secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Archive for the ‘archives’ Category


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into the history of the Psychological Strategy Board through the CIA’s CREST system, I’m amazed at the richness of historical documents and especially how they provide a snapshot of post-WWII ideology.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

Approximate History: The PSB and Black Projects

For the past several years, one of my side research projects has been rummaging through the deep archive to discover the role of the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) in black projects such as BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, perhaps even MKULTRA. Generally speaking, these projects involved research and development into “brainwashing,” interrogation and assassination techniques, propaganda and “messaging,” drug testing on a variety of animals and people (especially LSD 25 & 41), as well as exploration of novel plants and technologies to affect sleep, behavior, and mood. In part, I credit Christopher Simpson’s research on the PSB in his Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 for piquing my interest.

Per Truman Directive 128, the PSB was established in June, 1951

for the formulation and promulgation, as guidance to the departments and agencies responsible for psychological operations, of over-all national psychological objectives, policies and programs, and for the coordination and evaluation of the national psychological effort.

PSB membership included the “Undersecretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Central Intelligence, or, in their absence, their appropriate designees, and “an appropriate representative of the head of each such other department or agency of the Government as may, from time to time, be determined by the Board.” The PSB was abolished in September, 1953 and its activities transferred to the Eisenhower administration’s Operations Coordinating Board by way of Executive Order 10483.

PSB’s records – many still classified – are split between the Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries, but also appear in spades within the CIA’s CREST collection; I’ve submitted Mandatory Declassification Reviews,  (one successful for the release of the PSB’s Biographic Register for the years 1952-53), filed appeals, become cozy with the collections at Truman and Eisenhower, traveled to NARA to use the CIA’s CREST collection, then used FOIA to obtain docs that weren’t full text .pdf in the online version. This week, all changed. The CIA made the Web version of CREST completely full text. No more FOIA to CIA or making a pilgrimage to NARA.

For an upcoming article to be published later this year, I’ll establish the PSB had knowledge of these black projects through its founding mission as it oversaw the “national psychological effort.” Three DCIs served on the Board, so their records, memos, and internal directives are essential in constructing the history of the PSB. At this critical point in the research process, access is everything. As I sift through and cross check the Black Vault MKULTRA collection (records obtained by John Marks and donated to the National Security Archive after his FOIA battle and completion of the groundbreaking 1979 The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control) and comparing documents with the CREST collection, certain patterns are already appearing. Some documents are indeed duplicates between the two collections, but many are not.

In 1977, CIA located 18 cartons of documents on Bluebird and Artichoke. At the time, CIA determined the “newly discovered materials failed to reveal any information which would contradict or change that information previously furnished to investigating bodies.”*  While this may be good news for researchers like me who hope to reconstruct the history of the PSB, CIA, and clandestine projects,** it doesn’t imply the full story is told. New associations can now be made with this open access, ones that reclaim history and voice.


* The “investigating bodies” CIA refers to are the

  • Rockefeller Commission (June 1975)
  • Kennedy Commission hearings (Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Health), September 10, 12, and November 7, 1975 (and its report, Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Human-Use Experimentation Programs of the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency
  • The mothership of all hearings, the 1976 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly referred to as the Church hearings.
  • Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1977), Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification

** It was revealed during the Kennedy hearings (Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Health 1975, 280) that former CIA DCI Richard M. Helms ordered project files destroyed.

Written by S.

January 18, 2017 at 7:18 pm

MDR Appeal

In December of 2014, I submitted a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) of NSC 10/5 related records currently held at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. If you’re not familiar with 10/5, here’s a brief rundown on NSC 10/5 from the Foreign Relations of the United States series volume titled Western Europe, 1964-1968:

NSC 10/5, issued in October 1951, reaffirmed the covert action mandate given in NSC 10/2 and expanded CIA’s authority over guerrilla warfare. The PSB was soon abolished by the incoming Eisenhower administration, but the expansion of CIA’s covert action writ in NSC 10/5 helped ensure that covert action would remain a major function of the Agency.

