Should We Depend on Intelligence Oversight?

February 1, 2014– President Barack Obama and his intelligence chieftains, from Director James Clapper on down, tirelessly repeat that citizens should trust their claims that NSA eavesdropping and other controversial spy programs are perfectly acceptable because these are monitored by oversight committees of the Congress. I’ve commented in several places about the inadequacy of the congressional oversight–and the misleading administration claims regarding it. Today I extend my previous comments with a more extensive analysis, ranging back over the history of intelligence oversight, which is posted in the “Downloadable” section of this website. Take a look!

Obama : Syria/NSA = Eisenhower : Dien Bien Phu

January 29, 2014– This is about history, or more precisely what  presidents learn, or think they learn, from history to apply to their current headaches. Many of you will be familiar with the kinds of word associations that college entrance exams delight in confronting us with. Here I want to make an analogy between President Barack Obama’s present approach and one attributed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to argue that it is indeed possible to learn wrong things from history.

The episode from the Eisenhower years occurred in 1954. It was a Far Eastern crisis, one in Vietnam. In the last year of the French war there, our ally’s Expeditionary Corps trapped itself into a hopeless battle against a Vietnamese revolutionary army. Paris, aghast at the specter of defeat, appealed to President Eisenhower to save them. “Ike,” as he was familiarly known, was sorely tempted to intervene with air strikes in support of the French. If those did not work, he recognized that he would have to commit American ground troops.

Ultimately President Eisenhower did not intervene at Dien Bien Phu. I mention the crisis because of the similarity between actions Mr. Obama has taken recently to one explanation for Ike’s course in 1954. The conventional wisdom on Dien Bien Phu is that Ike worked with a “hidden hand” deliberately to avoid intervention by insisting that Congress approve the proposed action, safe in the knowledge that it would not do so. I happen to think that explanation is false. As I argue at length in my new e-book, Operation Vulture: America’s Dien Bien Phu, the president worked to further the intervention project far more assiduously than can be accounted for by an explanation which posits that he opposed this course. We shall see how that historical debate fares, but for our purposes in today’s posting it is the supposed historical lesson of the consensus–the desirability of “hidden hand” action–which frames the point.

Last summer and fall an extended debate raged in the United States over whether the U.S. should intervene militarily in Syria to support a popular uprising against the ruler of that land. Much as Mr. Eisenhower, at Dien Bien Phu, had been trapped by policies he had set and promises made to France; President Obama had been caught in his threats to retaliate against the Syrian government if it were found to be using chemical or biological weapons against its people. When evidence emerged the Syrian regime had done exactly that, Mr. Obama was on the hook. His response? Obama insisted that Congress approve the proposed intervention.

Much the same thing happened with regard to the Snowden revelations and the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal. That issue also emerged last summer. Mr. Obama’s first response was to solicit a national debate on the legal, constitutional, and privacy issues involved in the NSA’s eavesdropping. Privately he ordered intelligence agency chiefs to offer options that might make the dragnet more palatable, and appoint a blue ribbon commission to review the practice. Another review was carried out by an independent agency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (see “Funny Name, Serious Business,” January 23, 2014).

We now know that President Obama approved of this domestic spying all along. As reported by journalist David Remnick in The New Yorker of January 27, Mr. Obama felt no ambivalence about this: “I actually feel confident that the way the NSA operates does not threaten the privacy and constitutional rights of Americans and that the laws that are in place are sound, and, because we’ve got three branches of government involved . . . it actually works pretty well.” Despite Obama’s feelings, last month his blue ribbon commission reported out a study starkly critical of the domestic spying and a federal judge ruled it probably unconstitutional. Three weeks ago the oversight board emerged with an even darker view (see “Independent Agency Study Trashes NSA Claims,” January 24, 2014). Obama’s response? On January 17 he gave a speech accepting the criticisms of the NSA spying, and proposing a number of reforms that he says should be enacted by Congress.

