RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Archive FOIA Cable Shows Guantanamo Prosecutors Misleading Defense

Archive FOIA Cable Shows Guantanamo Prosecutors Misleading Defense

Published: Nov 11, 2019

Edited by Lauren Harper

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202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Judge Rules Against Government, Citing Archive Document from Haspel Case

Related Links

Gina Haspel CIA Torture Cables’ Dates and Times Declassified
October 18, 2018

Gina Haspel CIA Torture Cables Declassified
August 10, 2018

National Security Archive Sues CIA for Gina Haspel Torture Cables
April 27, 2018

Gina Haspel’s CIA Torture File
April 26, 2018

In the News

Judge Rules Prosecutors Misrepresented Evidence From C.I.A. Sites

The New York Times

Nov 8, 2019

Washington, D.C., November 11, 2019 – A military judge presiding over the Guantanamo trial of alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri cited a cable released to the National Security Archive as evidence that the system for handling classified CIA evidence at the detention camp’s national security trials is “flawed and unfair to the defense.” The current system allows prosecutors, working with members of the intelligence community, to decide what portions of evidence the defense needs for trial. Prosecutors, as Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times, “then redact portions of reports from the C.I.A. black sites or write summaries to substitute for the actual evidence.”

To reach his determination, Judge Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr. compared a December 1, 2002, cable that was released to the Archive last year in response to a FOIA lawsuit to a version of the same cable prosecutors provided al-Nashiri’s defense attorneys. Judge Acosta found “the comparison undermines any contention the redactions are narrowly tailored to a legitimate need to protect national security.”

The cable that was released to the Archive, which was authored under current CIA director Gina Haspel’s command, describes Day 17 of al-Nashiri’s torture session at a black site prison in Thailand. It states "HVTI [redacted, CIA contract psychologist James Mitchell] and linguist [redacted] strode, catlike, into the well-lit confines of the cell at 0902 hrs [redacted], deftly removed the subject’s black hood with a swipe, paused, and in a deep, measured voice said that subject – having ‘calmed down’ after his (staged) run-in with his hulking, heavily muscled guards the previous day – should reveal what subject had done to vex his guards to the point of rage." The cable provided to the defense was more redacted, and even omitted the word “catlike”, prompting Acosta to rule that some of the deletions made in the cables provided to the defense “could fairly be characterized as self-serving and calculated to avoid embarrassment.”

The Archive filed its FOIA request for the Haspel cable cited by Judge Acosta on April 16, 2018, after she was nominated by President Trump to be CIA director. Despite the clear public interest in the documents, the CIA denied the Archive’s request for expedited processing, and the Archive went to court on April 27. The U.S. Senate confirmed Haspel as CIA director on May 17 (by a vote of 54-45) on the basis of a record amassed almost exclusively in closed hearings, with no declassification or public release of information even remotely approaching that of previous CIA nominees.

David Sobel, FOIA expert and former Archive counsel, drafted and filed the initial Archive complaint in federal court; and the Archive’s pro bono counsel Peter Karanjia and Lisa Zycherman of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine took on the task of negotiating with the U.S. Attorney’s office over release of the documents.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Archive, CREW, Historians Sue Pompeo, State Department over Failure to Create Records

Archive, CREW, Historians Sue Pompeo, State Department over Failure to Create Records

Published: Nov 5, 2019

by Lauren Harper and Tom Blanton

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Impeachment Inquiry Shows No Notes for June 28 Ukraine Phone Call

Related Suit Seeks Court Review of White House Failure to Document Heads of State Meetings

FRA Complaint filed as of November 5, 2019

Notice of Designation of Related Civil Cases Pending

Ambassador Taylor’s testimony

Washington D.C., November 5, 2019 – The National Security Archive, together with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), sued Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Department of State today for violating the Federal Records Act by failing to create and preserve essential State Department records (see the complaint). The legal team representing the plaintiffs in the case is led by Anne Weismann and Conor Shaw of CREW, and pro bono counsel George Clarke and Mireille Oldak of Baker McKenzie.

Evidence from the House’s impeachment inquiry, including from Ambassador William Taylor, the chargé d’affaires for Ukraine under the Trump administration, and from former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, all speak to a pattern and practice of bypassing official record-keeping procedures at the State Department. In discussing a June 28 State-organized phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, Ambassador Taylor testified that, not only did the Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland exclude most of the regular interagency participants from the call, but that “Ambassador Sondland said that he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring as they added President Zelenskyy to the call.” This is a direct violation of the State Department’s obligation under the Federal Records Act to document agency policies, decisions, and essential transactions.

The FRA lawsuit comes on the heels of a related Presidential Records Act case that the Archive, CREW, and SHAFR filed in May 2019 to compel the White House to create and preserve records of the President’s meetings with foreign leaders. The PRA suit was filed after news reports indicated that no such records existed for at least five meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, one meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and a meeting with Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

On October 1, after reports that a July 25 telephone call with President Zelenskyy was receiving unorthodox treatment, the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court asking for a temporary restraining order to compel the White House to preserve records of foreign leader phone calls and meetings with the president. The Justice Department opposed the motion and in the first round of conversation with the judge, refused to provide any assurances that such records were being saved. It took 24 hours for the Justice Department to provide the court a notice of voluntary preservation. As a result, on October 4, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the White House to preserve all records relating to meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders, as well as all records on White House practices and policies for creating and keeping such records, and in doing so, memorialized in a formal court order the six categories of information the Plaintiffs sought to preserve.

“Sworn testimony by Ambassador Bill Taylor, a Vietnam vet, West Point grad, career diplomat, and top U.S. representative in Ukraine, let Congress know his State Department colleagues ordered no records kept of a key U.S.-Ukraine conversation, right in the middle of a secret hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine,” remarked Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. “This was wrong. The records laws place an obligation on the State Department to document its policies and decisions, and the same goes for the White House.”

