Blogs > Cliopatria > The Un-Information Office at the CIA

Mar 4, 2004 3:26 pm

The Un-Information Office at the CIA

Bruce Craig, in the weekly newsletter of the National Coalition for History (March 4, 2004):

It is certainly well known that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) likes to keep agency secrets secret. But the CIA has reached a new high (or low point depending on one's point of view) in its secrecy policy. Not only is the agency denying access to information such as"unclassified" speeches but also access to what are unquestionably"public" speeches made by its officials.

A short time ago, in the Federation of American Scientists on-line publication SECRECY NEWS, editor Steven Aftergood reported on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) implementation of what Aftergood characterized as the"tenth exemption" to the Freedom of Information Act" --"I don't wanna tell you." Aftergood was seeking a copy of an unclassified speech delivered on 11 February to agency officials by Jami A. Miscik, Deputy Director of Intelligence. The speech was delivered to agency officials.

Copies of the speech were provided to the Washington Post and the New York Times. When Aftergood sought a copy to post on the federation website, a CIA spokesperson stated that Mr. Bill Harlow, head of CIA public affairs, had determined that he was denying Aftergood's request for the stated reason of"exercising his discretion not to give it to you." Aftergood characterized Harlow's action as"the a petty act of a minor bureaucrat bent on stifling criticism of his troubled agency."

It so happens that this reporter was working on a story focusing on the role of historians in a 10-11 September 2003 CIA-sponsored conference,"Intelligence for a New Era in American Foreign Policy." (for the story on the conference see next issue of the NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE) and believed that Miscik's speech would be a useful document to reference. A call was placed to the CIA public affairs office requesting a copy.

A CIA spokesperson queried"which speech was being requested" as Miscik had delivered two recently -- the 11 February one and"a speech in Utah, before a public audience on the 22." Copies of both were requested, and the request was immediately denied. The spokesperson refused to divulge any information about either speech including Miscik's 22 February public speech and even initially declined to give the CIA's FOIA office telephone number.

After a few phone calls to other news sources and a basic Lexis-Nexis search, verbatim transcriptions of relevant portions of both speeches were located on the web. Eventually, Aftergood also managed to obtain and copy of Miscik's 11-page speech without the assistance of the CIA Public Affairs office and posted it at:;.

The 11 February speech indeed was a significant policy-related speech. The 22 February speech, however, was delivered to a group of students at the University of Utah and had no policy ramifications whatsoever. It is best characterized as a"puff speech" in which Miscik explains"how the CIA keeps policy makers informed."

From this rather bizarre incident, it is clear, that, in contrast to the CIA's responsive History Office, the agency's Office of Public Affairs exists for one and only one purpose -- to throw up barriers to information in an effort to screen the agency from public scrutiny and ultimately public accountability and not to provide information to the public and its legitimate news sources and watchdog organizations.

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