Last night President Obama presented his 2014 State of the Union address. Among its more important features was Mr. Obama’s lambasting of Congress for its inability to act on anything. The president promised to move forward on social issues by means of executive action if Congress will not cooperate. Of course the political gridlock on Capitol Hill has been evident for a long time, since before Mor. Obama took office, and Republican obstructionism became even more strident with him in the White House. Obama’s speech makes perfectly clear his awareness of this factor–and his willingness to proceed unilaterally. Why, then, on two critical issues–Syria intervention and NSA reform–insist that Congress move the ball forward?

One explanation, cynical but not unlikely, is that the president did not want anything to be done on these matters. This certainly concords with Mr. Obama’s expressed view on the NSA spying, and it is a good fit with his need to escape entrapment on his own laying down of “red lines” with the Syrians. Obama has been playing with Dwight Eisenhower’s “hidden hand” deck.

If Barack Obama drew these lessons from history, they are the wrong ones. Let’s go back to Dien Bien Phu, and Vietnam. The hidden hand approach neglects consequences. After Dien Bien Phu these tactics left Eisenhower with no alternative but to support a South Vietnamese government that progressively embroiled the United States in a war. By not addressing policies the tactics put the U.S. on a track from which there was no escape, except by doing the very thing Ike’s supposed course sought to avoid. At the same time, because the hand is hidden a president builds little constituency for his actions. The effect is thus inherently limited. It is distressing that history can offer the wrong lessons and be invoked in support of dubious courses of action.

Korea 1968 Hot Document

January 27, 2014– The Electronic Briefing Book that we posted on the National Security Archive website a few days ago (EBB-453), which dealt with North Korea’s seizure of the U.S. spy ship Pueblo in January 1968 attracted a great deal of attention from South Korean media, fascinated that nuclear weapons might have featured in an American response to the crisis. The actual story is not quite what media mavens have seemed to appreciate: Nuclear weapons were mentioned as part of a planning paper prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May 1968–some months after the crisis–as part of a contingency plan for what to do if hostilities broke out on the Korean peninsula. So that readers can judge for themselves I am posting the paper here as a “hot document.”

We Miss His Integrity Already

January 22, 2014– It was sad to wake up yesterday to the news of the passing of former New York democratic congressman Otis G. Pike. During the fierce debates of 1975, known as the “Year of Intelligence” because the controversies of the day led to the first significant investigations of the actions of U.S. intelligence agencies, Representative Pike held to a steady course in the face of a concerted effort by the Ford administration–and the CIA, NSA, and FBI of that day–to head off any public inquiry. Like the current controversy ignited by leaks from NSA contract employee Edward Snowden, the Year of Intelligence began with revelations of U.S. intelligence spying on American citizens (see my book The Family Jewels). In contrast to the deferential chiefs of the congressional intelligence committees today–Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers–Congressman Pike was in nobody’s pocket and he persevered to the end.

The House of Representatives intelligence investigation of 1975 began under another congressman, Lucien N. Nedzi, who left under fire when it came out that he had collaborated with the CIA–much as current committee chairpersons have with the NSA–in concealing the record of agency abuses embodied in a document that CIA wags of the day had dubbed the “Family Jewels.” The House selected Representative Pike to lead a fresh inquiry. Pike had to start over from square one.

The Pike committee investigation is far less known than the one the Senate conducted under Frank Church. In part that is because his report was suppressed–President Ford lobbied Congress hard to avoid its disclosure, including sending a letter to House members and personally telephoning key figures to nail down votes against releasing the document. But Pike also faced major obstacles. Where the CIA, however reluctantly, permitted Church committee investigators to view some of its materials–ones the Ford White House vetted–its approach with the Pike committee was different. Representative Pike refused to accept the procedures the White House and CIA had designed to limit access for the investigators. The agency countered by refusing to supply Pike with any materials at all, on the excuse his committee could not protect classified information. There was more. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger refused to appear when called to testify, and resisted a subpoena once the House voted that. Some accommodations were made, but executive-legislative cooperation in the case of the Pike investigation would be minimal. And then President Ford intervened to suppress the Pike report. Portions of it promptly leaked. Although the public has never seen the complete report, it is clear from the leaked material that Congressman Pike, despite having half the time the Church committee enjoyed (insufficient in their case too, by the way), and in the face of executive branch obstruction of its inquiry, succeeded in getting to the bottom of several key intelligence questions. Otis Pike’s leadership–and his integrity in resisting White House and CIA maneuvers to affect information–were keys to this achievement.

