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Controversial FRUS Volume on Japan Finally Published

After over ten years of sometimes heated negotiation between the State Department and various governmental intelligence agencies, the Department of State History Office (HO) has released a new title in the FRUS series: "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Vol XXIX, PART 2, JAPAN," the penultimate volume to be published in the Johnson administration sub-series. What makes this volume unique is that it has been nearly ready for publication for over seven years, but owing to a handful of controversial documents relating to covert operations in Japan that for years intelligence screeners would not permit the HO to include in the volume, PART 2 JAPAN is only now seeing the light of day...but minus the intelligence agency covert operations documentation.

One of the first things a reader of this volume will notice as different is the inclusion of not only the usual "Preface" but also a "Note on U.S. Covert Actions" and an "Editor's Note" posted at the beginning of the volume. Collectively, the preface and these notices serve, in essence, as disclaimers for the HO.

In order to comply with the Congressionally mandated FRUS statute the compilers of the series are charged to include in each volume, "comprehensive documentation on major foreign policy decisions and actions." But apparently, in the case of the second Japan volume, because of the intelligence community's concerns, this was not possible. Sources inside the HO characterize its preparation as "the volume from hell" in that it has been extremely difficult and in some cases impossible to get some documents cleared for publication, and, in the end, the HO simply gave up trying.

The editors had identified 18 documents in full and nine others with excisions of a paragraph or less that the HO considered "key documents [or containing important information] regarding major covert actions and intelligence activities," however, intelligence security screeners would not permit them to be published. After years of negotiation the HO was confronted with the option of continuing to hold the publication of the volume in perpetual abeyance or go ahead a publish without the inclusion of the documents, but instead include an explanatory note. Hence, with the blessing of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, the decision was made to release the volume with a statement laying out the broad contents of the excised documents and establish their contextual importance with other released documents.

So what was of such concern to intelligence officials? It seems that this volume acknowledges the existence of four covert programs targeting a friendly nation -- Japan, including a small covert program begun in the late 1950s and continuing into the 1960s in which American intelligence operatives supported key pro-American Japanese politicians in an effort to split off the moderate wing of the leftist opposition. The documentation shows that the Johnson administration concluded that this program was neither appropriate nor worth the risk of exposure. As a result, in 1964, the program was phased out, but nevertheless, broader covert programs of propaganda and social action to encourage the Japanese to reject the influence of the left continued at moderate levels until 1968. It is this program, in particular, though well documented in various ambassadorial journals and memoirs, that primarily concerned intelligence agency screeners.

In an effort to satisfactorily meet the mandates of the FRUS legislation the editors have included a contextual explanation of the excised documents and their importance within the context of the era. Though readers of this particular FRUS volume are being denied access to the raw documentation by intelligence agencies and there is not the level of detail that one would characteristically expect to see in a volume in the FRUS series, the HO asserts it is not permitting history to be entirely rewritten because of deletions. Nevertheless, one source inside State views the volume as being "minimally acceptable" in terms of meeting FRUS legislative directives.

One does wonder, however, whether the JAPAN volume is merely an anomaly, or is this practice expected to be employed more frequently in future FRUS releases in order to sidestep CIA and other intelligence agency objections. For example, a FRUS volume on the CONGO has longtime been in the making and is still pending publication; according to inside sources, some of the documentation in it also has been difficult to clear with intelligence screeners. Sources inside the State Department HO concede that during the Bush administration "it is getting harder to get stuff released." But according to FRUS General Editor, Edward C. Keefer, the JAPAN volume "is unique and [does not] reflect a trend."

Read entire article at Bruce Craig, writing in the newsletter of the Coalition for History