UK Foreign Office Reverses Course On CIA Rendition Files 'Lost' To Water Damage: Papers Have Now 'Dried Out'

from the it's-a-miracle! dept

No one’s immune from careless document handling, not when a government’s in charge! The ongoing war of words over the Internal Revenue Service’s lackluster data retention continues, with the agency claiming emails relevant to a House investigation all simply vanished during a series of coincidental computer crashes. That these should have been backed up to hard copy (as IRS policy dictates) and backed up further by servers elsewhere has been the topic of conversation for a few weeks now, but all the posturing in the world isn’t going to bring these emails back.

The UK has its own problems with keeping relevant records intact and accessible. A little over a week ago, the UK Foreign Office was asked to produce documents detailing the use of its Diego Garcia base for CIA extraordinary rendition flights. In a variation of the “computer ate my homework,” the Foreign Office offered up this explanation for its failure to produce the requested records.

”Daily occurrence logs, which record the flights landing and taking off, cover the period since 2003. Though there are some limited records from 2002, I understand they are incomplete due to water damage.”

Oh, well. It’s only stuff from 2002 that’s somehow too wet to recover. Out of a decade’s worth of records, that’s not too bad. Except that records from 2002 are exactly the records pertinent to the discussion, as indirectly acknowledged by a Foreign Office spokeswoman:

”With or without flight records we have firm assurances from the US government, as recently as December 2013, that apart from two instances of rendition through Diego Garcia in 2002 there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas territories or crown dependencies with a detainee on board since September 11, 2001.”

So, if we choose to believe the “firm assurances” of the US government, 2002 would be the only year with acknowledged rendition flights, making the rest of the non-wet documents largely extraneous. Cue disbelief from pretty much everyone but the Foreign Office. First, the CIA’s “torture tapes” vanish and now records on its rendition flights somehow managed to sustain very specific damage.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe only the records actively being sought happened to be stored in harm’s way. Either way, the cries of “cover up” forced the Foreign Office to take a closer look at the requested files, quite possibly for the first time.

Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds said a ”fuller inspection” from BIOT immigration officials has revealed ”previously wet paper records have been dried out”.

This variation of “Oh, you mean these records?” has prompted further disbelief and, presumably, an above-average amount of cynicism. The Foreign Office has also declared that it will (rather belatedly) remove these files from beneath the “leaking roof” and digitize them into compliance with Two-Thousand-Freaking-Fourteen.

Unlike the thoroughly destroyed tapes, wet things will dry out, provided someone makes an actual attempt to recover the files and assess the damage. The Foreign Office appears to have done none of that when first asked to turn them over. Instead, it took the word “wet” to mean “irrecoverable” until the building outrage forced it to actually send someone to take a look at the files it declared lost.

Odd how that works. Wet things becoming dry. Destroyed records suddenly becoming recoverable. The Foreign Office loses either way. There have been too many previous attempts by the UK government to cover up its involvement in some of the US’s more questionable activities. This sudden about-face on missing documents only confirms that default mode is still secrecy.

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Comments on “UK Foreign Office Reverses Course On CIA Rendition Files 'Lost' To Water Damage: Papers Have Now 'Dried Out'”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

The dog ate it

The part that really boggles the mind is that they thought anyone would believe it when they tried the ‘water damage’ excuse. Most of the records are fine, but it just so happens that the ones requested are ‘damaged’? Yeah, I’m sure.

At best you’d be looking at gross negligence, for leaving important records in a situation where there’s a possibility for them to be damaged like that, and that’s assuming they’re actually telling the truth this time around, something I rather doubt.

Still, maybe they were taking lessons from the IRS in the US. The IRS ‘lost’ important records, and so far all of nothing has been done in response, perhaps they were just hoping that they’d be able to get by with a similar absence of scrutiny/repercussions.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The dog ate it

…and pooped it out again.

This reminds me of some of the legal theories I’ve heard in court. The one making the statement doesn’t believe it, the judge doesn’t believe it, the prosecutor doesn’t believe it – but they all pretend to as a professional courtesy. In this case, they’re almost daring someone to prove they’re lying – and how is the public going to do THAT?

Jon Jones (profile) says:

”previously wet paper records have been dried out”.. Slightly off topic but it reminds me of a time my 5 year old niece became fascinated by the barbecue one Sunday afternoon. I told her not to touch because it’s very hot and it will burn you. Later that evening she appears with hands filthy from charcoal dust. Angrily I said “I thought I told you not to touch it” and she replied “but you only said that because it was hot, it’s not hot any more” Very hard to argue with that kind of logic. Owned by a 5 year old.

Anonymous Coward says:

You’d think UK government departments would have better excuses:

Jim: [reading] This file contains the complete set of papers, except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still active files, a few others lost in the flood of 1967. [to Humphrey] Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?
Sir Humphrey: No a marvellous winter, we lost no end of embarrassing files.
– The Skeleton in the Cupboard, Yes Minister

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Standard procedure

Okay, so back on July 10 it was lost, too damaged to use. Now suddenly it’s available again?!

After thinking about this for a while, I conclude you can read their responses as follows:

On July 10, “You can’t have the records because those contain evidence of wrongdoing.”

On July 18, “You can have the records now, because we’ve scrubbed out all the evidence of wrongdoing.”

So good luck finding anything useful in there.

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