Congress today would benefit from integrity like Otis Pike’s. The present  intelligence committees seem intent on avoiding issues, not engaging them. Not only is this apparent in their diffident approach to the NSA scandal, it is visible in the Senate committee’s failure to call out the CIA on its effort to stonewall the deep inquiry which the committee majority spent several years assembling on the CIA rendition and torture programs. Otis Pike (1921-2014) would not have let the spooks get away with such shenanigans.

Boardgaming in the News

January 11, 2014–There’s a lot on my plate today, so just a short note.  Very occasionally the mainstream media features coverage of boardgames. This weekend is one such instance. Just so you’re aware, tomorrow’s Washington Post Magazine contains the article “War in A Box” by Jason Albert. The piece is a nice profile of Volko Ruhnke, an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency by trade, but a budding game designer with five titles under his belt. Ruhnke’s work puts a sophisticated simulation model around such subjects as the war in Afghanistan. He’s currently working on a Vietnam war game with co-designer Mark Herman, who some years ago brought us the very intricate Vietnam 1965-1975. The article also contains a bit on the World Boardgame Championships show. If you’re a gamer you’ll be interested to see this essay. 

PANZERKRIEG Returns!

January 4, 2014–It’s always great to see an old friend. Today it’s Panzerkrieg, a game I designed back in the mid-70s, known by its present name since 1978, when Operational Studies Group put out my full edition. Last year the Japanese publisher Six Angles approached me with the suggestion that we collaborate on a fresh version of this classic boardgame. I agreed. The result arrived with yesterday’s mail so that I can now affirm that the new Panzerkrieg is out, and available. It’s listed that way on the “Games” section of the website, with a link to Six Angles.

Those of you familiar with the game will want to know what we have so here goes. The new edition features a re-drawn four-color mapboard that is quite attractive. The terrain feel is better because of the move from three- to four-color, the substitution of symbols for the colored river-crossing hexes in the old edition, and the replacement of the old yellow scenario start-lines with updated symbols.  Panzerkrieg’s former study folder has been replaced by scenario cards. All eight original scenarios are included, and there is a new introductory scenario, “The Manstein Alternative.”

The counter art is spectacular. Masahiro Yamazaki of Six Angles has reworked the pieces (500 on two-and-a-half sheets). Leaders have portraits. There are new color distinctions between mobile units (armor and mechanized) and infantry on both sides, nicely done air units, Minor Allies with their own flavor, and more.

Rules will be familiar, though here, too, we have adapted some elements of more recent editions of the game. These include the ability to group mobile units into panzer corps or tank armies, setting of “Objectives,” specialized anti-tank units, and more. The classic elements of the design, with its Stalemates and Breakthroughs, the Bridgeheads across major rivers, the use of Reserves and of Leaders, plus airpower, remain the same. Six Angles published the game in Japanese translation but an English version of the rules, tables, and charts will become available in the next few weeks.

I will be posting Designer’s Notes for the game as an item on the “Downloadable” section of the site. I’m also considering working up a new scenario as additional value added. Masahiro did a fine job. Panzerkrieg is back. Welcome old friend!

What’s a Jigsaw Puzzle? The BEYOND LEIPZIG Mapboard

December 26, 2013– A fellow game designer commented in one of the online chat rooms on gaming that the mapboard for by Beyond Leipzig looked like a project for a jigsaw puzzle. Seems a bit snarky to me, but his bleat opens up something worth comment, and that is representation on a mapboard. Let me put in my two bits on that.

To start with a general description, Beyond Leipzig features an area map representation of Central Europe from the French border of 1813 to the Oder River. That map includes terrain, for purposes of representing movement and combat; plus delineates certain political boundaries of that era, because this game has a diplomatic aspect and players may dicker over the control of minor states. There are at least eleven different kinds of terrain (clear, highlands, swamps, forests, major and minor rivers, river crossings, cities, fortresses, mountains and passes). The territory of roughly fourteen states (three Major Powers and a host of minor kingdoms, principalities and so on) lies within its scope. Their boundaries have to be specified. Lots of information needs to be on that map.

