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?