Friday, February 13, 2015

What Is Classified?

When historians seek data about Cold War activity, they often find that some of such evidence is “classified” - not available to the public for reasons of national security. Likewise, documents detailing questions of military intelligence and espionage from even older eras of history are still often not yet released to the public.

The reader will understand that some information does need to be kept secret, inasmuch as releasing it could compromise the safety of the nation and jeopardize the lives of citizens. But it seems odd that documents which are forty, fifty, sixty or even more years old are still kept under lock and key.

What could those documents contain? Information about mechanical or electrical technology would be of no value, the communication and military equipment of those eras being long outdated. Any person named in such documents is most likely long dead. What reason compels the current intelligence agencies to continue to label those papers as classified?

Perhaps by looking at what is declassified, one might find hints about the contents of those texts which are still classified. One historian, M. Stanton Evans, writes:

Among the more voluminous collections of such data are the once-secret records of the FBI. These files are a treasure house of information on Communist penetration of American life and institutions, suspects tracked down by the Bureau, countermeasures taken, and related topics. To its credit, the FBI was watching these matters pretty closely while others allegedly standing guard were dozing, or in the throes of deep denial. The material in the Bureau files is both revealing and extensive.

Some of these cases have become icons, taking on symbolic value. The Oppenheimer case is one. Could it be that iconic figures like Oppenheimer are being protected, or manipulated, by selectively declassifying only those documents which serve some agenda?

Thus, to pick some prominent cases, the Bureau knew as early as December 1942 that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the nuclear physicist then becoming a central figure in the atomic energy project, was identified by Communist leaders as a secret party member who had to be inactive because of the wartime work that he was doing. Likewise, in 1945, the FBI obtained credible information that high-ranking government figures Alger Hiss, Lauchlin Currie, and Harry Dexter White were Soviet agents. Also in 1945, the Bureau knew the espionage case of diplomat John Stewart Service and the pro-Red magazine Amerasia had been fixed, lied about, and covered up by a cabal of top officials.

Other documents are available only in part. FBI files and memo are edited by hand, and historians receive either documents with missing pages, or documents in which black ink has been used to obliterate words, phrases, sentences, and sometimes entire paragraphs.

Again the question arises, what information could be so sensational in, e.g., a 1946 memo from the FBI written to Attorney General Tom Clark? The memo contained information about known Soviet agent David Wahl. Historians who request copies of the memo are still given versions in which one-third of the text is missing. What information is so sensitive that, seventy years later, the government insists on keeping it classified?

After detailed research, M. Stanton Evans, also known as “Stan” Evans, reports:

Such are but a few of the revelations in the colossal trove of records housed in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and while they concern some of the more notorious cases that would later come to view are by no means the most astounding. That said, there is still other information in the Bureau files that isn’t open to researchers. In case after significant case, entries have been held back or heavily “redacted” (blacked out), sometimes for dozens of pages at a stretch. In nearly every instance, such redactions concern materials fifty years of age and counting. It’s hard to imagine any national security interest of the present day that would be threatened by these ancient data.

Some of the withheld evidence might be partially reconstructed, at least speculatively, by bits of text coming from sources outside the United States. Some documents from defunct Soviet-era intelligence agencies - agencies which evaporated with the fall of Soviet communism - have been released, e.g., documents from the KGB and its predecessors, the NKVD and the MGB, as well as from the East German “Stasi.”

It may be possible to extrapolate, interpolate, or triangulate, given evidence from these Soviet agencies, and get a clue as to which data are still being withheld.

Regarding the question of motive, it is very unlikely that there are still any Soviet agents - “moles” as they are sometimes called - employed within the U.S. government at this late date in history. The Soviet Union collapsed twenty-five years ago, and with it, much of the international communist conspiracy.

Mainland China, while continuing some form of the communist vision, did not have the Soviet Union’s central role in Cold War espionage, and so would have little interest in documents from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The remaining communist states, like North Korea and Cuba, are neither significant enough, capable enough, nor interested enough to sift through half-century old FBI files.

Who’s trying to keep this information hidden, and why? If the Soviet Union, its intelligence agencies and their operatives inside the United States government, and vast majority of the international communist conspiracy all disappeared twenty-five years ago, who still cares about this data, and who has the positions of influence inside the federal government to make this evidence disappear?

Although the Soviet espionage network is long gone, are there remainders of it, the U.S. citizens who, while not Soviet agents, were sympathizers to the international communist cause? Are there leftover “fellow travelers,” even though the ones with whom they were “travelling” don’t exist anymore? Are there still good-natured and idealistic “dupes” who are still unwittingly and naively performing the tasks assigned to them by their KGB handlers, long after those handlers have left the stage of world history?

Did the international communist conspiracy build such an effective network of collaborators - some knowing collaborators, others not even aware that they were being used - that this network continues on its own momentum, long after the conspiracy itself collapsed?

These are the questions which historians must investigate. But such investigation may be contingent upon the declassification of more documents.