Several avenues to this are possible. For a long time the standard technique was to take terrain and overlay a grid of hexagons upon it. Another method was to craft a map which divides the space into areas. The third is to produce a network map, dividing the space into “stops” connected by a route-path of movement lines, much like the map of a transit system.

For Beyond Leipzig the choice was an area map. I wanted to get away from the hex grid because that impedes a naturalistic view of the land. But the hex grid does offer one important advantage: it facilitates the representation of terrain. So I made it a goal to make “areas” behave more like “hexes.” Thus, rather than have vanilla, undifferentiated areas on the map, here we get areas which have terrain intrinsic to them, as well as terrain features along the boundaries. This conforms precisely to design practices using hexagons. Areas in Beyond Leipzig terminate at significant boundary features (like rivers or mountains).

Some of the gamer’s impression of a jigsaw can be attributed to another attribute of the area map–areas were drawn so as to inhibit “gamey” actions such as jumping across corners so as to avoid transiting boundary terrain features. No legitimate objection can be made to this approach.

As for a network map approach I rejected that for two reasons. First, a network map would be even more artificial than a hexagon one. Appreciation of land and space becomes so vague that verisimilitude virtually disappears. Second–and equally important– route-path networks are inherently limited by the route connections permitted on the board. In real terrain a force could head in any direction to reach its goal. Within a network, however, directions of movement are restricted. The device of correcting this by connecting all stopping points to all adjacent ones robs the network of its purpose of constricting play. It also produces a more complex visual presentation in which the landscape becomes less visible.

Beyond Leipzig offers a sophisticated terrain analysis in a very simple fashion while opening up all possibilities to the players and affording them the opportunity to see the land as it was, and conduct their campaigns within that framework. This is not a jigsaw puzzle, it is a considered mapboard representation.

 

BEYOND LEIPZIG Hits the Road

 

December 20, 2013– The game Beyond Leipzig has come to the end of its design testing phase. It went off to Last Stand Games to begin its development process earlier this week, and I learned yesterday it had arrived safely. I’m kind of sorry to see it go. Beyond Leipzig was a sweet game from start to finish. It looks great–and will look even better in a published format with a hard-backed mapboard. It plays nicely. One of my testers, writing on the net, called Beyond Leipzig’s combat system ” ‘da bomb.” From the standpoint of the kinds of things you can make happen in battle, I think that’s right.

This is an historical game of a key Napoleonic campaign. “Leipzig” in the title refers to the climactic Battle of Leipzig, which marked the virtual end of the Campaign of 1813 in Germany, one that the Germans call “the War of Liberation.” The game can be played solitaire with reasonable ease, used by two, or assumes its ultimate form as a multi-player encounter that encompasses both diplomacy and warfare. For gamers who are interested in specifications, Beyond Leipzig is an operational/strategic game. It features three-week turns, an area/terrain mapboard, and the combat system which I innovated for Beyond Waterloo. Unit representation is at the brigade/division level. There will be a single mapboard, three Army Organization Displays, a rules booklet and a study folder, 960 counters (four sheets), plus card decks for Battle Tactics, Diplomacy, and National Policies. Counting the scenarios that can be played both dual- and multi-player separately, Beyond Leipzig will have nine scenarios. It will also have the appurtenances of what we used to call a “monster game.” Altogether Beyond Leipzig presents a comprehensive and sophisticated vision of the Campaign of 1813.

When Does Reform Happen?

Someone said to me that lots of folks talk about reforming the surveillance and secrecy systems and wanted to know when will change actually come. That’s a tough question obviously. It’s our problem–a public problem. Almost every day there’s news of yet another abuse that has been occurring, or more detail on things which have been going on all along. Only public pressure is going to bring reform. It’s up to all of us to make the system respond to its citizens. In my book The Family Jewels I suggest one possible avenue to enforce accountability. Take a look. There are many ways we could go but our important concern should be to build the base of support for key changes, starting with an end to intrusive eavesdropping.

