Humans Are Free — Oct 10, 2013
Absent greater transparency, Americans should assume the worst
In 1968 Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms wrote urgently to Attorney General Ramsey Clark and President Lyndon B. Johnson that some highly enriched uranium fueling Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor was stolen from America. LBJ reportedly uttered, “Don’t tell anyone else, even [Secretary of State] Dean Rusk and [Defense Secretary] Robert McNamara.”
The FBI immediately launched a deep investigation into the inexplicably heavy losses at the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation NUMEC in Pennsylvania and the highly suspicious activities and Israeli connections of the Americans running it.
The CIA was tasked to find out what was going on in Israel, and compiled thousands of documents about the incident. (PDF) Although CIA officials in a position to know unofficially went on record claiming a diversion had occurred, for decades the CIA has thwarted declassification and release of the LBJ memos.
On October 18, 2013 the only appeals panel with the power to overrule the CIA — the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel ISCAP — sent notification that Americans are not yet ready to know the contents of the memos (ISCAP decision). This denial of public release of decades-old secrets concerning U.S.-Israel relations is far from unique.
Although the Obama administration promised unprecedented transparency, it has emasculated the public’s ability to give informed consent on a wide range of key foreign policy issues. A review of ten particularly toxic U.S. secrets about Israel suggests stakeholders should start assuming the worst but most logical explanation.
In 2006 former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously told reporters at an Iraq war briefing:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Bush administration secrecy and Rumsfeld’s pithy quotes failed to quell gradual public awareness that the ill-fated invasion was launched on purposely fabricated pretexts. And yet the Iraq debacle could have been avoided if Americans had been better informed over time how government truly functions through greater access to the fourth category left unmentioned by Rumsfeld: “unknown knowns.”
“Unknown knowns” are the paradigm-shifting bits of information known only by a select few in government but kept from their fellow American citizens because they would reveal indefensible, secret policies and institution-level corruption that favor a special interest.
By locking “unknown knowns” under heavy guard in document archives, covering them in secrecy classification stamps and making an example out of whistleblowers who release them without authorization, busy bureaucrats with the highest security clearances maintain a vast and growing trove of “unknown knowns.”
Historians and watchdog organizations are continually thwarted in their mandate to contextualize and educate the public about relevant past events that could deeply inform the governed—and ultimately improve governance. Senator Carl Schurz said, “My country right or wrong, if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right.” “Unknown knowns” obliterate the public’s ability to execute the latter two-thirds of that sage advice.
Even the passage of time does not guarantee “unknown knowns” ever become “known knowns.” Under current government records preservation guidelines — particularly for information that researchers are not actively seeking to declassify — some “unknown knowns” quietly become “unknown unknowns” as they decay, are physically destroyed, erased or “lost.”
Many knowledgeable former officials take their secrets to the grave. As a product of the ill-gotten power and influence of the Israel lobby, the pile of “unknown knowns” about U.S.-Israel policy is particularly large. Curious Americans who rightfully question official narratives about the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” have often requested “unknown knowns” under the Freedom of Information Act.
Former government insiders who know firsthand about explosive secrets often seek their public release to alert others using the Mandatory Declassification Review, even requesting documents by name, subject, location, author and date.
After such “unknown knowns” (like the LBJ memos) are unsuccessfully sought for decades by multiple researchers, well-warranted suspicions arise about the reasons behind the impermeable government wall of refusal. The following ten US-Israel policy “unknown knowns” suggest the Israel lobby’s ongoing corrupt power is the only possible explanation for why they are still secret.
1. Henry Morgenthau Jr’s Israel policy is the stuff of legend in accounts about the birth of Israel.