To most of us, NSA refers to the National Security Agency, our nation's largest intelligence agency. But there is another NSA, however, and it is definitely not interested in promoting our security. The National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, DC is a self-proclaimed watchdog of U.S. intelligence and security agencies. It is a favorite of proponents of "openness" in U.S. foreign policy, particularly concerning our efforts to deter leftist regimes. In other words, NSA wants us to stop spying on our enemies.
NSA is described on its website as "a research institute on international affairs, a library and archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, a public-interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information through the FOIA, and an indexer and publisher of the documents in books, microfiche, and electronic formats." As a research entity, NSA is the beneficiary of the dirty work done by its sister group at GWU the Center for National Security Studies, which openly lobbies for more "openness." CNSS is the progeny of Morton Halperin, a leftist whose dismal record beginning in the early 1970's can be reviewed here. His whole career has been one long effort to undermine U.S. intelligence efforts.
The CIA has been voluntarily declassifying documents since it released over nine million pages of Office of Strategic Services (the WWII-era predecessor of the CIA) records in the 1980's. But established procedures for declassifying records under voluntary or non-voluntary programs have been co-opted by political interests hostile to U.S. government clandestine activity. NSA is one of the most pernicious of such groups. NSA has initiated over 18,000 FOIA requests since its inception in 1984. FOIA requires federal agencies to disclose records unless they are classified or otherwise legally non-public.
Since 1995, classified documents have fallen under Executive Order 12958, which removed the declassification process from the realm of national security considerations and placed it within the reach of political groups such as NSA. Halperin was appointed as a top assistant to the acting Defense Secretary Les Aspin in 1993, which marked the initiation of the review of declassification procedures that culminated in EO 12958.
EO 12958 is to NSA what Roe v. Wade was to abortion proponents. EO 12958 de-fanged agency declassification authority and opened the FOIA review process up in such a way that one might be forgiven for wondering what use remains for classifying any intelligence documents at all. There is no longer a presumption of confidentiality for sensitive security or foreign policy issues. The burden is on the federal agencies like CIA to review, on a case-by-case basis, each classification decision. Petty requirements in the order constrict the agency and become fodder for challenges by groups such as NSA and ACLU to overturn classification decisions on the basis of legal and procedural technicalities.
This has resulted in conflicting criteria for declassification and an ever-growing bureaucratic bloat to meet the flood of declassification requests and challenges. NSA makes over 2,500 "public service" requests for documents and information annually. Resources that were once applied to deterring our enemies are now being diverted to handle this process. The CIA employs 350 people to review and declassify documents. It receives over 6,000 FOIA and other declassification review requests every year. New electronic FOIA amendments require reduction of backlogged review requests subject to court-imposed penalties.
The EO also established the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), an appeals panel that, pursuant to a 1999 Justice Department ruling, can legally overrule CIA classification authority and responsibility. There is no precedent, either in the U.S. or in any other foreign government, for this level of declassification of clandestine activity. For example, Britain's MI5 only recently made its first-ever release of records to the public of some 8,000 scanned images of original documents. But these records relate only to British political and intelligence history before and during WWI!
Fast forward two years from 1999, to 9-11. Can anyone be surprised that CIA had such scanty human intelligence in the Middle East, where infiltration is notoriously difficult? Agents past, present and future, foreign or domestic, who might be named are now at risk of reprisal from their enemies. Foreign governments are increasingly reluctant to cooperate with our intelligence agencies for fear that they will be outed. The same applies for any individual or group that may be able to help us, or themselves, by aiding U.S. intelligence agencies.
This, of course, is precisely what NSA wants.
A perusal of the NSA website confirms the charade of its pretense as an innocent repository of historical documents. A link on the homepage is entitled: "Nixon: Brazil helped rig the Uruguayan elections," 1971. This is followed by a descriptive caption, "Documents reveal U.S. efforts to influence Uruguayan election." Assuming this is true, so what? We've done a lot more than influence elections before (we ran Japan and Germany for 10 years), and very likely we'll act similarly in the near future.