Working at the National Security Archive

The National Security Archive, where I’m a senior fellow, is an advocate for openness and government accountability. I’ve been with the Archive in an active role for more than fifteen years and before that I was an ally. The Archive began in the mid-1980s with donations of documents from a number of scholars and journalists, including me. One day I’ll post the story of its creation. Visit the National Security Archive website and see the breadth of our coverage.

We work on secrecy issues in two ways. The first is to support measures to simplify and streamline the government regulations that apply to the declassification of official records. The other is to apply for the release of specific records which we make available to anyone who wants to use them.

The Archive makes records available in several ways, including “Electronic Briefing Books” (EBBs) which contain small selections of declassified documents that are introduced and contextualized by analysts like me. Those are posted directly on the Archive’s website and can be accessed at any time. Another is a set of larger document collections, often thousands of documents at a time. The third is what we call the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) which contain most of our holdings in an electronic format that is machine-searchable. These two are subscription services which are available at many university libraries and other institutions. Researchers can also come to the Archive’s offices and consult our collections directly, including materials not available on DNSA, among them several hundred donations of materials from individuals. Beyond that the Archive has also provided U.S. documents and expert advice to groups seeking to institute freedom of information procedures in their countries, and to justice officials in foreign countries seeking U.S. information for their enforcement of human rights statutes.

At the Archive I currently focus on the Central Intelligence Agency and on Vietnam, both areas where I direct documentation projects. In the past I also functioned as deputy director of our Iraq project and I did work on Afghanistan. I compiled the Archive’s two sets on Vietnam, and now am engaged in creating an even larger collection on intelligence covert operations, the first set of which was released in the spring of 2013, and the second in the spring of 2015. I’ve also done a number of our Electronic Briefing Books. Those can be found and downloaded from the Archive’s website. I won’t mention all the EBBs I’ve created, but the ones I talk about below are some of my “greatest hits.” Some of the Archive’s “great issues” are mentioned as well. I also discuss my book Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War.

 

*Petition to Unseal 1942 Grand Jury Proceedings: National Security Archive joined with the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press to support an initiative to open the secret records of the grand jury the U.S. convened in 1942 in an attempt to obtain an indictment of the Chicago Tribune newspaper for an article it had published about the Battle of Midway in the Pacific theater of World War II. The backstory is that the Tribune’s article mentioned the names of Japanese aircraft carriers sunk at the battle, which the U.S. knew due to breaking enemy naval codes. The U.S. government did not understand at first that the same information had been incorporated into an information sheet posted on many U.S. Navy ships, from which a Tribune reporter copied it. The Justice Department dropped the case once authorities realized that a prosecution of the newspaper would alert the Japanese to the fact their codes were being read. These grand jury proceedings have been secret ever since. In Carlson et. al. v U.S. the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sued to open the proceeding material. The National Security Archive joined the petition to argue the substance of the issue that the Grand Jury proceedings no longer required the protection of secrecy and that, conversely, the contents would be of value to history.

*Cheney Suppresses CIA Assassination Report: Back in 1975, known as the “Year of Intelligence” for all the investigations of the security services that occurred, one had been chaired by the Vice-President of the United States, Nelson A. Rockefeller. While the Rockefeller Commission inquiry was underway, President Gerald R. Ford revealed the CIA had been involved in plotting assassinations. The Rockefeller investigation had to be widened to include the assassination issue, but once its report had been completed, Richard Cheney, then the deputy assistant to the president, edited it. Cheney’s edit inserted recommendations the commission had not approved, dropped ones they had, and changed the Rockefeller Commission presentation. One of Cheney’s biggest edits was to drop the commission’s entire assassinations report. The reason that only the Church Committee’s study of CIA assassination plotting is known is that the one assembled by the Rockefeller commission was suppressed in this way. Electronic Briefing Book 543, on February 29, 2016, includes the White House-edited text of the Rockefeller report, the suppressed assassinations report, commentary from commission staff warning against this action, and more.