"Secretary Pompeo should not be engaging in document-dodging. The Secretary has a legal obligation to keep records of the ‘essential transactions’ of the State Department," said Lauren Harper, the National Security Archive’s director of public policy. "Conversations with foreign heads-of-state have to rank at the top of that list, so our lawsuit seeks to hold the Secretary to the letter of the law."

The documents

FRA Complaint filed as of November 5, 2019


Notice of Designation of Related Civil Cases Pending


RESEARCH DOCUMENT : 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis Recalled

1979 Iran Hostage Crisis Recalled

Published: Nov 4, 2019

Briefing Book #689

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Tehran Embassy Takeover Launched 444-Day Saga with Long-Standing Implications for Iran, United States, and Global Politics.

Documents Show Brzezinski Proposed Considering Replacement of Khomeini or Even Direct Intervention, but Carter Declined.


Iran Hostage Crisis 40th Anniversary Panel Discussion – Webcast Recap

Crowds rush the gate at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 (

An American hostage surrounded by captors, including an individual once thought incorrectly to be Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who would become Iran’s president in 2005. (Ahmedinejad was reportedly among the planners of the takeover but favored targeting the Soviet embassy.) (Wikipedia)

Aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw, the rescue attempt on April 24-25, 1980 (Wikipedia)

Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, who led the operation to extract six American diplomats from the Canadian embassy in Tehran, as depicted in the film Argo (Washington Post)

New Year’s eve 1978 in Tehran — Jimmy Carter toasts "the great leadership of the Shah." (Wikipedia

Washington D.C., November 4, 2019 – On November 4, 1979, a group calling itself the Students Following the Line of the Imam stormed the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, seized control of the compound, and took several dozen American diplomats, Marine guards, and others hostage. Thus began a 444-day ordeal that shocked the world, fundamentally altered the political scene in Iran, and cemented negative perceptions in the West of the country’s Islamic leadership.

Forty years later, the Iran hostage crisis is still critical to understanding the bitter nature of relations between Iran and the United States. It instantly formed a core part of the American narrative about the Islamic Republic as a regime willing to flout international law and universal moral principles, a view that has colored much of U.S. policymaking ever since.

Today, the National Security Archive is posting a small sampling of declassified records that recall that pivotal episode. They include a memo from National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Carter suggesting several hardline actions including replacing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran’s leader and even overt intervention (see Document 07). Carter was not prepared to take up any of these options but they indicate the level of alarm created by events in Tehran.

The documents are part of the soon-to-be-published U.S. Policy toward Iran: From the Revolution to the JCPOA, 1978-2015, a collection of almost 2,000 documents that is the latest in the “Digital National Security Archive” series through the academic publisher ProQuest.

While many American officials have been tempted to dismiss the clerical regime as barbaric and irrational, Iran’s rulers have long viewed the U.S. government through their own narrative, as a serial violator of other countries’ sovereign rights with a particularly malign interest in Iran. Those Iranian views, which were at the heart of the motivations for the embassy seizure, trace back to the 1953 coup d’état against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, which the United States and Great Britain helped to engineer. (See prior postings.) Although the overthrow owed much to the support of a sizable cohort of the population at the time, Washington’s evident desire to manipulate Iran’s internal politics would begin to fester in the collective memory.

The events of 1953 might not have figured so significantly had Iran’s monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the coup’s main beneficiary, not developed into a despotic ruler whose accretion of power, suppression of political rights and social development, and failure to rein in state and court corruption fostered conditions Iranian society could no longer abide.

Although the Shah’s relationship with his American patrons from Eisenhower to Nixon was complex, much of Iran’s political opposition came to see the United States as not only tolerant of his excesses but actively encouraging him at the expense of the interests of the people of Iran. Mass popular resentment began to grow by the mid-1960s, notably after the violent suppression of demonstrations following public denunciations of the Shah by the emerging cleric Ruhollah Khomeini who the Shah arrested in 1963 and later exiled to Iraq. Among Khomeini’s chief grievances was the charge that the regime was kowtowing to foreign – that is, American – influence.

Conditions continued to deteriorate steadily, accelerated by the economic dislocations and skyrocketing corruption stimulated by the oil boom of the 1970s. Richard Nixon’s decision to rely on Iran as a buffer against Soviet aggression in the Persian Gulf region removed any pressure the Shah felt from previous administrations to nudge the country toward meaningful internal reform. American Embassy officials were instructed to avoid activities that might aggravate the Shah, including seeking contacts with his opposition, which curbed their ability to come to grips with the depths of popular animus against the regime.

By the time Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, and a year later praised Iran as “an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world,“ the country was on the verge of revolution. Despite his expressed interest in human rights, Carter became identified in Iran, particularly in the eyes of the clerical opposition, with the Shah who repeatedly resorted to violence to suppress demonstrations through the end of 1978. On January 16, 1979, Mohammad Reza fled the country and two weeks later Khomeini returned from years of exile.

Twenty-five years of growing repression under the monarchy, and the belief that Washington was behind the Shah’s excesses, fed into the motivations of the hostage-takers in November 1979. But the return of the charismatic Shiite leader from exile did not mean the future direction of Iranian politics was sealed. Post-revolution Iran witnessed months of deep crisis punctuated by political demonstrations, ethnic and tribal uprisings, bombings, and other unrest. According to the embassy-takers, one of their core concerns was simply to take some dramatic symbolic action to support Khomeini’s position.

