Testimony of Kenneth
J. Levit, Special Counsel to the
Director of Central Intelligence, on CIA Compliance with the
Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act before the
on Government Management, Information and Technology
June 27, 2000
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, last month—on Yom Hashoah—the
international day devoted to remembrance of the holocaust, CIA was honored
to have as our guest, Alice Lok Cahana. Mrs. Cahana, like your distinguished
colleague Representative Tom Lantos, was swept up in the whirlwind of
brutality that characterized the effort to destroy the Jews of Budapest,
Hungary. Her story, again like that of Congressman Lantos, was recounted
in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning documentary—The Last Days.
The CIA officers present to hear from Mrs. Cahana on that Yom Hashoah were deeply moved. Mr. Chairman, there is no substitute for first-hand exposure to the testimony of a holocaust survivor in our quest—our obligation—to confront the holocaust, to understand what it means about the precarious nature of democracy and of human decency.
That is exactly why Director Tenet and the entire CIA are committed to the thorough and expeditious compliance with the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. The documents from the era are also survivors in their own right. They bear witness to the atrocities of the era and speak to us with an authority—a genuineness—that only a surviving document of the era can.
Yesterday, CIA and the National Archives released to the public over 400,000 pages of previously withheld records relating to the Office of Strategic Services that deal with World War II and the European theatre. Much of this material bears directly on the issue of war crimes. In fact, approximately 6,100 pages of that collection were released exclusively as a result of CIA’s program to implement the Act and reflect the CIA’s commitment to work with foreign governments who passed us intelligence relating to war crimes. The vast majority of the 6,100 pages contain information from original foreign government reports or from foreign government sources—usually British or French—and consist primarily of POW interrogation reports, refugee and émigré debriefings, OSS missions into France and Norway, operation Safehaven—the interagency program to identify and block the transfer of German assets—as well as British intercepts of German messages between Rome and Berlin.
The debriefing reports of refugees and émigrés, many of whom narrowly escaped persecution or death at the hands of the Nazis add significant detail to the historical record and to our understanding of the period. CIA has redacted very little information from the OSS records and has not yet been required to hold back any document in its entirety. The few redactions consist mainly of names or other identification of British sources and the names of CIA employees. In addition to the first tranche of 6,100 pages, we expect to release an additional 3,096 pages of OSS-era material in the coming weeks.
CIA’s efforts will not stop at the OSS. Rather, our search for relevant documents will also address the records of the CIA, including the operational files that are otherwise exempt from the 25-year declassification program or the Freedom of Information Act. There is no blanket exemption; relevant documents will be identified and where possible declassified to the fullest extent. Two months ago, the interagency working group came to closure and approved the approach CIA would use to declassify its most sensitive files, and the public can expect significant releases of CIA material by the end of the summer.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I will only reiterate the commitment of Director Tenet and of the CIA in this effort. We hope to do all we can in order to allow as much relevant material as possible to be released. These documents—like the holocaust survivors of our day—provide powerful testimony to our generation and to those of the future. By learning from them, we may hope to be better equipped to fulfill our common commitment—the commitment to Never Again.