Coordination and Policy Approval of Covert Operations dated February 23, 1967 offers a more extensive view of NSC 10/5 (at Cryptome).

My MDR request was denied by NARA in late December 2015. I submitted an appeal to the National Archives and Records Administration. My appeal letter is here. Thanks goes out to National Security Archive’s Dr. William Burr for assistance.

Written by S.

January 22, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Blue Paper & CREST

Those of you familiar with the CIA’s 25 Year Program Archive CREST understand the database on the Agency’s Web site does not contain the complete full text (.pdf) of declassified records. There are two CREST systems I discovered; the abbreviated version on the CIA’s Web site and a full version on dedicated pcs at NARA in College Park, Maryland. It’s useful to note that some of the CREST docs that are not full text in the abbreviated version can be obtained in several ways: through the library subscription databases Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS) and Digital National Security Archive, through federal agency (FOIA) reading rooms, and if unable to fund travel to NARA in College Park, through a FOIA request to the CIA’s Information and Privacy Coordinator.

On its Web site, the CIA describes CREST as

The automatic declassification provisions of Executive Order 13256 (formerly EO 12958, as amended) require the declassification of nonexempt historically valuable records 25 years or older. The EO was originally issued in April 1995 and via amendment established 31 December 2006 as the first major deadline for automatic declassification under the “25-year program”. By that date, agencies were to have completed the review of all hardcopy documents determined to contain exclusively their equities. For CIA, the 2006 deadline covered the span of relevant documents originally dating from the establishment of the CIA after WWII through 1981. (“CREST: 25-Year Program Archive,” para 1)

Earlier this year, I traveled to the NARA mothership to search the CREST system and retrieve documents for the several projects I’m currently working on. At NARA, I was informed by staff that CREST documents could not be downloaded or emailed; in order to save and keep documents, printing only was allowed on blue paper. (I’m not sure if this is a NARA or CIA requirement). The NARA staff directed me to a wall of reams. I was told to take as much paper as I needed – when I objected, I was told the CIA supplied the paper. After printing through one and a half reams of paper, I decided printing docs I needed was unsustainable. Moreover, how would I transport loads of paper back to my office? Pay baggage fees? Send through media mail? I found none of these scenarios sustainable or cost effective, especially from a larger environmental and natural resource considerations.

So I began to question the CIA’s policy of having two different CREST systems with separate modes of access: Why has the CIA created two different research systems, one abbreviated on the Web, and another with expanded access as standalone pcs only accessible in person at NARA?  Why are CREST materials subject to FOIA, another bureaucratic level set for the public to gain access to CIA historical materials that have been declassified?

I also thought about the hearings on the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 or E-FOIA Amendments (Pub. L. No. 104-231, 110 Stat. 3048, 5 U.S.C. § 552, Supp. II 1996), especially Rep. Randy Tate’s comments. Wasn’t e-FOIA characterized as a means to get FOIA docs – and I’m folding in CREST docs here –  to the people?

H.R. 3802 puts FOIA information online on agency websites, ensuring that citizens in every home—in every town—and in every city—across the Nation will be able to access Government information from the comfort of their own homes. My neighbors will be able to turn on their computers—click onto the internet—and download information made accessible by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996. Our Government should be userfriendly by making an effort to deliver information to Americans. (142 Cong. Rec. H10450, September 17, 1996)

In the end, and although I would still need to scan documents, I decided not to print documents on blue paper and instead “batch” FOIA requests by subject/research project in order to obtain the CREST docs I needed. None of the requests I filed exceeded 100 pages.

In February, I received one full request satisfied by the CIA. However, three other requests for CREST documents submitted in February were folded into one request by the CIA. In March, the CIA informed me that my CREST requests – now one FOIA – was subject to a charge of $21.50. The CIA cited CFR Title 32, Chapter XIX Section 1900.13j that a requestor “may not file a series of multiple requests which are merely subdivisions of the information actually sought for the purposes of avoiding or reducing applicable fees.” An unfair accusation that any busy researcher would object to – I was being efficient and organized wasn’t I? I filed an appeal to the Information and Privacy Coordinator, and in May 2014, my appeal was denied.