A number of events during that period can be counted as proximate causes of the embassy seizure. Among them were expressions of outrage from various quarters in the United States against harsh treatment of Iranian citizens by revolutionary authorities. In Tehran these statements were taken as signs of Washington’s continued intention to interfere in the country’s affairs. Ironically, the Carter administration was hard at work not only at developing a foundation for good relations with the mostly moderate Provisional Government but also at trying to reach out to key religious figures in belated recognition of their political significance. But the great majority of these attempts were rejected, perhaps not surprisingly given that one aim of the revolution had been to eliminate the American presence.

On May 17, 1979, one such expression of opposition to Iranian conduct took the form of a U.S. Senate resolution condemning a string of executions ordered by Iran’s revolutionary courts. The move, mainly symbolic, struck a nerve in Tehran in part because one of the resolution’s sponsors, New York Republican Senator Jacob Javits, was said to be a “Zionist” and to have had ties to the Shah and the previous regime including an apparent financial arrangement between Javits’s wife and the company Iran Air. The vehemence of the reaction, spearheaded by Khomeini himself, flummoxed Washington but the episode came to symbolize the alleged harmful intent of the U.S. which the hostage-takers aimed at fending off.

A much more widely recognized pretext for the November 4 takeover was the Carter administration’s decision to allow the Shah into the United States for medical treatment. Iran experts inside the State Department had warned for months that to do so would create huge problems for U.S. policy and even endanger diplomats in Iran but Carter’s senior advisers one-by-one lined up in favor of admitting the Shah. In retrospect, the reasons evidently included mounting pressure from influential Shah supporters (primarily leading Republicans such as Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and David Rockefeller), the related political costs of being seen to abandon a once-loyal anti-communist ally, and the personal views of Carter. The president clearly understood what was at stake, asking his aides at one key point what they would tell him to do after the embassy was overrun.

The shah eventually arrived in New York on October 22, 1979, but this did not immediately lead to the embassy seizure. The reason may be that by their own account the perpetrators had only begun planning the operation a couple of weeks beforehand. The final event that seems to have prompted the assault came on November 3 when National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a noted hawk when it came to dealing with the Shah’s opposition, met face-to-face with the head of the Provisional Government Mehdi Bazargan on the anniversary of Algeria’s revolution which was being celebrated in Algiers. The meeting was televised and made world headlines, but it also evidently led the Iranian student group to draw the wildly exaggerated conclusion that the United States might be on the verge of another regime-change operation aimed at Iran, along the lines of the 1953 coup. Hoping to stave off any such possibility, they launched their own operation the next day.

The hostage episode was rife with ironies, starting with the Bazargan-Brzezinski meeting. It was actually the chargé d’affaires in Tehran, Bruce Laingen, who would become the most senior American to be taken hostage, who recommended to the Iranian prime minister that he use the occasion in Algiers to meet with senior American officials.

Another paradox was that the United States had neither the capabilities nor the intention to foment another coup in Iran. Despite assumptions by the students and most Iranian officials, the world of 1979 was vastly different from 1953. Jimmy Carter was not Dwight Eisenhower and did not share his inordinate fear of communism (at least not until the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). The United States was furthermore in no position to mount serious hostile action against Iran during the revolution, in part because they knew so little about the situation or the players (even less than they had known about the Shah and his regime) and had virtually no contacts among potential counter-revolutionaries. To be sure, this was not for lack of trying on the part of a wide range of would-be plotters; according to a substantial documentary record Washington was approached by a stream of individuals and groups inside and outside the country promising to overthrow the mullahs but the Americans rejected all entreaties prior the embassy seizure.

There is also no indication in the record that throughout 1979 the great majority of U.S. officials gave serious consideration to anything beyond shoring up ties with anyone inside the Iranian political system who would talk to them. Brzezinski himself is on the record as pressing Carter to consider different kinds of military action but the president and other senior officials including the Joint Chiefs of Staff discarded all such ideas – although, as this posting confirms, ironically the takeover led to a revival of talk over possible military and political reprisals (again rejected).

U.S. intelligence agencies were also nowhere near as formidable as they were reputed to be. The Carter administration, much to the dismay of critics, had substantially cut back on the CIA’s HUMINT capabilities in a deliberate move to counter the public perception of the agency as a rogue elephant. As noted, U.S. capabilities in Iran – even to gather intelligence much less conduct covert operations on the scale of regime change – were already circumscribed. Shortly after the hostage taking, a career CIA officer on Brzezinski’s staff lamented to his boss: “It is supremely ironic that we should stand accused of so much espionage out of our Embassy in Tehran when we have done so little.” (See Document 5)

Beyond the human tragedy experienced by the several dozen Embassy personnel held against their will, the hostage episode had several momentous political consequences, many of which were sharply detrimental to Iran. It instantly cast the regime in the harshest light, increasing its isolation from much of the rest of the world. This in turn made it far too easy for various political actors in the West to dismiss the regime as untrustworthy, not to say barbaric and irrational, thus complicating future efforts to win domestic support, particularly in the United States, for policies that arguably were in the interests of an important regional player. More immediately, the crisis helped precipitate the immensely costly Iran-Iraq War by feeding into Saddam Hussein’s calculation that Iran was a vulnerable target. Later in the war, Western distrust and ill will, arising in part from the takeover, contributed first to reluctance to show support for Iran, despite being the aggrieved party, and later to a readiness to justify engaging in direct fighting with Iranian forces.

The hostage crisis also contributed to the growing public sense of American global impotence in the United States that undoubtedly hurt Carter’s reelection chances and helped bring Ronald Reagan to office, with all of the attendant implications for the country and the international environment. Reagan himself drew lessons from the crisis, vowing never to be placed in the same vulnerable position as Carter – although he too ultimately suffered politically and damaged the country’s standing as a result of the Iran-Contra affair. (The concept of taking hostages adopted by Hezbollah and others in Lebanon was undoubtedly encouraged by the perception of the impact of the Tehran episode.) The crisis even contributed to developments in areas such as military preparedness as one of the main recommendations of the Holloway Report (Document 10) after the failed rescue mission was to build up American special operations capabilities.

