Partial Victory for Whistleblower Jeffrey Scudder

Jeffrey Scudder

Jeffrey Scudder

In July, ExposeFacts shared the story of Jeffrey Scudder, a CIA project manager who lost his job over an effort to FOIA old copies of CIA’s internal journal, Studies of Intelligence, that had been cleared for release but then withheld.

The other day, Scudder won a partial victory in his fight to get the CIA to release historical documents of interest. The CIA posted 249 of the 419 articles under FOIA dispute for access on their website, withholding 170 entirely.

One article describes how the CIA Public Affairs Office responded to journalist Gary Webb’s series on CIA ties to the Central American drug trade, tracking how other journalists came to turn on the story and Webb. It explains the willingness of the public to believe that CIA might be involved in the drug trade because we live in a time of “coarse and emotional times–when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community.”

Another article provides an interview with now CIA Director John Brennan from when he led the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (the predecessor to today’s National Counterterrorism Center). He described the “unprecedented access to all these networks and all these databases–terabytes upon terabytes of data” those assigned to the TTIC had. The integrated approach supported by TTIC and the new Director of National Intelligence position, Brennan explained, “moves the Intelligence Community away from being focused solely on ‘foreign intelligence.” as has been the case for the past 55 years or so. Intelligence is more than foreign intelligence, it is domestic intelligence as well.” Almost the entire article is declassified (save details about Brennan’s service as Station Chief in Saudi Arabia), providing useful background on the early years of our push to share all data.

Then there is an article specifically mentioned in coverage of Scudder’s fight, “Soviet Television, a New Asset for Kremlin Watchers.” The article describes some of the challenges involved in analyzing TV as compared to newspapers and radio, such as the time required and the data storage needed to collect and compare broadcasts. Among the details of useful lessons learned from TV are that Soviet television originally misreported which Grenada Ronald Reagan had invaded in 1984 — showing a map of Spain rather than the Caribbean — and that, before he ascended to leadership, Mikhail Gorbachev received more prominent coverage than other Politburo members had.

These articles are not entirely flattering to the CIA. The Soviet TV article, for example, shows the CIA engaging in mere Kremlinology to understand USSR’s intentions. But neither are they sources and methods that should be protected using retaliation against a CIA employee.

And yet the CIA pushed Scudder out of his job because he attempted to force their release.

Update: Intelligence historian Matthew Aid notes that some of the documents that were released in highly redacted form the other day have already been released to him in much less redacted form.

About Marcy Wheeler

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler writes the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFacts. She is best known for providing in-depth analysis of legal documents related to "war on terrorism" programs and civil liberties. Wheeler blogs at emptywheel.net and publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler won the 2009 Hillman Award for blog journalism.