of Iraq suspending cooperation with U.S. archaeological teams (see here and here).

I asked public affairs at both NARA and the State Department for comment on these most recent allegations, but have not received a response from either.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WWII MFA&A Officers & Cultural Property Lessons Learned

Laurie W. Rush has a piece in Military Review called "Cultural Property as a Force Multiplier in Stability Operations: World War II Monuments Officers Lessons Learned" (thanks Illicit Cultural Property). Rush, an Army archaeologist who has directed a well-regarded cultural heritage training program for deploying U.S. troops, recounts the role of the World War II Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives (MFA&A) officers.  She highlights how that work not only protected cultural property, but also contributed to the larger war effort by, among other things, counteracting enemy propaganda designed to portray the Allies as lacking in respect for local culture heritage.

Rush outlines a number of lessons from the WWII MFA&A experiences, some of which have yet to be learned in more recent conflicts. Among the lessons, Rush argues that meaningful cultural property protection during armed conflict "requires support and direction from the highest levels." During WWII, Rush notes, the MFA&A arose out of a Commission established by President Roosevelt and headed by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. In contrast, she notes:
current cultural property protection within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) have been relegated to voluntary "additional duty" status for a group of dedicated DOD cultural resource managers, lawyers, and other professionals. . . . DOD still needs an institutionalized program and process to engage the cultural property protection issue in a responsive, predictable, and dependable way that gets appropriate information to the right people at the right time. This initiative should come from the secretariat level.
Consistent with Rush's recommendation, Article 7(2) of the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which the U.S. is a party, requires that states "undertake to plan or establish in peacetime, within their armed forces, services or specialist personnel whose purpose will be to secure respect for cultural property," although I am certain the U.S. believes that its current efforts, including the work of experts like Rush, satisfy this standard.

Rush also notes:
Currently, a military museum in the U.S. has a decorative architectural feature removed from one of Saddam's palaces on display. The international laws of war forbid the removal of such an architectural element, and its current display as a war trophy illustrates the need for improved education on the issue.
The piece does not discuss in any detail the special issues of Archives - the named, but junior partner in the MFA&A organization - but highlights the importance of protecting cultural property collections.

For more on the work of the MFA&A during WWII, see the wonderful 1946 "Report of The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas" which is available in full-text online here - in my opinion one of the most interesting U.S. government documents there has ever been (discussion of the role of the National Archives begins at p. 41).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Controversy between Algeria and France over Archives

Christian Lowe at Reuters has a fascinating piece (thanks rainbyte) called "Algeria, France tussle over archives 50 years after split" discussing an ongoing debate between France and Algeria over artifacts, books, maps, a bronze cannon, and archives removed to France between 1830 and 1962. It begins: "When French soldiers and administrators left Algeria after more than a century of colonial rule, they did not go empty-handed."

The debate has some of the classic characteristics of archival disputes:

The failure to provide for the disposition of archives in a treaty

Lowe states "When negotiators were hammering out the terms of Algeria's independence in the French spa resort of Evian 50 years ago, they did not include in their treaty any articles on archives or historical artifacts."

This has been followed by largely unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a solution.  Lowe cites Herve Lemoin, director of the French national archives, stating that "an agreement had been reached in 1966 to return Algeria's historical archives, notably Ottoman-era documents, and technical documents from the 1830-1962 period, but Algiers had since claimed more." On the other side, according to Lowe, Abdelmadjid Chikhi, director of Algeria's national archives, stated that "his counterparts in France had offered a compromise: Algeria would be given access to copies of the disputed items if it abandons its claim to them. He refused."

Contrasting views on legal ownership of the archives

"We're not going to give up our right. We're not going to give up our property," Lowe quotes Chikhi stating, "Quite simply because it's something that belongs to us. What's mine is mine. I'm not going to sign away our national heritage." In contrast, Lemoin is quoted as asserting that the archives "are considered under French law sovereign archives that are not transferable."  The French legal position, therefore, appears comparable to what France asserted in the case of the royal archives known as Uigwe seized in Korea in 1866 - namely, that the archives have become inalienable property of the French government.

