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Profile: Tom Blanton
Tom Blanton was a participant or observer in the following events:
Marc Rich. [Source: Huffington Post]Former president Bill Clinton reacts angrily to edited transcripts of private conversations with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, in which Barak requested that Clinton pardon fugitive American financier Marc Rich (see August 21, 2001 and Early September, 2001). The transcripts were edited and released to the public by House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) as part of his investigation into whether Clinton acted improperly in pardoning Rich. After reading the transcripts, Clinton thinks that Burton has selectively edited them, and giving a false impression of the nature and content of the conversations between himself and Barak. Clinton asks the White House, which had provided Burton with copies of the tapes of the conversations, to release all of the relevant portions of the transcripts, which he says will portray the conversations in a different light. But the White House refuses, saying the remaining portions of the transcripts are now classified. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]
'Hating Bill Clinton' - The classification of the documents is quite sudden. Earlier in the month, a White House spokesperson said that the release of the Clinton-Barak transcripts was nothing more than part of their efforts to make more information available to Congress. “The excerpts were not classified,” the spokesperson said. “The decision to make the documents available was entirely consistent with past practice. You don’t just slap Top Secret on a whole document.” However, some observers dispute this. “Given the secrecy that the Bush-Cheney administration has pursued, it’s inconceivable that they would turn this information over if it affected President Bush,” says Phil Schiliro, the Democratic staff director for the House Government Reform Committee, which is trying in vain to secure information from the White House about the Cheney Energy Task Force. Lynne Weil, the press secretary for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls the sudden decision to classify the previously unclassified transcripts “highly unusual.” She adds, “People who have worked for the Foreign Relations Committee for years can’t recall the last time such a thing happened.” The National Security Archives’s Tom Blanton welcomed the original disclosure of the conversations, but says it came not from a sudden desire for transparency from the Bush administration, but from a desire to smear Clinton. The Bush administration passionately believes in secrecy, a belief rooted in its collective ideology, says Blanton. When asked why that same ideological concern didn’t extend to the Clinton-Barak transcripts, Blanton replies that the question ignores “a rather more focused version of that ideology that’s about hating Bill Clinton.”
Violation of Procedure - Typically, the Bush administration turns down requests such as Burton’s for private presidential conversations. However, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to turn them over. At that point, Clinton could have attempted to block the release of the transcripts by invoking executive privilege, a move that may have cast him in a poor light politically. But the events as carried out by Burton and the White House—breaking with precedent to release potentially embarrassing transcripts, edit those transcripts to make their contents appear more damning than they actually are, then retroactively classify the remainder of the transcripts—is highly unusual. [Salon, 2/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 85-86]
Entity Tags: Energy Task Force, Ehud Barak, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Tom Blanton, National Security Archives, Phil Schiliro, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Rich, House Committee on Government Reform, Lynne Weil, Dan Burton
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush signs an executive order delaying the public release of millions of government documents, citing the need to more thoroughly review them first. The government faced an April 17 deadline for declassifying millions of documents at least 25 years old. [Reuters, 3/26/2003] The order countermands a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton, who mandated that government documents over 25 years old be automatically declassified unless there was “significant doubt” as to whether their release would damage national security. [New York Times, 3/21/2003] The order also treats all material sent to American officials from foreign governments, no matter how routine, as subject to classification. It expands the ability of the CIA to shield documents from declassification, giving the director the right to unilaterally block any declassification of agency documents. And for the first time, it gives the vice president the power to classify information. The New York Times says, “Offering that power to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has shown indifference to the public’s right to know what is going on inside the executive branch, seems a particularly worrying development.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/28/2003] Historian Anna Nelson says of the decision: “This is in context with the way this administration has done the whole bit on secrecy. They have left a skeletal process.” But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is less harsh in his assessment, saying, “One might have expected a more aggressive, pro-secrecy policy than this draft.” Tom Blanton of the private National Security Archive says the provision to classify information from foreign governments is far too broad: “Making all foreign government information presumptively classified means we’re lowering our openness standard to the lowest common denominator of our ostensible allies.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
Ty Cobb, the lawyer for fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy (see April 21, 2006), denies that his client leaked classified information to any reporter, and denies that his client gave any information about secret CIA prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest (see November 2-18, 2005). A CIA source confirms Cobb’s statement, saying that the agency no longer asserts that McCarthy was one of Priest’s key sources. Instead, the agency now says it fired McCarthy because she had “undisclosed contacts” with Priest and other journalists. Such contacts violated her security agreement, agency officials say.
No Leaks of Classified Information - The original allegations that McCarthy revealed classified information to journalists are, apparently, no longer operational. Cobb says that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Cobb says that his client, who is 61, was just 10 days from retirement when she was fired, and had held senior positions at both the White House and the National Intelligence Council, is “devastated” over her firing. She believes her career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and, her lawyer says, her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” McCarthy had begun her retirement process in December 2005, and was planning on pursuing a legal career after leaving the agency. She will be allowed to retain her pension. A former intelligence official says, “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken.”
Firing Designed to Intimidate Others? - He adds, “That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” The official is not the only one to believe that McCarthy was fired to intimidate other potential leakers and whistleblowers who may feel impelled to reveal questionable activities such as the CIA’s secret prison programs. Thomas Blanton, the director of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, says the Post articles about the secret prisons contained nothing that would warrant prosecution. “It’s the fact of the thing that they’re trying to keep secret, not to protect sources and methods, but to hide something controversial,” he says. “That seems like a hard prosecution to me.” Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, says, “[E]ven if the espionage statutes were read to apply to leaks of information, we would say the First Amendment prohibits criminalizing leaks of information which reveal wrongful or illegal activities by the government.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] In 2007, former senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “By firing Mary, who was only 10 days away from retirement, the CIA management under [Director] Porter Goss was sending a clear signal that no one was to step out of line and if they did, the results would be harsh.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 245-246]
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