Over the coming months, the National Security Archive will post additional e-books drawn from the upcoming ProQuest publication, U.S. Policy toward Iran: From the Revolution to the JCPOA, 1978-2015.


Document 01

U.S. Embassy Baghdad cable to Secretary of State, Top Secret, August 17, 1953


Source: National Archives and Records Administration

The Students Following the Line of the Imam always maintained that a major concern was that the United States would try to foment another coup d’etat similar to the one against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953. A debate has sprung up in recent times about whether the CIA and British intelligence in fact played a role in the ultimate overthrow. This cable from the American ambassador in Baghdad, where the Shah had flown after the first coup attempt failed, appears to give irrefutable proof that the U.S. played a major part in the overall process, which would eventually unseat Mosaddeq two days later. (See in particular the ambassador’s admonition to the Shah against ever acknowledging a foreign hand in the operation.) The underlying point in the context of the 1979 embassy seizure is that there is no doubt of the United States’ participation in an attempt to overthrow a sitting prime minister, which formed at least part of the students’ motivation.

Document 02

Bruce Laingen cable to State Department, "Shah’s Desire to Reside in the U.S.," Secret, July 28, 1979


Source: Freedom of Information Act request

A more immediate spark for those who led the embassy takeover was the U.S. decision to admit the shah to the United States for medical treatment. A major worry for American officials was the chances that this would lead to harm befalling U.S. personnel in Iran. This cable from Chargé d’Affairs Bruce Laingen precisely lays out the worst case. He adds certain caveats but his message, amplified by other Department officials and well-known to President Carter, was prescient.

Document 03

Zbigniew Brzezinski memo to President Carter, "The Shah," Secret, October 20, 1979


Source: National Archives and Records Administration

This memo from Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Carter discusses the question of admitting the Shah. Below the main message is a handwritten note memorializing Carter’s approval of the fateful decision.

Document 04

CIA cable from Tehran to Director, Secret, April 4, 1979


Source: Nest of Spies document volumes

One of the notable outcomes of the embassy takeover was the seizure of a wealth of classified U.S. documentation by the students. American embassy staff did their best to destroy sensitive records, burning and shredding until their captors broke through and stopped them. Entirely unexpectedly, the Iranians were ultimately able to piece back together many of the shredded materials, such as this document, which they then bound into book-length compilations and published – selling them initially at a book stall outside the former embassy compound.

Document 05

Paul Henze memo to Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Thoughts on Iran," Confidential, November 9, 1979


Source: Jimmy Carter Library

Paul Henze was a career CIA official who focused on a variety of issues, including during this period Soviet radio broadcasting and propaganda activity. Brzezinski may have asked him specifically to look at the Iran crisis and come up with an independent assessment. It is of interest in part because it reflects the widespread concern many officials shared during this period and throughout the Cold War over the threat of Soviet intervention.

Document 06

Special Coordination Committee, Summary of Conclusions, "Iran," Top Secret-Sensitive, November 8, 1979


Source: Jimmy Carter Library

Immediately after the hostage taking, the Carter administration’s Special Coordination Committee, a component of the National Security Council, began to meet to deliberate over what actions to take. This example gives an idea of the range of issues the group covered on almost a daily basis for months.

Document 07

Zbigniew Brzezinski memo to President Carter, "Black Room Report," Top Secret, circa November 20, 1979


Source: Jimmy Carter Library

President Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, made no secret of his preference for tough action against the Shah’s opponents in the lead-up to the revolution. This unusual memo (it is not known what the Black Room was) lays out a series of similarly harsh steps under consideration by an unidentified group of officials that Carter is willing to take under advisement while admonishing his aide to "be extremely cautious."

Document 08

Zbigniew Brzezinski memo to President Carter, "NSC Weekly Report #122," Top Secret, December 21, 1979 (with Carter’s handwritten notes)


Source: Jimmy Carter Library

Brzezinski continued to pursue a hard line on Iran, as exemplified in this memo, part of a weekly series of direct messages where gave freely of his opinions to the president. As with the previous document, he appears anxious for the president at least to consider military action and steps to overthrow Ayatollah Khomeini. Carter’s handwritten notes show he is not opposed to planning for all possible approaches as long as they do not open the U.S. up to international "condemnation." In the end, other than the hostage rescue attempt, his administration did not opt for any of Brzezinski’s more dramatic proposals.

Document 09

CIA Cable to Director, Secret, January 27, 1980 [truncated]



One of the few positive stories to come out of the hostage crisis was the covert extraction of six American diplomats from Iran via the Canadian embassy where the six had fled seeking protection. Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and staff earned hero status for their role in secreting the Americans out of the country, which was accomplished with the aid of a cover story and other assistance from the Central Intelligence Agency. This partial cable, heavily excised, conveys some of the information relating to the episode of the "houseguests" which was later popularized in the film Argo.