So here it is: CREST is a two tiered research system. That is, if a researcher can afford to visit NARA in College Park to search the full version of CREST, they are saddled with blue paper and trying to figure out how to deliver their many documents back to homes and offices where they will need to scan materials in order to search for terms, people, and events in especially lengthy documents. Even though a researcher may print out as many documents on blue paper as they like at NARA, if they use the abbreviated version of CREST through the CIA’s Web site, and request records by way of the CIA’s policy of using FOIA to distribute CREST documents, fees are assessed over 100 pages (and researchers run the risk of having their requests folded into one request). And researchers would still need to scan the docs if they wanted to optimize their research time.

These policies are puzzling and it is imperative the CIA explain to the research community why this two-tiered system exists. The Agency, while they’re at it, might devise a cost effective – and fully accessible – “complete” CREST database. And put it on the Web.

Written by S.

June 25, 2014 at 1:03 am

Fifty Years of Inquiry: The John F. Kennedy Assassination

On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, it is critical to turn to public documents, many of which contributed to the evolution of “conspiracy theories” regarding the actors and motives behind the President’s murder. Investigations, official and citizen-driven alike, have produced an enormous amount of conflicting and contrary information. However, citizen inquiries pale in comparison conspiracy-wise, especially when one considers the conclusions of the official version of the assassination (Warren Commission) and Congress’ own inquiry (House Select Committee on Assassinations). As one NPR commentator recently commented, “inconsistencies haunt the official record” of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Beginning with the FBI report, below is a timeline that reflects official and public investigations of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


1963 ~ Federal Bureau of Investigation (December 9, 1963). Investigation of Assassination of John F. Kennedy November 22, 1963.

Conclusion: Oswald, the lone shooter of President Kennedy, Gov. Connally, and Patrolman Tippit.

1964 ~ Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (Warren Commission):

Conclusion: Oswald, the lone shooter and the magic, traveling bullet / No conspiracy.

1965 ~ Lord Devlin, Death of a president: The established facts, Atlantic Monthly (March. pp. 112–118):

So it seems to me to be quite unreasonable to suggest that the Commission, when it embarked upon the second part of its task, should have looked for a conspiracy to which Oswald was not a party. There are three factors on the surface of events which at the beginning must have made it look more likely than not that Oswald had accomplices:

The first superficial factor is the doubt whether a crime of this magnitude and difficulty can be successfully committed by a man who is acting entirely alone.

The second factor is the killing of Oswald by Ruby, which by a curious coincidence gives rise to an improbability of the same sort. To British eyes at first—though the view has been changed by the Commission’s descriptions of activities at the Dallas police headquarters—to kill a man while in the custody of the police at their headquarters would be a far more difficult task than to kill a statesmen in a public parade.

The third factor is Oswald’s Communist background.

1966 ~ Mark Lane’s (1966, 1967) Rush to Judgment (video of the text at youtube) / Conclusions: Disputes “preconceived” theories made by the Warren Commission and FBI of Oswald’s involvement in the assassination and direction of the shots (e.g., picket fence) & Garrison Investigation  / Conclusion:  Clay Shaw is one of the conspirators in the JFK assassination.

1968 ~ Panel Review of Photographs, X-Ray Films, Documents and Other Evidence Pertaining to the Fatal Wounding of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1962 (Ramsey Clark Panel)

Conclusion: Fatal shot  from behind the President.

