CIA Paranoia and the Lady from Vermont

9/11 hysteria, even surrounding 60-year-old documents about American spies

Moreover, William Casey, the director of central intelligence in the Reagan administration, had already ordered thousands of documents from the period sent to the archives, she says. According to the archivist Taylor, Casey believed the OSS records had such great historical value that he authorized the release of over 5,000 feet of records—a process that consumed most of the 1980s and 1990s. From those records in the National Archives, Charlotte Dennett already knew a great deal of her father’s sources and methods.

“It’s not like the U.S. has collapsed or suffered at all from the voluminous and detailed documents that already have been released,” she says. The CIA responded to her appeal by saying there was a backlog of 380 appeals in front of hers, and that she would have to wait her turn. She would be an old woman before she saw another page.

“That was ridiculous,” she says. “Come on—I’ve waited two years. “ (Little, the CIA spokesman, said the agency received 2,900 FOIA and Privacy Act requests last year. He said the agency has reduced the older case backlog by 74 percent in recent years.)


RELATED: Though Charlotte Dennett is still waging a battle to get her father's papers released by the federal government, she shared some of the documents that she managed to successfully pry from the CIA, as well as government papers she found in archives:

This map, according to Dennett, is from the office of the Petroleum Administrator for the War, a federal organization set up by the Roosevelt administration to coordinate activities between oil companies and the government. The map, produced in 1944, begins with the observation "World War II is largely a war by and for oil."

This CIA memo, produced by CIA operative Daniel Dennett, is basically a spy frankly discussing the intelligence operations of other countries and their efforts to destabilize U.S. interests in the Middle East, including America's own supposed allies. At the bottom of the page, he notes that Axis and Allied powers made a deliberate effort to undermine U.S. prestige in the region.

On page two of the memo Dennett notes that the French tried to "belittle" the U.S. and issued anti-American propaganda. And he writes that the oil reserves in the region are so great that the U.S. must maintain control at all costs.

The final page of the memo gives an idea of just how much these documents can be redacted before they are released.

In January 2004, now almost five years after her initial request, Dennett complained about the time it was taking to process her request. The CIA did nothing. Finally, in early 2005, she sued the CIA, encouraged by her husband Gerard Colby, who is also the co-author for the project. (Dennett never went to law school, but she was able to pass the bar exam in Vermont and had been a practicing lawyer for some years.)

Once she filed the lawsuit—some six years after her initial request for the 60-year-old records—the CIA seemed to take more of an interest and gave her additional documents, including some “gems,” as she puts it. Still, the agency wouldn’t turn over everything it had, or even tell her what else was there.

“I have no idea what they are withholding,” Dennett says. “I suspect a lot more records are available. Some people are amazed that I got as much as I did, but it’s just been extremely frustrating.”

The CIA asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that it had done everything it could do. The judge agreed. Dennett then mistakenly sent her notice of appeal to the wrong post-office box in the same federal building that houses the District Court and the clerk for the Court of Appeals. The same judge refused to give her more time to file her appeal.

That decision created one huge irony: The government was holding her to a procedural miscue, when it had delayed, ignored, and fought her FOIA requests for eight years.

In its appellate brief, the government dwells on Dennett’s clerical error for four pages. Dennett’s error, the government argues, doesn’t meet the standard for “excusable neglect.”

But what about the government’s handling of her Freedom of Information Act request? Wasn’t that in itself inexcusable neglect?

If the Appeals Court grants her motion for additional time to file, Dennett plans to ask the judges to examine the documents behind closed doors to see if any more records can be released.

“I want them to look at these records as an independent body to see if the records constitute a threat to national security or are of sufficient public interest and historical value to be released,” she says.

Of her appearance in federal court, Dennett says: “It’s a little embarrassing to have to stand up in front of all those people and admit a mistake.”

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