secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Trusted Flagger FOIA & FBI Central Records

Last year, on the tail end of the House Committee on the Judiciary’s hearings Facebook, Google and Twitter: Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media GiantsI submitted a FOIA to multiple agencies requesting disclosure of their participation in Youtube’s Trusted Flagger program. Many of my requests remain outstanding. However, a recent correspondence with the Public Information Officer, Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) FBI-Information Management Division is noteworthy for its insights into FBI records systems and the FOIA process.

Uploaded to this post is a document released to me by the Public information Officer that I could not locate on the Web. This document, titled The Central Records System, may be of interest to requestors and the general public as it clarifies FBI’s internal information policies. Highlights include:

  • The Central Records System (“CRS”) is an extensive system of records consisting of applicant, investigative, intelligence, personnel, administrative, and general files compiled and maintained by the FBI in the course of fulfilling its integrated missions and functions as a law enforcement, counterterrorism, and intelligence agency to include performance of administrative and personnel functions (p.1).
  • For identification and retrieval purposes across the FBI, when a case file is opened, it is assigned a Universal Case File Number (“UCFN”) consisting of three sequential components: (a) the CRS file classification number, (b) the abbreviation of the FBI Office of Origin (“OO”) initiating the file, and (c) the assigned individual case file number for that particular subject matter (p.1).
  • FBI Special Agents (“SA”) and/or designated support personnel may index information in the CRS by individual (persons), by organization (organizational entities, places, and things), and by event (e.g., a terrorist attack or bank robbery). Indexing information in the CRS is based on operational necessity, and the FBI only indexes that information considered relevant and necessary for future retrieval (p.2).
  • Automated Case Support (“ACS”) is an electronic, integrated case management system that became effective for FBIHQ and all FBI Field Offices and Legats on October 1, 1995. As part of the ACS implementation process, over 105 million CRS records were converted from automated systems previously utilized by the FBI into a single, consolidated case management system accessible by all FBI offices (p.2).
  • The Universal Index (“UNI”) is the automated index of the CRS and provides all offices of the FBI a centralized, electronic means of indexing pertinent investigative information to FBI files for future retrieval via index searching (p.2).
  • Sentinel provides a web-based interface to FBI users, and it includes the same automated application that is utilized in ACS. After July 1, 2012, all FBI generated records are created electronically in case files via Sentinel; however, Sentinel did not replace ACS and its relevance as an important FBI search mechanism (p.3).

My correspondence (fbi interchange_sm) with the Public Information Officer is further enlightening for this comment (emphasis added):

You are further advised that while the FBI may consider requests to search specific locations of systems, it is not bound by requester search instructions; the agency determines where any records sought would be reasonably be found.


Written by S.

February 2, 2019 at 12:54 am

Newly Declassified CREST Doc

In a 2017 FOIA to CIA, I requested a full declassification of CIA-RDP86M00886R002800010009-5 (found in CREST). This “sanitized” correspondence between former DCI William J. Casey and an unnamed individual (dated June 16 and 19, 1984) caught my eye for its detailed discussion of propaganda and “semantic pollution.” After reading the original redacted CREST doc, I wanted to learn the identity of the writer of the “Dear Bill” letter and their relationship with DCI Casey.

The fully declassified letter reveals the identity of the author as Emeritus Prof. Aaron Levenstein. Dr. Levenstein taught at City College of NY and Baruch College, and is the author of Escape to Freedom:The Story of the International Rescue Committee.  It appears that Casey and Levenstein were World War II colleagues from the War Economics Division, Research Institute Of America Inc.

In his June 16th, 1984 nine-page letter to Casey, Levenstein writes:

It is my firm conviction, as I have said to Leo on many occasions, that if we can’t resolve the problem of propaganda – conscious and unconscious – in this age of mass communications, democracy will not be able to survive. The basic premise of a free society is that, in the long run, people will reach the right decisions and select the right leadership if they have access to truthful information. Democracy will die if the current wave of “semantic pollution” cannot be conquered. (p.1)

The “Leo” mentioned in the letter is most likely attorney Leo M. Cherne, executive director and editor-in-chief of the War Economics Division, Research Institute of America publications and “a close friend of William Casey.” Cherne later served as a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and later its Vice Chair. He was also involved in the “Green Book” affair along with Casey in 1975.

In the letter, Levenstein cites Orwell’s seminal Politics and the English Language and sets about outlining the machinations of propaganda and techniques in “past studies” and their “modification.” The letter is a veritable (communication) scholars’ who’s who, with mentions of Harold Lasswell, Paul Lazarsfeld, Leonard Doob, Kurt Lewin, and William Schramm. Included in Levenstein’s letter is a copy of Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan’s article from Policy Review (fall 1978; excerpted here), titled “Words and Foreign Policy,” which discusses Orwell’s essay and Dr. Fred C. Iklé’s concept of “semantic infiltration” (p.70).