*President’s Daily Briefs: The Archive marched in the forefront of efforts to obtain the declassification of the President’s Daily Briefs, the series of intelligence reports produced especially for presidents to see. They serve to index the concerns of America’s top leaders. In 2004 the Archive teamed with scholar Larry Berman to file suit for declassification after the CIA denied Berman a couple of these reports with the (silly) argument that the reports–which embody intelligence analyses–were about “sources and methods.” Remarkably, the agency succeeded in protecting the two documents, except that in 2007 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit threw out the agency’s blanket “sources and methods” justification, forcing the government into a systematic review for declassification of this entire class of documents. As a result the Obama administration adopted a rule that PDBs will be reviewed for secrecy at the 40-year mark. In September 2015 the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence held an event at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, at which the agency opened a collection of roughly 2,500 PDBs. The Archive marked this event by posting our EBB No. 530 on the PDBs (September 16, 2015).

*White House Attempts to Blunt Church Committee Investigation: From the materials gathered for Part II of the Archive’s CIA document collection I selected a cross-section of exemplars that illustrate just how the Ford White House, spearheaded by Dick Cheney and Philip Buchen, attempted to evade congressional investigation of the CIA, NSA, and other elements of U.S. intelligence EBB-522, July 20, 2015). It is a story exactly parallel to the very recent one in which Obama administration officials worked to undermine a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into CIA torture programs and then to eviscerate the committee’s report. If past is prologue, then this 1975 case, which also involves a presidential blue ribbon commission chaired by Vice-President Nelson A. Rockefeller has lots to teach us.

*CIA Operations Document Collection, Part II: In May 2015 Proquest released Part II of the Archives’s CIA document collection. This presents a thousand key documents, all from the year 1975, when U.S. intelligence agencies were successively investigated by the Rockefeller Commission, the Church Committee of the United States Senate, and the Pike Committee of the United States House of Representatives. The set shows in explicit detail how the intelligence agencies and White House collaborated to fend off inquiries into all manner of intelligence activities, including abusive domestic operations.

*CIA Operations Document Collection, Part I: In the fall of 2013 the Proquest Publishers released the initial part of Archive’s CIA document collection. This selection of more than 2,200 documents illustrates CIA operations across the globe from the time of President Jimmy Carter through the administration of Barack Obama.

* History of Vietnam’s Southern Resistance: In 2008 the Vietnam Documentation Project of the Archive began an initiative together with the Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) that sought to encourage the Vietnamese government and veterans of the National Liberation Front to open their records to researchers. The context was that a council of Vietnamese scholars and war veterans had begun assembling a semi-official history of the Resistance in South Vietnam to cover the entire period from 1945 through 1975. We were disappointed at being unable finally to get archives opened, but the Vietnamese published their history and it became available to us in late 2012. Archive and CWIHP recruited an expert panel to evaluate the multi-volume history. In September 2013 we held a symposium at the Wilson Center to discuss the panel’s findings. It took more than a year to obtain written versions of all the presentations, review and edit the results, and for me to craft the introduction to the symposium package, which was posted at the CWIHP website on October 23, 2014.

*Inside Story of the Pueblo Incident: On the 46th anniversary of the day in 1968 that North Korean warships opened fire upon and captured the U.S. Navy spy ship Pueblo the Archive posts a fresh analysis of the incident, in which the American crew were imprisoned and interrogated for nearly a year, and the U.S. lost a mass of top secret encryption gear. For this project I teamed up with author Jack Cheevers to present a selection of key documents that reveal the inside story of the Johnson administration’s efforts to cope with this crisis. It’s a revealing story that includes President Johnson’s deliberations, U.S. military contingency plans, NSA damage assessments, even a CIA psychological profile of the ship’s skipper (EBB 453, January 23, 2014).

* Secret History of CIA Director William E. Colby: CIA historians write classified biographies of the agency’s directors. Bill Colby figures as a key figure because on his watch the present system of congressional oversight of intelligence emerged, while Colby’s own innovations within the agency included creation of the system for drafting intelligence estimates which is still used today. When this CIA document became available I added an analysis and introduction and presented it to the public. (EBB 362, October 28, 2011.)

