Home History U.S. reclassifies information in response to FOIA for Iran-Contra files

U.S. reclassifies information in response to FOIA for Iran-Contra files


Years after information on Iran-Contra had been labeled UNCLASSIFIED and released to the public, the government began reclassifying some of that information in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Unlike the more well-known reclassification program, this cannot be said to be in response to correcting mistakes from the 1995 declassification order as the information had been declassified and published in 1987. One notable example from the Iran-Contra files, a formerly TOP SECRET chronology on US-Iranian Contacts and the American Hostages, shows that key pieces of information about the extent of CIA and Israel’s involvement have been reclassified. This seems to have taken place sometime between the publication of the Report of the congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra Affair (November 1987), which included versions of the chronology, and the time the document was reviewed as part of a FOIA request (June 2005).

By comparing the FOIA released document to previous and later versions which were previously declassified, and which use almost identical language in many places, we can see what information has been reclassified. These differences also show how many unnecessary and unjustified redactions there are. Finally, they aptly demonstrate how the battle to rewrite and reclassify history is ongoing. At best, it shows how woefully inadequate the government’s efforts to collect and consult what information has been previously declassified and released to the public when reviewing documents – or how concerned they are with the mosaic effect. Most of the reclassifications appear to pertain to CIA role in Iran-Contra, which the Agency has sought to minimize any record of from the beginning.

The first major difference is in a paragraph describing the efforts to verify the authenticity of the Iranians and the proposal. While discussing the risks being taken by the Iranians, the last portion of the paragraph is completely redacted under b(1), meaning that it is “specifically authorized and properly classified pursuant to Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.”

Significantly, the first part of the paragraph has identical wording. This is an extremely strong indication that the rest of the information is largely or wholly unchanged, and that it had been declassified. In the previously released document, the now re-classified portion read “He [Kimche, the Israeli official] noted that the Iranians had exposed themselves to possible compromise by meeting with Israelis and by passing extremely sensitive intelligence on the situation (and political line-up) within Iran — information which was proven valid.” While some of this information clearly deals with sources and methods, it had been declassified and published by the government long ago.

The next section with reclassified information contains some notable changes to the writing, although the basic information remains the same. Notably, one of the sentences with that had portions reclassified is otherwise unchanged, as is the following sentence.

Comparing the reclassified version of the document to the previously declassified and published version, we can see what the complete sentence said. “The Israelis were unwitting of the CIA’s involvement in the airline and the airline was paid at the normal commercial charter rate (approximately $127,000). While the paragraph began differently, it’s reasonable to assume that the redacted portion of the rewritten and rereleased paragraph similarly reflected the airline’s status as a CIA proprietary.

The next paragraph appears to use the same wording in both the declassified and reclassified versions of the document. The only apparent difference, aside from the reclassification of the information, is that one version was written a day later and contains an additional sentence. 

Comparing this to the version declassified and published in the late 1980s, we can see what the unredacted sentence read. “The Israelis urged that we reconsider the issue of providing limited defensive arms to those attempting to take power in Tehran, since all other incentives (economic assistance, medical supplies, machine parts) were of no value in shoring-up those who wanted an opening to the West.”

The next section with reclassifications details the financial and logistical arrangements made by CIA, Israel and Iran to support the flow of arms to Iran. Notably, the unredacted portion shows that the Iran-Contra operation was connected to Operation Cyclone, the CIA-sponsored effort to arm the Mujahideen.

Looking at the previously released version, many of the redactions fall away. First, we see that after the Iranians deposited money in an Israeli account, “the Israelis would transfer funds to a sterile U.S.-controlled account in an overseas bank.” We also see that “using these funds, the CIA would covertly obtain material” to transfer to Iran via Israel. The unredacted portions of the following paragraph also show that the account was CIA controlled, and that the “TOWs were transferred by CIA from DOD (U.S. Army stocks in Anniston, Alabama) and transported them through [omitted] using standard CIA-DOD [omitted] logistics arrangements.” The final redaction was added to conceal George Clair’s involvement with Oliver North and Richard Armitage to transport the TOWs.

The next paragraph simply reclassifies the presence of CIA communicators on the secret mission to Tehran, authorized by President Reagan.

The following paragraph reclassifies several references to CIA’s involvement in providing logistical and financial support.

The previously declassified and published version, however, reveals the text behind most of these redactions.

It’s followed by more reclassifications about CIA’s involvement in facilitating the negotiations and exchanges.

The unredacted version shows that, again, CIA covertly provided transportation support.

The final set of redactions all relate to the support relating to the President’s covert action finding.

Comparing the two versions of the document, we see that the first redaction was simply that CIA provided every listed instance of operational assistance. Several elements of the support appear to have been reclassified as well, including the fact that the bank accounts were to be sterile and overseas, that the “transhipment point” was secure, and that CIA provided both communications and intelligence support for the meetings in Tehran.

To understand how resistant the government is to transparency in this regard, the reclassification of information about the extent of CIA’s involvement should be taken into account along with the Senate’s final Iran-Contra report which pointed to a coverup and along with Senator Tower’s CIA-based conflict of interest.

You can compare the different versions of the document Here. 

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