TelCons: Have Teeth, Will Bite

The National Security Archive, a
n independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University posted on December 23 the Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977. The entire transcripts are available here but you need a ProQuest account to read.

The Archive says that “The transcript of the April 15, 1972, phone conversation is one of over 15,500 documents in a unique, comprehensively-indexed set of the telephone conversations (telcons) of Henry A. Kissinger—perhaps the most famous and controversial U.S. official of the second half of the 20th century. Unbeknownst to the rest of the U.S. government, Kissinger secretly taped his incoming and outgoing phone conversations and had his secretary transcribe them. After destroying the tapes, Kissinger took the transcripts with him when he left office in January 1977, claiming they were “private papers.” In 2001, the National Security Archive initiated legal proceedings to force the government to recover the telcons, and used the freedom of information act to obtain the declassification of most of them. After a three year project to catalogue and index the transcripts, which total over 30,000 pages, this on-line collection was published by the Digital National Security Archive (ProQuest) this week.”

And here’s the part that should give every bureaucrat pause, “Kissinger never intended these papers to be made public, according to William Burr, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, who edited the collection, Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977. “Kissinger’s conversations with the most influential personalities of the world rank right up there with the Nixon tapes as the most candid, revealing and valuable trove of records on the exercise of executive power in Washington,” Burr stated. For reporters, scholars, and students, Burr noted, “Kissinger created a gift to history that will be a tremendous primary source for generations to come.” He called on the State Department to declassify over 800 additional telcons that it continues to withhold on the grounds of executive privilege.”

What you do, say or write is public record, whether you like it or not. Some 29 transcripts are posted in the NSA website in PDF format. Below is a couple that most probably did not make into Mr. Kissinger’s books:

III. After the “Halloween Massacre”: Secretary of State Only

Documents 24A and B: “The Guy That Cut Me up Inside this Building Isn’t Going to Cut Me Up Any Less in Defense”

A. With New York Times columnist James Reston,
3 November 1975
B. With Treasury Secretary William Simon,
3 November 1975

A few days earlier, Kissinger learned that President Ford had shaken up his cabinet: Kissinger was fired as national security adviser, replaced by his deputy Brent Scowcroft; James Schlesinger was fired as Secretary of Defense, replaced by White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, and William Colby was to leave the CIA, with George H.W. Bush taking his job. Engineered by Donald Rumsfeld and presidential aide Cheney (who subsequently became White House Chief of Staff), the purpose of the “Halloween Massacre” was to strengthen Ford’s political position as the 1976 campaign approached. Speaking with Reston, Kissinger was not sure what caused the turnover, but Kissinger thought that in the case of Schlesinger, that the President had “had enough” of what he saw as Schlesinger’s back-stabbing in the media. A conversation with William Simon was even franker. Simon had disabused reporters that Kissinger had somehow engineered the cabinet change; indeed, he believed that things would be “worse” for Kissinger with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Kissinger agreed: “the guy that cut me up inside this building isn’t going to cut me up any less in Defense.”

Hey! I’ve heard of these old dogs before … you think new tricks gets better or worse with age?

A Review Team for the FRUS Fracas

Just before DC shut down for the holidays, the following statement was released on the FRUS fracas:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met yesterday, December 22, with members of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) to discuss the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series and concerns expressed by some current and former members of the HAC about the series. Secretary Rice stated her strong support for the FRUS series and underscored its importance to academic and general audiences. Secretary Rice also told the group that she had asked an outside Review Team to provide recommendations about how to ensure the FRUS series remains the gold standard for diplomatic history scholarship.

Members of the Review Team, Professor Warren F. Kimball (Rutgers University), Professor Ron Spector (George Washington University), and Ruth Whiteside (Director of the Department of State Foreign Service Institute), will report their recommendations to Secretary Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Sean McCormack.

I supposed that is good news – the intention is there to be fully present until the last moment. But wasn’t the Assistant Secretary the same one who walked out of that contentious meeting? You’d think that the Review Team’s report would go to 66 and to the guy who oversees the Bureau of Public Affairs. Seems a conflicted setup, is all … but maybe it does not really matter now; bound to get another review soon.

Related Post:
Domestic Disturbance in the Public Affair’s Shop

Insider Quote: Quiet, De Facto Military Takeover

While serving the State Department in several senior capacities over the past four years, I witnessed firsthand the quiet, de facto military takeover of much of the U.S. government. The first assault on civilian government occurred in faraway places — Iraq and Afghanistan — and was, in theory, justified by the exigencies of war.

Thomas A. Schweich
The Pentagon is muscling in everywhere.
It’s time to stop the mission creep”

WaPo │Sunday, December 21, 2008; Page B01

Thomas A. Schweich served the Bush administration as ambassador for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement affairs.