* Complete Pentagon Papers at Last: The famous leak of the “Pentagon Papers,” a study of U.S. decisionmaking in the Vietnam War, influenced the politics and analysis of that conflict. For many years, even though incomplete versions of the Papers were published and widely available, the original documents remained in the government’s secret vaults. I’ve worked the Pentagon Papers case for a long time. In the early oughts I succeeded in getting the government to declassify the full text of the “negotiating volumes,” works that documented U.S. peace feelers to Hanoi during the Johnson administration. I’d already applied for the full Papers, twice, but the government resisted releasing them. In 2001 I organized a conference on the Pentagon Papers. When these were finally declassified in 2011, I gathered specialists at the National Security Archive to present a comprehensive EBB that displays side-by-side the pages of the several main editions of the Pentagon Papers. Working from a basic structural analysis I supplied, Archivistas Charlotte Karrlson-Willis and Wendy Valdez compiled a cross-index to the editions, while Carlos Osorio created a web-based framework that displayed the pages. I added the introductory notes. (EBB 359, September 22, 2010.) Unknown to the American public, by and large even today, is that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in 1969 prepared a similarly comprehensive retrospective on its intelligence work regarding the Vietnam war. The Archive also presented this document to the public, and I contributed an article assessing INR’s involvement with Vietnam. (EBB 121, May 2, 2004.)

* Deciding to Invade Iraq: In 2010 I teamed up with my National Security Archive colleague Joyce Battle and with British journalist Christopher Ames to do an in-depth study presenting the real documents on the George W. Bush administration’s ill-considered decision to invade Iraq. Detailed introductions plus documents appeared in three of the Archive’s electronic briefing books. (EBB 326, September 22, 2010; EBB 328, October 1, 2010; EBB 330, October 4, 2010.)

* John F. Kennedy and the Diem Coup: Audiotapes of his national security meetings secretly recorded by President Kennedy reveal that the U.S. decision to back a coup d’etat by generals in South Vietnam—a coup which actually occurred in November 1963—was really made that August. Standard historical accounts of these events were flawed because paper records of the same meetings failed to present the full picture. I contributed an analysis of the historical record, summaries of the tapes and the related documents, and presented all of them for the interested reader. (EBB 444, November 1, 2013; EBB 302, December 11, 2009.) An earlier electronic briefing book I had also prepared provided an even wider selection of the secret records on the Diem coup. (EBB 101, November 5, 2003.)

* The CIA’s Secret Histories of Vietnam: As a result of my Freedom of Information Act request, after seventeen years the agency declassified large portions of a series of internal histories it had compiled regarding its work in the Vietnam war. I supplied an introduction and summaries and made these materials available to the public. (EBB 283, August 26, 2009.)

* Breakthrough on Vietnam war records: At my request the Archive had requested the declassification of a series of records on fighting the war in Southeast Asia, including an Air Force official history of the air war in northern Laos. Because that campaign had had the Air Force is a role supporting a CIA secret army, a large segment of the history involved CIA activities. As originally released, the Air Force history had much of this material deleted. The Archive sued, arguing the deletions had been inappropriate, and we won. We combined this and other Air Force histories on Vietnam and made them available to the public. (EBB 248, April 9, 2008.) In large part due to this legal precedent, the CIA’s grounds for withholding its own Vietnam histories (above) were eroded.

* Mysteries Solved on the Tonkin Gulf Affair: After repeated declassification requests the National Security Agency released the full texts of cables it had sent, which existed in White House files and represented its reporting on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, an important milestone in the Vietnam War. We were able to show in a concrete fashion that claims of a “second attack” on August 4, 1964 had been wrong. (EBB-132, August 4, 2004.)

* The real story on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction: Within months of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s United Nations speech asserting that Saddam Hussein was hiding powerfully destructive weapons, I began work on Hoodwinked, a book that took the Bush administration’s key pronouncements and claims, deconstructed them in detail, and showed how they had been used to create a sense of hysteria about Iraq among the American people. (2004.)