The unique value of archives extending beyond the historical and cultural

The contested archives also illustrate how archives are often distinct from other forms of cultural property that have purely cultural or historical value. Lowe notes: "The row has practical implications for Algeria because some of the documents held in French institutions contain technical data; maps of underground sewers, gas pipes and electricity lines."

Despite the continuing controversy and the lack of a final resolution, Lowe's piece notes that "the Algerian and French national archives have a decent working relationship" and that they "signed a cooperation agreement in 2009 and let each other's researchers study, and sometimes copy, some documents."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Threat Finance" Analysis & DOCEX

A interesting new piece in Small Wars Journal by J. Edward Conway entitled "Analysis in Combat: The Deployed Threat Finance Analyst" discusses the work of intelligence analysts deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq focused on terrorist finance networks. He describes the work of interagency "threat finance cells (TFCs)" and highlights the role of DOCEX:
The TFCs also proved to be particularly adept at document exploitation (DOCEX) – drawing value from media picked up in the field. For example, TFC agents accompanying U.S. troops on a hawala office raid would seize forensic data such as financial ledgers, which TFC analysts could then process in a matter of days due to in-house TFC interpreters/translators. Benjamin Bahney (who was detailed to the ITFC in 2008 and 2009 while at RAND) along with several of his RAND colleagues affirmed the value of DOCEX in their open source analysis of Al Qaeda financial ledgers. Their analysis shows how in-depth exploitation of financial data can increase our understanding of an organization’s decision-making hierarchy and vulnerable sources of revenue and expenditure, but most importantly, Bahney et al. make a strong case for the relationship between an organization’s financial health and its ability to conduct attacks – validation of the need for threat finance analysts as originally proposed by the CFR back in the wake of 9/11.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Iraq Blocks World Monuments Fund from Babylon over Jewish Archives

In addition to new articles on Iraq apparently ending cooperation with U.S. archaeological teams in Iraq due to the issue of the Iraqi Jewish archives in U.S. custody (see herehere, and earlier post on this issue here), there is a now a report of a specific denial of a World Monuments Fund team from visiting Babylon. The AP reported yesterday:
Iraq's tourism minister blocked official visits to the site [of Babylon] by the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based group that is helping Babylon secure a World Heritage site designation after three rejections.
It's payback for an unrelated dispute with the U.S. over the fate of Iraq's Jewish archives, rescued from a waterlogged basement after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and taken to the U.S.
*  *  *  *
Its's part of a long-running dispute over the fate of the Iraqi Jewish archives. The trove of books, photos and religious items were found in Baghdad by U.S. troops and taken to the U.S. for study and preservation under an agreement with Iraqi authorities that stipulated they would be returned. 
But Iraqi authorities grew impatient to get them back, and now Tourism Minister Liwa Smaysin alleges that the U.S. sent some of the artifacts to Israel for an exhibition, a claim denied by both the U.S. State Department and Israel's Antiquities Authority. The U.S. says the archives will eventually be returned to Iraq.
The actions of Iraq's Tourism minister, in my view, are particularly unfortunate not simply because they appear to be counterproductive to the goal of protecting and promoting Iraq's cultural heritage, but also because tying such actions to the Jewish archives is a wasted opportunity.  The focus on the Jewish archives appears based on an unsubstantiated, and seemingly conspiratorial, allegation that the United States secretly sold or sent to Israel a portion of the Jewish archives (admittedly this was more plausible early on when Donald Rumsfeld was considering an offer from Hebrew University to take them in May 2003).

The predictable U.S. response to such allegations by Iraq's Tourism minister and the demand for the Jewish archives is straightforward and unequivocal. As AFP reported:
When asked for comment, US embassy spokesperson Michael McClellen said the archives were in "the temporary custody of the US National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] for conservation, preservation, and digitization." "The US Department of State is funding the final phase of the project which includes a bilingual [English and Arabic] educational exhibit of the material in the US and in Iraq," he said, adding that "all the material will return to Iraq at the conclusion of the project." 
A much more interesting - and arguably more legitimate - strategy would be for the Tourism minister to tie his actions to a demand for the return of the 43,000 boxes of seized Iraqi government documents that remain in U.S. custody.