[FPSPACE] NYT: Secret Papers About China Are Released by the C.I.A.

DwayneDay zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Sun Oct 24 21:27:57 EDT 2004

[Dredging this up again because I've had more time to look over some of the material]

-----Original Message-----
From: Paolo Ulivi <paolo.ulivi at tiscali.it>

The documents are browsable at http://www.foia.cia.gov/search.asp?pageNumber=1&freqReqRecord=china.txt 

Secret Papers About China Are Released by the C.I.A.
October 19, 2004

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - The Central Intelligence Agency made
public on Monday a rich trove of previously classified
documents on China, including the supposedly authoritative
National Intelligence Estimates issued over the 30-year
period of Mao Zedong's rule. 

For scholars of what Mao called China's "continuous
revolution," of its tumultuous and intertwined
relationships with the United States, the Soviet Union and
Taiwan, and of the American intelligence efforts aimed at
understanding the unfolding events, the documents disclose
a mixed record of insights and miscues. 


The collection of documents is the most extensive to be
released by the C.I.A. on China. Since 1996, the C.I.A. has
released a series of similar collections on the Soviet
Union, but those documents were largely retrospectives on
the cold war. By contrast, Mr. Suettinger noted that the
China documents contained "formative thinking on an
existing state, an ongoing challenge to American interests
and security." 


There's some interesting stuff there, although it is slightly confusing to me what has been released and how.  They apparently released a very thick book on this subject at the conference (called "Tracking the Dragon"), but someone told me that they are still planning on releasing a CD that contains even more documents.  I believe that the documents in the book are the same ones on the website.  The website is a bit of a pain, as you have to open a separate window for each page of each document, rather than simply downloading a pdf of each document.

As the article indicated, this release was somewhat unusual.  I was not even aware that this conference was in the works--the CIA has sponsored fewer and fewer of these academic conferences in recent years compared to the mid-1990s.  And they have always been weird when it came to China.  For instance, when they held a U-2 conference ca 1998, they did not want to admit that the CIA had flown U-2s over China (with Taiwanese pilots).  Ultimately they were forced to when the retired American pilots apparently refused to accept an award for their service unless the Taiwanese pilots were also recognized.  But nobody in an official capacity at that conference in 1998 would admit that agency U-2s overflew China.

These current documents are certainly interesting because they show many cases of where the CIA got it right, and many cases where they got things wrong.  The history of assessing the Chinese nuclear program is a fascinating one, as they occasionally were way off the mark (for instance, determining that a plant was processing plutonium and not uranium).  If there is any lesson to be learned from this latest release, it is that assessing intelligence information on WMD has always been a very difficult job, and the CIA has gotten it wrong numerous times.


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