Well I’m back after having spent a week on the final print/proof edit and corrections for Surprise Attack. One of the things that makes the job so agonizing is the end notes, in particular the number of end notes which I include with links to the original source document. The objective of that is twofold, first conceptually it lets the readers check me out to see if I’m cherry picking or otherwise misrepresenting sources. Second, hopefully the sources will be of value to students or others who want to take off and pursue certain topics for their own research, papers, etc. Still, it takes up an agonizing amount of print space and that’s not something that most publishers are happy about; fortunately Counterpoint has been very tolerant.

Which leads me to the gist of this post – and that is whether anybody really reads the references or for that matter how many people truly read sources of any sort these days. I have to say that I often hear discussion of subjects that make it clear that folks are speaking to what they have heard on their preferred news source or from their favorite editorial source – but in many cases where I’ve actually read source documents on the subjects, I know what is being stated is either really incomplete or considerably slanted.

I know that is true for historical events and as my work on Shadow Warfare and Surprise Attack moved into contemporary events I find it far more true there than it should be – in researching Surprise Attack I found that to be true in regards to distant events but also relatively recent events such as the 9/11 attacks and even the attack on Benghazi. Now the caveat there is that of course I don’t expect the full story to necessarily be in official inquiries – but to my surprise I have found far more than I might have expected. For example it’s amazing how much high level detail on CIA operations is contained in State Department documents – and not just high level but details on budgets, logistics, internal political debates, etc.

For example, if you want to find out about CIA act ivies in the Far East, say in Tibet, check out the documents in this series: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, China, Volume XIX http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v19/ch5

Or you want to see details of say CIA meetings related to the Guatemala coup, recorded not by the CIA but copied and preserved in State Department files:

CIA Memorandum to Deputy Director of Plans,, July 22, 1954, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Retrospective Volume, Guatemala, Document 279, Meeting between Mr. Joe Montgomery and Mr. Corcoran and Col. J.C. King, Chief CIA Western Hemisphere. http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54Guat/d279

Or let’s say you are interested in CIA covert action:

Note on U.S. Covert Actions, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968, Volume XII, Western Europe, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v12/actionsstatement

There are Foreign Relations documents for the other global regions as well. Of course if you want dirt on the State Department – oh let’s say during the Kissinger era – you have to look elsewhere. A great starting point for that is the National Security Archives.

My point is simply that you can really get a feel for personalities, debates, objections, and of course obfuscation by reading source documents. And when you move into national security, as I have with Surprise Attack, there are whole new realms of available data – a good deal of which contradicts much of what is said in the common, daily conversations that I hear.

I think many people will be really surprised by much of what is in Surprise Attack. I know I was when I did the research. But the good news is that all of the references are there and you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s true that some are fairly esoteric and if you want the book you may have to do inter-library loan – but a great many are reachable through links in the end notes. So – I hope lots of you read the book but that at least some readers actually take the time to do some homework on the sources – it would make all that editing pain just a bit more bearable.


About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

3 responses »

  1. David S. Brown says:

    Larry, documents are essential, no doubt, but surely there is the possibility of false documents seeding history, so your knowledge basis is what makes your judgments so credible.

    • David, that’s a good point although I don’t necessarily think primary/real time documents are falsified – at least in the normal course of events – as that they are “managed” in presentation to the public. Point of fact is that if you start messing in real time with operational reports you run the risk of some very bad decision making. On the other hand, agencies and in particular administrations can take those same documents, spin them a bit and cherry pick them and go to the public with a misleading story. We know from the primary documents that is what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Pueblo incident and the Liberty incident. When good historians get the real documents eventually the true story emerges; for example the primary Marine SIGNET documents and the NSA documents on the Gulf of Tonkin incident conclusively prove no second attack happened – but the Johnson Administration managed that story and it appears that SecDef Macnamara may well have knowingly backed Johnson up on what was a huge mistake. Navy SIGNET of the Liberty incident shows the same. What we do also know is that certain operational truths never get into field reports sent to headquarters. In Shadow Warfare I gave examples of that both in Angola and Afghanistan; essentially CIA chiefs knowingly filtered the info sent to headquarters in order to obfuscate that they were stepping over the line. But those were not faked reports per se but rather information management. As one officer said, we kept to sets of documents, the soft office files telling what we were really doing and the headquarters set essentially telling them what they wanted to hear.

      I can’t emphasize how much primary source material control was attempted in regards to 9/11 but I think Surprise Attack will make that case….the Air Force and FAA were so culpable in their attempts that the 9/11 Commission wanted to bring charges against a number of individuals. But that is a story for the book.

      Now I’m not saying certain reports don’t get destroyed or even replaced for outside circulation. But in regard to documents that are copied in real time to other agencies – well that becomes a great source of information since once you circulate a copy you best not change the facts of what’s in it. Which is why a lot of times the really helpful documents are not found within the agency or bureau of interest but rather in copies elsewhere. That has caught up with the CIA more than once…

      Of course, context is always important as is a strong sense of critical judgement. But there is good stuff in the official record, you just have to beat around a few bushes to find it (uh, no pun intended).

    • David, I should have also said that at the level of individual records I think under certain conditions – such as say investigations – that documents are either destroyed or modified and replaced, sometimes to perform CYA and other times to protect sources, assets and methods. That is probably the exception rather than the rule – well perhaps not the CYA part, no doubt senior officers do cover their own actions but that can be done by simply destroying soft or personal files, by the time they advance in position most would be savvy enough to understand what to put in official reports and memos and what not (akin to the activities of FBI agents in charge).

      One reason I say that official sources are useful is that we do find enough documents with “dirt” in them, even high level reports. As an example the IG reports for both the Bay of Pigs and 9/11 contain ample evidence of mistakes and foul ups and actually recommended supervisory actions – which senior officers blatantly ignored. At the level of history where I’ve been working that sort of material is very helpful.

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