Document 10

"Final Report of the Special Operations Review Group," Top Secret, July 1980


Source: Freedom of Information Act request

The April 24-25 hostage rescue attempt was perhaps the bleakest moment in Carter’s presidency. After sand storms and other problems led to a decision to abort the mission, two of the helicopters collided and exploded, causing the deaths of eight servicemen at Desert One inside Iran. Long planned, the operation was not surprisingly sharply debated by those in the know, leading at least in part to the resignation of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. While purely hypothetical, there continues to be wide disagreement over whether the plan would have succeeded. The Holloway report, in this case the declassified Top Secret version obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, analyzes the technical aspects of the operation and recommends, among other measures, a ramping up of American special ops capabilities.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Archive, CREW, Historians Ask Federal Judge to Preserve Head of State Records

Archive, CREW, Historians Ask Federal Judge to Preserve Head of State Records

Published: Oct 1, 2019

by Tom Blanton

For more information, contact Tom Blanton,
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

Plaintiffs Seek Restraining Order for White House Files on Foreign Leader Calls, Meetings

Washington D.C., October 1, 2019 – The National Security Archive together with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) today filed a motion in federal court for a temporary restraining order to compel the White House to preserve records of foreign leader phone calls and meetings with the president, and records of White House record-keeping practices and policies.

The motion cites the new revelations from the whistleblower complaint filed with the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General that the White House had restricted access to presidential transcripts of calls and meetings such as the controversial July 25, 2019 call with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, and that such records were placed into a “codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive – rather than national security sensitive – information.”

The plaintiffs had originally filed suit in May 2019, with pro bono representation from the firm of Baker McKenzie, after repeated media accounts of White House failure to keep records of highest-level meetings, including at least five discussions between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and another with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The case is pending before Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, Case No. 19-cv-1333 (ABJ).

After the latest revelations of problematic White House record keeping, CREW’s chief FOIA counsel, Anne Weismann, repeatedly wrote the Department of Justice asking for assurances that all relevant information would be preserved pending the resolution of this lawsuit, but Justice declined to do so, saying any such assurances “clearly implicate privileged legal advice.”

Today’s motion cites “the palpable risk that presidential records will be lost to Plaintiffs and the American people,” and argues that “to hold the President immune from any lawsuit seeking to make him accountable for his recordkeeping violations would, however, fly in the face of the text and the purpose of the PRA [Presidential Records Act], its historical context, and the congressional record.”

Archive Director Tom Blanton said, “By all accounts, White House record keeping is a mess, but federal courts have ducked the issue to date, citing separation of powers and some limiting precedent from the Reagan and Bush era White House e-mail cases that we brought. Yet even that precedent empowers the courts to look into White House policies and practices. And all precedent requires the White House to preserve its relevant information while a lawsuit is pending.”

Read the documents

Document 01

Motion of Temporary Restraining Order. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 02

Memorandum in Support of Temporary Restraining Order. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 03

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit A. Whistleblower Complaint submitted to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, August 12, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 04

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit B. White House Memorandum Summarizing the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelenskyy, Declassified September 24, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 05

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit C. Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, August 26, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 06

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit D. Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson letter to Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives, September 9. 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 07

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit E. Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson letter to Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives, September 17. 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 08

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit F. Letter from Anne Weismann to Kathryn Wyer, September 20, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 09

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit G. Letter from Kathryn Wyer to Anne Weismann, September 23, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 10

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit H. Letter from Anne Weismann to Kathryn Wyer, September 25, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


Document 11

Temporary Restraining Order Exhibit I. Letter from Kathryn Wyer to Anne Weismann, September 27, 2019. Filed October 1, 2019.


RESEARCH DOCUMENT /// Kissinger Told Soviet Envoy during 1973 Arab-Israeli War : “My Nightmare is a Victory for Either Side” – The Soviet Agreed

Kissinger Told Soviet Envoy during 1973 Arab-Israeli War : “My Nightmare is a Victory for Either Side” – The Soviet Agreed

Only days after the outbreak of the October War and not long after his confirmation as Secretary of State, Kissinger at one of his first press conferences, on 12 October 1973. During this event, he declared that the Soviet Union airlift of supplies to the Arab countries had been “moderate,” a statement that Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) criticized. (National Archives, Still Picture Unit, Record Group 59-BP, box 35, envelope VS 1053-73 Secy’s Press Conf)

Published: Aug 9, 2019

Briefing Book #680

Edited by William Burr

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

New Kissinger Telcons Shed Light on U.S. Policy during the War as Well as Nixon’s Nomination of Gerald Ford for Vice President

Nixon Described Ford to HAK as a “Bright Truman”

Posting Comes on Anniversary of Nixon’s Resignation in 1974

Washington, D.C., August 9, 2019 – Several previously unknown Henry Kissinger memoranda of telephone conversations – or telcons – from October 1973, uncovered by the National Security Archive, provide blunt and fascinating vignettes from a significant moment during the Nixon presidency.

In one record about the Yom Kippur War, the secretary of state candidly tells Soviet envoy Anatoly Dobrynin it would be a “nightmare” if either side won. In another, the president comments that Gerald Ford, who would soon be named vice president, was a “safe” choice, reminding Nixon of a “bright Truman.” That telcon consisted of a somewhat disjointed conversation with the president that prompted Kissinger to confide in his deputy later that the “President was loaded.”

The telcons posted today, on the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation as president, were included in the National Archives’ response to a declassification request by the National Security Archive 19 years ago, in 2000. It is not clear why they were not part of the previously known major collections released since 2004 by the National Archives and the State Department largely in response to the threat of legal action.

Newly Discovered Kissinger Telcons from October 1973

By William Burr

During the Arab-Israeli War in October 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had frequent discussions with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. During a conversation on 18 October 1973, after he agreed that the military situation was stable, even stalemated, Kissinger declared that “my nightmare is a victory for either side.” Dobrynin observed: “it is not only your nightmare.” Kissinger would say different things to different interlocuters, but he may have worried that if either Egypt or Israel attained a decisive military advantage it would weaken U.S. influence over post-war peace talks. Dobrynin likely had the same concern for the Soviet position.