Other headlined links on NSA's site include: "Argentine Military Believed U.S. Gave Go-ahead for Dirty War. New State Department documents show conflict between Washington and US Embassy in Buenos Aires over signals to the military dictatorship at height of repression in 1976." Imagine an alternative headline that is just as plausible from a reading of the documents in question: "U.S. Government Struggles to Contain Communist Terrorists Amid Concerns Over Argentine Government Tactics." Another headline is: "State Department Opens Files on Argentina's Dirty War. Documents describe key death squad under former army chief Galtieri." Substitute "CIA Opens Files on Argentina's Dirty War. Documents describe key leftist terrorist groups under communist support from Soviet Russia." Unfortunately we don't have access to any such files for the simple reason that declassifying them would compromise the sources and methods used to obtain them. There is thus a bias at NSA in favor of disclosing the unpleasant side of covert operations without disclosing the reasons for them.
Another link — "Did NATO Win the Cold War?" — lists mostly old documents that putatively weaken the claim that U.S.-led NATO containment ultimately ended the Cold War. The title insinuates a phony argument. The counter-argument that they are referring to is that it was the U.S. military build-up that ultimately protected us from Soviet Russia's expansionist goals. But it's absurd as a matter of intellectual honesty to raise the question without acknowledging, much less documenting, contrary recent testimony from senior ex-Soviet officials that support the counter-argument.
Two related items are conspicuously absent in the NSA archives. First are the Venona Files that revealed how thoroughly the Soviets infiltrated the U.S. government during the Cold War. Second are the Mitrokhin Archives. These were compiled by Victor Mitrokhin, the former archivist to the KGB's First Chief Directorate. Over many years he quietly made copies of many papers and when he defected to the British in 1992, he brought copies of 25,000 documents with him. These documents are among the most damning public, first-hand historical evidence of Soviet aggression in existence. The omission of any mention of them completely debunks the illusion that NSA is even-handed.
NSA wins the PR war since they can always disingenuously argue that they have FOIA'd all documents relating to a particular subject (in an effort to be "balanced") but their requests have not been met; therefore the selective documentation in their archive is technically not their doing. "This is government documentation — you be the judge!" This can be maintained under the knowledge that CIA and other security agencies will never declassify all of their documents because it is precisely the most revealing documents that need to be most carefully guarded. The unknowing researcher relying on NSA for documentation of the conflict in South America during the 1970's, for example, is faced with a one-sided portrayal of the difficulties faced by the U.S. government in combating communist infiltration. Equivalent documentation of atrocities committed by leftist groups would give the researcher reason to consider why the United States supported certain regimes to preempt communist takeover of Latin America. But objectivity here, as in the media, is a ruse. The word is cover for a covert propagandizing.
There is no documentation on the site of the most egregious recent lapse of U.S. National Security prior to 9-11: the stealing of nuclear secrets by the Communist Chinese during the Clinton Administration. A Congressional Committee headed by Fred Thompson (R-TN) produced reams of evidence indicting the entire DNC apparatus in abetting a massive shakedown of our security. A Los Alamos scientist, Wen Ho Lee, was found by the FBI to have downloaded the equivalent of 400,000 pages of nuclear design and testing information. Then-FBI Director Louis Freeh testified, "…the Department of Justice and the FBI stand by each and every one of the 59 counts in the indictment of Dr. Lee. Each of those counts could be proven in December 1999, and each of them could be proven today." (See http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2000/freeh.html). Lee was subsequently released because the FBI could not reveal in court the evidence indicting Lee without compromising key national security information and sources. But that's apparently less important to NSA than revisiting anecdotal exchanges by Hungarian commissars circa 1956.
According to NSA, a long list of recent international mishaps are somehow attributable to American neglect. These include the Rwanda genocide of 1994 (we were willful "bystanders"). There is no reference to the 1991 Somalia genocide, however, curious given the notoriety of that event as a failure of U.S. foreign policy in which 19 Americans lost their lives. We certainly weren't "bystanders" there. Neither were we in Haiti in 1994, which was another U.S. foreign policy disaster. Could it be that there were some lessons to be learned from Somalia that led to our decision to avoid a similar disaster from intervening in a localized, age old ethnic conflict in which there was no compelling reason for risking the lives of Americans? That is an opinion shared by a good number of foreign policy observers. Why then is there no documentation of that at NSA?