1975-1976 ~ House Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights (also referred to as the Edwards Committee; Reprinted in FBI oversight: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, 95th Congress, first session, Y 4.J 89/1:94-2/):

Conclusion: Investigates the “Hosty note” that Lee Harvey Oswald left at the FBI Dallas field office for Special Agent James Hosty on November 6, 1963. The Committee reported that after the assassination, Agent Hosty allegedly destroyed Oswald’s note on the instructions of his superior, Special Agent in Charge J. Gordon Shanklin. The FBI kept the note secret for 12 years (see pt. 2., “Circumstances surrounding destruction of the Lee Harvey Oswald note”).

1976 ~ Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities or Church Committee, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Together with Additional, Supplemental, and Separate Views (6 volumes). Book V. is The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies (sometimes referred to as the Hart-Schweiker Subcommittee Report after Gary Hart (D-CO) and Richard Schweiker (R-PA), members of the Church Committee):

The Committee emphasizes that this Report’s discussion of investigative deficiencies and the failure of American intelligence agencies to inform the Warren Commission of certain information does not lead to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. (p.2)

At the outset of its investigation, the Select Committee had evidence that the Warren Commission was not given information about CIA attempts to assassinate foreign leaders. As the Select Committee later discovered, the Warren Commission was also unaware of the full extent of the agencies’ involvement in operations directed against Cuba. (p. 9)

Before the Warren Commission issued its report on the assassination of President Kennedy on September 24, 1964, both the CIA and the FBI had assured the Commission that they would never close the case. When appearing before the Warren Commission, CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms stated (emphasis added):

Q. . . . after the Commission completed its report you would keep the matter open if there was anything new that developed in the future that could be properly presented to the authorities?

A. Yes. I would assume the case will never be closed. FBI Director Hoover made a similar statement before the Warren Commission:… so far as the FBI is concerned, the case will be continued in an open classification for all time (p.77).

1978-1979 ~ House Select Committee on Assassinations. Investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Hearings before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives:

 Conclusions: HSCA determined “on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.”

See Len Osanic’s interviews with HSCA investigators Ed Lopez and Dan Hardway, with G. Robert Blakey, HSCA Chief Counsel and Staff Director (9/11/14) and 2015 shows featuring HSCA audio transcripts.

1991 ~ Oliver Stone’s film JFK released.

1992 ~ President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, P.L. 102-526 passed.

1998 ~ Assassinations Records Review Board (AARB). Final Report. Per the JFK Act (President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992), the AARB did not investigate the assassination but focused on “release assassination records so that the public could draw its own conclusions” (p.xxi)  The Act allows for delay in release of assassination records beyond the year 2017 if “the President certifies” that (1) “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military, defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations” and (2) “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure” (Assassination Records Review Board 1998, p. 8):

Conclusions: See letters from the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) to the National Archives and Records Administration urging declassification of remaining JFK records (mostly CIA) for the 50th anniversary of the assassination (1) AARC Press Release of Jun 12, 2012; (2) AARC’s letter to NARA of Jan 20, 2012; and (3) NARA’s Response to AARC of Jun 12, 2012.

AARB staff member Douglas Horne has unique insight into the Board and its search for records. Appendices to his multivolume Inside the AARB are provided by the Mary Ferrell Foundation.

Notice of Formal Determinations (Federal Register,  63(67), April 8, 1998, p. 17151). On March 30, 1998, the AARB made formal determinations on release of records reviewed under the JFK Act:

14 CIA Documents: Postponed in part until 05/2001
1240 CIA Documents: Postponed in part until 10/2017
666 FBI Documents: Postponed in part until 10/2017
1 Ford Library Document: Postponed in part until 10/2017
28 HSCA Documents: Postponed in part until 10/2017
3 NARA Documents: Postponed in part until 05/2001
15 NARA Documents: Postponed in part until 10/2017
275 US ARMY Documents: Postponed in part until 10/2017

2003 ~ Redactions removed from the “Lopez Report” written by HSCA research investigators Dan Hardway and Edwin Lopez on Lee Harvey Oswald’s visit to Mexico.

To date, the number of assassination records that have been altered, destroyed and/or are missing, never preserved, is unknown.

Written by S.

November 17, 2013 at 6:17 pm