A conversation with President Richard Nixon sheds light on Nixon’s decision to choose Congressman Gerald Ford (R-MI) as vice president to replace Spiro Agnew who had just resigned owing to corruption charges. Nixon told Kissinger that the top candidates were Ford, former Secretary of State William Rogers, former Treasury Secretary John Connolly, and California Governor Ronald Reagan. Dismissing Reagan as a possibility, Kissinger suggested someone, unlike Connolly or New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who would not be a “presidential candidate” in 1976. Nixon and Kissinger agreed that Ford would not be “the candidate” in 1976, with Nixon characterizing him as “safe”, and a “bright Truman.”

Both of these recently declassified telephone conversation transcripts were previously unknown. Found in a collection of Kissinger material in State Department records at the National Archives, they were declassified in response to an October 2000 request by the National Security Archive. Other Kissinger telephone conversations in this release were with White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and White House counsel Leonard Garment.

The discussions covered by these telcons occurred during the 1973 Middle East War and a major topic was U.S. policy to supply Israel with arms and ammunition. The coordinated Egyptian-Syrian attack on 6 October 1973 against Israeli forces in the Sinai and the Golan Heights had come as a shock to Washington. A State Department intelligence analyst had estimated the possibility of war months earlier and U.S. intelligence had picked up warning signs in the weeks before, but the Nixon administration was relatively complacent. Never considering the possibility that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would launch war to force negotiations, Kissinger and his Israeli counterparts believed that they could control the pace of diplomacy over territory occupied during the 1967 war. At a staff meetiong on 23 October, State Department analyst Ray Cline captured some of the reasons for pre-war complacency when he observed that "we were brainwashed by the Israelis, who brainwashed themselves.”[1]

When the war broke out, Nixon and Kissinger wanted to make sure that Israel did not lose, but they favored a low profile for the U.S. role, so as not to anger Arab countries that were already suspicious of U.S. policy. Moreover, Kissinger wanted to calibrate supply availabilities to influence Israeli war aims. The telcons from 13 October 1973 are especially revealing because they illustrate Kissinger’s suspicion that the Pentagon was “sabotaging” supply operations, which could risk putting “the whole goddamn strategy out of whack.” After Nixon decided in favor of a large-scale U.S. airlift of supplies, Kissinger told Leonard Garment that “we are going to wind up with the Arabs mad.”

The National Archives released these telcons from a collection “The Records of Henry A. Kissinger,” found in State Department records at the Archives. It is essentially a collection of document copies, with (to the best of the editor’s recollection) no original typed copies. Some of the documents are marked with chapter numbers suggesting that the papers had something to do with the preparation of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs. The telcons found there are also copies, some of them poorly reproduced second or third generation versions of the originals.

Copies of these telcons cannot be found in the otherwise comprehensive Kissinger telcon collection at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum (a copy of the originals in Kissinger’s Library of Congress collection), which the National Archives secured from Kissinger’s papers as a result of legal action threatened by the National Security Archive. The absence of the telcons from the records at the Nixon Library (or even the Library of Congress) may have been a clerical oversight or a deliberate decision, but at least copies are available. This may not be the case for Kissinger’s records of his meetings with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during 1973-1976, which to date are nowhere to be found, despite the efforts of State Department historians to locate them.

The Department of State made no objection to declassifying the new telcons, but the Department of Defense excised three of them, one of them extensively (the Nixon-Kissinger telcon). The Pentagon’s justification for the redactions is exemption 3.3 (b) (6) in Executive Order 13526: that disclosure would “reveal information, including foreign government information, that would cause serious harm to relations between the United States and a foreign government, or to ongoing diplomatic activities of the United States.”

It is not clear why the Defense Department leadership believes that its declassification reviewers have special skills compared to State Department professionals for determining which information could harm U.S. diplomacy; nevertheless, they have used exemption 6 frequently when reviewing State Department records at the National Archives, even from even the early 1960s. It is equally mysterious why Pentagon reviewers suppose that declassification of Nixon’s or Kissinger’s statements from 1973 could actually cause damage today , but the National Security Archive routinely challenges such claims in administrative appeals to the National Archives and the Department of Defense.

* The editor thanks Melissa Lew Heddon, an archivist at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, for her kind help in checking the documents in this posting against the Library’s collection of Henry Kissinger telcons. Alexander Chang, a student at George Washington University, helped with transcriptions.

Note: The archival source for these telcons is: National Archives (College Park), Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973-1977, box 25, 1974 Arab-Israeli War.


Document 01

TELCON Schlesinger/HAK October 9, 1973/5:35 p.m.


Three days after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, Kissinger spoke with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to review priorities for providing Israel with military supplies. According to Kissinger, Nixon had made the following selections from an options paper[2]: option 1 (provide military “consumables,” e.g., ammunition and weapons, with Israeli responsibility for transportation), option 4 (“replacement equipment”, such as F-4 fighter jets that the Israelis “can haul away themselves”), and option 5: (“use of US delivery means, including C-5As for M-60 tank delivery”). Providing the F-4s was a problem because not only would they have to be accompanied by a tanker, they would have U.S. Air Force markings on them making the U.S. origin “obvious.” And they couldn’t fly over Western European airspace because the Europeans were “unsympathetic” to the Israelis.

At this stage, Nixon and Kissinger favored a low U.S. profile for the supply operation so as to minimize antagonizing the Arab states. According to Kissinger, Nixon wanted the Israelis to get tanks, but they should not be supplied until after the fighting had ended; the White House assumption was that “they don’t need them for the current fighting.” Nevertheless, Kissinger asked Schlesinger to make plans for sending them in case the need arose.

Schlesinger advised going for option 5, to use long-range C5As to ship tanks, but Kissinger was more interested in moving quickly on option 1 to minimize the direct U.S. role. Schlesinger spoke of the need for a “Flying Tigers” operation to move supplies. An hour later, however, Kissinger would learn from Ambassador Dinitz about major tank losses, on the order of 400 from the fighting with the Egyptians. It would be several days before Nixon approved a major airlift.