The following quote, taken from NSA's commentary on the Rwanda episode, is telling. Capitalized words are my own, inserted to illuminate the inconsistency in the presumed sacred principle of U.S. intervention against genocidal attacks.
Despite overwhelming evidence of genocide and knowledge as to its perpetrators, United States officials decided against taking a leading role in confronting the slaughter in Rwanda (IRAQ, ISRAEL, U.S.). Rather, US officials confined themselves to public statements, diplomatic demarches, initiatives for a ceasefire, and attempts to contact both the interim government perpetrating the killing and the RPF. The US did use its influence, however, at the United Nations, but did so to discourage (ENCOURAGE)a robust UN response. In late July, however, with the evidence of genocide littering the ground in Rwanda (IRAQ, ISRAEL, U.S.), the US did launch substantial operations — again, in a supporting role — to assist humanitarian relief efforts for those displaced by the genocide."
Clearly NSA is only interested in risking U.S. lives so long as they serve interests having nothing in common with America, and in support of regimes whose existence constitutes no real threat to the liberal democratic order of the civilized world, of which we are the principal caretaker.
NSA is not true to any self-stated purpose, nor does it constitute a viable source of information. It does not speak to the history of any country, to the foreign policy of the United States worked out at great length, nor to the cost and risk to national security related to any of the documents it collects. In the end, NSA only succeeds in compromising national security and demoralizing those who serve the foreign policy of their own country with its semi-fact based reports. This is faulty research of the worst kind.
One almost feels for the NSA staff and advisory board. They are a veritable college liberal arts professorate who, armed with their MA's and PhD's, must have a disquieting collective sense that they never got the big questions right in their chose fields of expertise. (The latest incarnation of over-educated and perfectly useless academics are the "Middle Eastern Studies" set). But like Japanese soldiers holed up on Iwo Jima months after the war ended they figure that by some divine circumstance — just maybe — they can reverse history and preserve their good opinions of themselves.
To observe their revisionist efforts nonetheless makes for an interesting study in human psychology. Resentment is a powerful emotion. What must it be like to know that the principles upon which one's professional education and life have been based have been exposed by History as a lie? Some brave souls - Whitaker Chambers, Viktor Mitrokhin, among others — were courageous enough to come to terms with it. But most of the Left — desirous to feel important but not up to doing anything heroic — looked the other way while totalitarian regimes more befitting their ideological tastes murdered millions.
It is a hard fact that saving the world from totalitarianism was not, unfortunately, accomplished solely by diplomatic politesse. Niceties like rights and openness are almost exclusively Western prejudices and are viewed with contempt by the thugs of the world. Openness, like most abstract principles, is not just desirable as an end in itself. In the case of Soviet Russia, it hastened the downfall of murderous regime that really was closed and secretive. But the U.S. is the most open society in the world, as are our intelligence agencies; those are incontrovertible facts. "Openness" taken to the extreme is thus, in the context of U.S. intelligence, actually closed-ness when our country is at war and lives are at stake, and as long as there are regimes bent on our destruction but which may have yet to confront us militarily. That explains why the U.S. and virtually every other nation in the world maintain an intelligence capability. And if one wants to find out what Osama bin Laden is up to one doesn't go recruiting for agents in the Vienna Boy's Choir. But to the UN, the Euro-sophisticates, and groups like NSA that owe their existence to U.S. security efforts nonetheless it is the U.S. that bears scrutinizing for its alleged misdeeds.
That sensibility is promoted under the infantile notion that we should respect all regimes equally and that our leaders be less assertive in preventing tyrannical regimes from taking root. One might say the U.S. has earned some latitude in that regard, given our historical record in the past century in promoting peace and defeating tyranny.
Unfortunately for most liberals, that record is the source of their existential angst: at heart they just don't like America and its principles, yet they can't honestly reconcile their distaste with History as it really occurred. The U.S-led West won the Cold War, the communist left lost, and the world is immeasurably better off as a result.