The Garret Tree
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
  History returns to the shadows

The New York Times is reporting tonight that American spy agencies' obsession with secrecy has led to the reclassification of about 55,000 documents that had been previously declassified, some of which had been published and many which, according to the Times reach back to the 1940s and have little if any relevance to modern security concerns.

The Times article: U.S. reclassifies many documents in secret review will be available
on the Times site for a couple of weeks after this posting.

It seems that spooks thought that former president Bill Clinton's order to declassify many of these documents was not a good idea and there has been a secret program for the past seven years to send history back into the shadows. The process has apparently accelerated since the 2001 attacks on the United States, although it is hard to fathom how routine documents on the Korean War would be of any help to Al Qaeda.

This process, according to the Times, only came to light when historians noticed that some of the documents that were once available, some even published in official U.S. government publications, were once again secret.

The Times says

Among the 50 withdrawn documents that [historian Matthew} Aid found in his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published by the State Department in 1996.

It seems that this has little, if anything to do with current security concerns.
As the Times points out:

While some of the choices made by the security reviewers at the archives are baffling, others seem guided by an old bureaucratic reflex: to cover up embarrassment, even if they occurred a half-century ago.

One reclassified document in Mr. Aid's files, for instance, gives the C.I.A.'s assessment on Oct. 12, 1950, that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was "not probable in 1950." Just two weeks later, on Oct. 27, some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into Korea.

The Times says there will be more details on the National Security Archive at George Washington University later today (Tuesday Feb. 21 2006).

This idiotic exercise has also cost the American taxpayer more than one million dollars since the archivists and the documents had to be housed in a specially built secure room.

According to the Times, American intelligence agencies "take the position that the reclassified documents were never properly declassified, even though they were reviewed, stamped 'declassified,' freely given to researchers and.. published...Thus, the agencies argue, the documents remain classified — and pulling them from public access is not really reclassification."

Who else is involved?

What worries me about the Times story and a question that should be asked, is the United States putting pressure on other countries to send historic documents embarrassing to the United States back in the shadows.

Back in the early 1980s, when Canada was updating then Public Archives Act, the United States demanded that the Canadian archives keep secret anything involving the U.S. that the Americans thought should be secret. A small coalition managed to get that part of the act removed at the Commons committee stage. I was one of the writers who testified before the committee. (At the time representing the Writers Guild of Canada) Some distinguished Canadian academic historians also appeared before the committee. MPs told us afterward that it was the writers' intervention that tipped the balance, showing it was not just an academic but a cultural concern--and the MPs also bought our argument that the Access to Information Act and other provisions were adequate to keep information secret that should be kept secret (at least for a while until their best before date expired)

But I am wondering tonight how long it will be before the United States reclassifies the accounts of the intelligence failures that led to their defeat at Lundy's Lane and Queenston Heights in the War of 1812??

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Sunday, February 19, 2006
  The trumpet shall sound
Robin's back yard

I have a foghorn in my back yard. Or perhaps a dinosaur.

The City of Toronto has what is called a "downspout replacement program." The idea is to stop too much water going into the storm sewers. So the downspout from the evestrough (gutter for the Yanks reading this) which originally went into the sewer system now waters your garden. A great idea, good for the environment--and it didn't cost me a cent (of course I do pay for it with my taxes).

The city did the site survey in the fall and I expected the contractor to do the work in the spring.

But our warm January provided the contractor the opportunity to do the job.

So I got home from work and


What was that? I wondered as I was going off to sleep. Some strange bird?


It was only after hearing that sound for a day or so, that I figured out that the new downspout was acting like a trumpet.

Somehow the wind is sweeping down the evestrough and then down the downspout.
The end of the downspout
So for every breeze, there's a "wooooooooooh." Sometimes it sounds like a foghorn. Other times it does sound like the call of some tropical bird.

And a dinosaur. While the latest theory is that the crest of the duckbilled dinosaurs were visual signals like those on a rooster, there have been theories as well that those long crests also acted as calling trumpets.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2006
  The Burma Thailand Railway could be World Heritage site

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on February 13 that "A Japanese World War II army officer is lobbying Thailand to support calls for the infamous Burma railway to be recognised as a World Heritage site."

The paper, quoting Japanese news agency reports, says that Takashi Nagase, 87, who was an interpreter during interrogations of allied prisoners of war, "wants to see the railway line marked as a symbol against war in order to remind the Japanese of the need to reflect on their past conduct."

"Nagase, who is still working as an English teacher in Japan, will be accompanied to Thailand by Kumiko Hashimoto, wife of the former Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto."

He will go to Kanchanaburi, 120km west from Bangkok, near the well-known steel bridge over the River Kwai and will meet with Thai members of parliament for the region.

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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