In battling propaganda, Levenstein writes,

Of course we must not interfere with the great tradition embodied in the First Amendment. But that very amendment is based on the premise that the health of the Republic requires that there be competition in the marketplace of ideas. If we have reached a point where there is only uniformity of opinion in the marketplace – not by virtue of conspiracy, I repeat, but inherent in the very mechanisms of mass communication  –  then those who believe in preserving America’s tradition of pluralism must undertake new initiatives. (p.8)

Levenstein recommends several policy actions: “convening some of the people who participated in the efforts to inoculate Americans against the Nazi propaganda during the 1930s and the War – semanticists like S.I. Hayakawa and sociologists Seymour Martin Lipset and Nathan Glazer“*; a “thorough analysis of what is happening in our mass communications system”; and reinvigorating the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, which like its predecessor would be conducted by private citizens and would function in the interests of American democracy and without partisan bias” (p.9). Levenstein’s recommendations – made in 1984 – are sound words for our time of conspiracy, lies, distortion – and propaganda.

On June 19th, 1984, DCI Casey forwarded Levenstein’s letter to then Deputy Director of Intelligence Robert M. Gates and recommended Prof. Levenstein “in formulating the project you and I talked about.”

It is interesting to note the letters Levenstein and Casey exchanged were during the era of the Reagan administration’s Project Truth and public diplomacy programs.


*For more on inoculation theory, see Google Scholar.


Absher, Kenneth Michael, Michael C. Desch, and Roman Popadiuk. Privileged and Confidential: The Secret History of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

Written by S.

August 28, 2018 at 3:11 am

Issue 2

Secrecy and Society issue #2 is finally published. Among the articles included in the issue is my article on the Psychological Strategy Board.

Written by S.

February 20, 2018 at 10:20 pm

CFP / Secrecy and Society

Call for Papers for volume 1, issue 2 of Secrecy and Society on the subject of secrecy and authoritarianism.

This call for papers is a response to resurgent political trends, especially in the wake of recent world events and social movements. In Issue 2 of Secrecy and Society, we address the subject of secrecy and authoritarianism, including how ideology and popular beliefs are constituted through knowledge claims such as “alternative facts,” disinformation, disingenuous rhetoric, “populist conspiracy theory,” “post-truth,” and propaganda.

We welcome papers that also propose novel theories and methods that conceptualize these subjects. The inspiration for this special section is Richard Hofstadter’s paranoid style in politics, history as conspiracy, and ideas on anti-intellectualism. We encourage scholars, including doctoral students, from around the globe to submit their work.

In addition to papers on the theme of secrecy and authoritarianism, submissions that address any aspect of secrecy and society will be considered.

CFP is here.

Written by S.

February 25, 2017 at 1:07 am


As I delve more fully into the history of the Psychological Strategy Board through the CIA’s CREST system, I’m amazed at the richness of historical documents and especially how they provide a snapshot of post-WWII ideology. One document in particular titled Preliminary Staff Meeting National Psychological Strategy Board (NPSB) is a record of a May 8, 1951 meeting with “General W. B. Smith, General Magruder, Admiral Stevens, Assistant Secretary Barrett, Mr. Allan Dulles, Mr. Frank Wisner, Mr. Philip Davidson, Mr. Max Millikan, and Mr. H. A. Winston, Recorder.” Among the topics discussed at the meeting was the purpose and mission of the new Psychological Board, covert and overt psychological warfare, NSC 10/2, the VOA (Voice of America), World Bank loans and the State Department.

Around page 3 (count when scrolling as there aren’t assigned page numbers), Allen Dulles asks General Walter B. Smith to recount the “lie detector story he told yesterday,”

General Smith: We had a man who refused to take the lie detector test. They told him that his chief took it, Smith took it, Dulles took it, and that he ought to take it. Still he objected. Finally he said, ‘Well, if you force me to, I’ll tell you why I don’t want to take it.’

Fast forward, the gist of Smith’s story is the “man” didn’t want to be subjected to a polygraph as he had cheated on his wife during the war and might be asked about being faithful. What follows is a revealing statement from Gen. Smith regarding sex, loyalty, and security that ends with a question:

In these cases I have only one question: that we get these name checks. You would be surprised at the number of elderly gentlemen who come to work for the Government and whose lady visitors slip away from the house early in the morning. The only question is, are there any homosexuals involved? (p.4)

The minutes reflect no response to Gen. Smith’s question, but instead shift to the business of locating a (pro forma) director of the fledgling PSB:

Assume: First, the director is a front. You can get planning and operations in the absence of a director. (p.5)


Ah, to be a fly on the wall.

Written by S.

February 20, 2017 at 8:40 pm