Document 02

Telecon, Nixon/Kissinger, October 11, 1973 6:35 p.m., excised copy


Five days into the October War and a day after a disgraced Spiro Agnew had resigned from the vice presidency, a possibly inebriated President Richard Nixon called Henry Kissinger to ask for the latest news. Kissinger later told his deputy, General Brent Scowcroft, that the “President was loaded” when he spoke with him. A possible clue to Nixon’s lack of focus was that when Kissinger mentioned that Israeli forces had gone 20 kilometers into Syria, Nixon observed “That is about as far … as Egypt. You have been up there haven’t you. You can look across the desert.”

Kissinger tried to keep the conversation on track with a discussion of strategy, mainly his interest in stalling a ceasefire presumably so that Israel could cement additional territorial gains. The transcript is incomplete because the transcriber plainly had trouble catching some of Kissinger’s points about Soviet policy and the possibility of “MFN” (most-favored-nation) commercial status for the Soviet Union. Nixon later made clear his position that he wanted to “see that Israel doesn’t lose” and that there would be no foot dragging in providing supplies.

Part of the discussion concerned Agnew’s replacement. Nixon mentioned former Secretary of State William Rogers, former Treasury Secretary John Connolly, California Governor Ronald Reagan, and Representative Gerald R. Ford (R-MI). Kissinger dismissed Reagan as a possibility and suggested someone, unlike Connolly or New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who would not be a “presidential candidate” in 1976. Nixon and Kissinger agreed that Ford would not be “the candidate” in 1976, and Nixon characterized him approvingly as “safe”, and a “bright Truman.” Nixon nominated Ford the next day.[3]

The comment about a “smart Truman” reflected the bad blood with President Harry S. Truman that had developed during the late 1940s and early 1950s when Nixon, then in Congress, waged relentless partisan warfare against the Truman administration on all fronts.

Document 03

Telecon Secretary Kissinger/Gen. Haig 12:45 a.m., 10/13/1973, excised copy[4]


This conversation with White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig took place after Kissinger met with Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz who told him that promised U.S. supplies for the war had not arrived and that Israeli forces were running out of ammunition. While meeting with Dinitz, Kissinger spoke with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and accused the Pentagon of “sabotaging” the supply operation.

Supplies were not coming through because to keep a low U.S. official profile Kissinger had insisted on using private charter flights but the Defense Department had not convinced or compelled any contractor to move the equipment.[5] That was the “sabotage” Kissinger saw yet he strongly opposed to a direct U.S. role, e.g. by Military Airlift Command, in providing the Israeli support. “That would be a disaster, Al,” Kissinger said.

What aggravated Kissinger was that the failure to provide supplies could cause a diplomatic failure. Once supplies became available, “the whole goddamn strategy [will be] out of whack because …the stuff will arrive just in time when we want to stop” the Israelis from expanding their military operations. Seeking to influence Israeli war aims, he explained that if the supplies had been available, “the Israelis would be rolling now, then we could stop them while they are rolling.” Tacitly he was referring to the cease fire then under discussion with the Soviets and the British that would stop the fighting before the Israelis had gained so much ground that Washington would lose influence with the Arabs. Now, because the Israelis had not met their objectives, “they will hoard the stuff we are getting in, drive out the negotiations, and then strike.”

To get the supply problem resolved and diplomacy on track, Kissinger rang up Schlesinger but it became less clear that the Israelis were actually running out of ammunition or if they were, why they had not said so earlier. That angered Kissinger, but he dropped his opposition to a direct U.S. role and agreed with Schlesinger on sending 10 C-130s loaded with supplies and on putting pressure on charter flight operators. As furious with the Israelis as he was, Kissinger nevertheless “wanted to have them going as a fierce force while [the war] is going on.”

Document 04

TELCON Henry Kissinger/Len Garment 10/13/73 12:55 p.m., excised copy


The morning of 13 October, Nixon was in command and doubled the number of C-130s to be sent to Israel. At a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group, Kissinger told senior officials that if there were “any further delays in carrying out orders, we want the resignation of the officials involved.” A few hours later, Counselor to the President Leonard Garment told Kissinger that “people in the [Jewish] community” saw Schlesinger as a “roadblock” t0 the supply operation and that they were “going after people,” such as Republican Party Chairman George H.W. Bush and others, who were apparently not sufficiently helpful.

Kissinger mollified Garment, telling him that he had “put the fear of God” in Schlesinger, but was resentful that the Jewish community was “coming after me” (Garment didn’t think they were) and was especially angry that Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) had made “threatening” phone calls about “mismanagement of the crisis.” After telling Garment that the “massive sabotage [had] been broken,” he exclaimed that “this Administration is a disaster.” There would be a cease-fire early in the coming week, Kissinger argued, if the “Defense Department Arabists” had not blocked needed supplies to Israel. Now, “they have to pour in high-profile stuff into Israel [and] now we are going to wind up with the Arabs mad.”

Document 05

TELCON Gen. Haig – Secretary Kissinger Oct. 13, 1973 2:45 p.m.


With Haig, Kissinger spoke about cease-fire diplomacy and the supply operation. News that an Egyptian armored division was crossing over the Suez Canal produced an emotional response with Kissinger claiming that “the defense department may have inflicted a diplomatic and military defeat on us.”

The British had been playing a role in the cease-fire negotiations but were backing away because Anwar Sadat objected, thinking that Egyptian forces would gain more ground. Kissinger explained that London did not want to be “accused of collusion with the Russians to make Sadat swallow something he doesn’t want.” When Kissinger noted that the British didn’t want “to bear the onus alone” for the plan, Haig accused “perfidious Albion” but Kissinger remained interested in a cease-fire because if it “doesn’t work,” he saw a “massive airlift, massive confrontation with the United Arabs and the Soviets,” all because of the failure of the “goddamned Arabists” in the Pentagon.

Kissinger may have been of two minds on short-term diplomacy, however, because a minute or two later he told Haig that “we have to … have a massive airlift [and] stop consultation with the Arab world and with the Soviets.” Perhaps seeing confrontation ahead, Kissinger spoke about the need for higher defense spending, a “sharp turn right” (away from détente?), and greater competition with the Soviets over military assistance.

Document 06

TELCON October 13, 1973 Amb. Dobrynin – Secretary Kissinger [No time indicated]


This garbled transcript begins by conveying Kissinger’s anger with Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) who was going to make a speech criticizing Kissinger for observing during a press conference that the Soviet airlift of supplies to Egypt and Syria had been “moderate.” The discussion turned to the cease-fire resolution that was complicated by Sadat’s opposition. Worried about the war’s impact on détente with Washington, the Soviets wanted a cease fire, but ran into Egyptian opposition that they were not willing to overrule.[6] Speaking with Kissinger, Dobrynin repeatedly asked “what could be done.” After noting that U.S. supplies were being kept to “rather small proportions” (that was about to change), Kissinger mentioned the possibility of including references to UN Security Resolution 242 to a cease-fire resolution. Dobrynin asked whether Kissinger preferred a “simple cease-fire,” but the transcriber did not catch all of the reply.

Document 07 (transcript attached)

TELCON Amb. Dobrynin- Secretary Kissinger October 13, 1973 [No time indicated]; best copy available.


This conversation, which probably took place in the late afternoon, indicated that the cease-fire discussions were collapsing. The record is also garbled but Kissinger made it plain that the U.S. supported a cease-fire based on the “status quo ante” requiring Arab and Israeli forces to return to prewar lines.[7] According to Dobrynin, that was impossible for the Arabs: they were “doing what they feel necessary,” trying to seize territory occupied by Israel after the Six Day War. It “was very difficult for us to tell them, look here you shouldn’t do that.”

For Kissinger, Arab opposition to a cease-fire was a big mistake: they “are now going to be pushed back, possibly … annihilated.” They had “proved their point” that negotiations had to take place. Kissinger worried that if the war continued “the Israelis [will] have pushed the Arabs out of every territory.” “If we do nothing by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest, Arabs will have been defeated.” Such an outcome Kissinger opposed because it would leave the Israelis with too much leverage in peace talks.

A conversation between the two a few hours later demonstrated that the possibility of a cease-fire had collapsed. Kissinger stated that he had been trying to avoid a U.S.-Soviet “collision,” but “we cannot not supply our friends while you are supplying yours.”[8]

Document 08 (transcript attached)

TELECON Amb. Dobrynin- Secretary Kissinger October 18, 1973 7:14 p.m.


U.S.-Soviet cease-fire discussions resumed on 18 October. During a conversation with Dobrynin (who jokingly referred to Kissinger’s recent Nobel Peace prize), Kissinger said he believed that the Israelis would accept a cease fire resolution that referred to U.N. Resolution 242 but it would depend on the military situation. (He soon found out that the Israelis objected to any such reference.) Kosygin was in Cairo where Dobrynin hoped there would be “straight talk” with Sadat, but Kissinger was not so sure: “I have told my associates the Arabs are [as] lying as Arabs [the Israelis?] and the Israelis are [as] lying as the Arabs and it is hard to tell what is going on.” Both agreed that the military situation was stable, perhaps stalemated, but Kissinger admitted that “my nightmare is a victory for either side.” Dobrynin observed “it is not only your nightmare.”

An hour or so later, Dobrynin called again with Brezhnev’s proposal for a cease-fire resolution. As these conversations were unfolding, the Israelis were beginning to make such significant gains on the ground in the Sinai, beginning a move to encircle Egypt’s Third Army, that Sadat became ready to accept a cease-fire and Kissinger traveled to Moscow and Tel Aviv to negotiate a cease-fire. Once that was arranged and a U.S.-Soviet crisis over the conflict had occurred, Kissinger would work to exclude Moscow from the Middle East peace process to reduce its influence in the region

Nixon, Dobrynin, and Kissinger at Camp David in 1973. Source: NPMP


[1]For helpful perspective on U.S. policy during the war, see Salim Yaqub, Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).

[2]. Nixon chose from an options paper attached to the record of a Washington Special Actions Group meeting, 9 October 1973, at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library Web site.

[3]. On Nixon’s selection of Ford, see Melvin Small, The Presidency of Richard Nixon (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999), 288.

[4]. A copy of this telcon is probably in the papers of some former official because Walter Isaacson had access to it and quoted several sentences in Kissinger: A Biography (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1992), at page 521.

[5]. According to Isaacson, Kissinger’s decision to rely on charter flights was “the most bothersome mistake of the resupply effort.” See Isaacson, Kissinger, at 519.

[6]. “Remarks of Ambassador Victor Israelyan,” in Richard Parker, The October War: A Retrospective (Gainesville: University Press of Florida), 219-222. Israelyan recalled that he and his colleagues “favored putting strong pressure on Sadat,” but the Soviet leadership ignored the advice.

[7]. Kissinger later argued that it was necessary to get the Israelis to “sign on to [that] principle so we could use it against them if they turned the war around.” Isaacson, Kissinger, 515.

[8]. “TELCON Amb. Dobrynin- Secretary Kissinger, October 13, 1973, 7:55 p.m.,” copy available on Digital National Security Archive.