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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): Terrorism and U.S. Policy, 1968–2002

About this Module

Within hours of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, National Security Archive staff began compiling this in-depth and unparalleled documentary history of international terrorism and U.S. policy. The resulting collection of 1,509 formerly secret documents provides coverage beginning with the first politically-motivated hostage-taking episode of its the July 1968 hijacking of an El Al jet to and devoting special attention to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The set features records from the White House, National Security Council, State Department, Defense Department, Justice Department, and other federal agencies as well as detailed FBI field reporting, CIA analyses, and military studies.

Among the most valuable materials are sensitive intelligence reporting won through a lawsuit by former AP reporter and hostage Terry A. Anderson, memos from Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon detailing terrorist incidents as they unfold, and a complete set of declassified meeting records of the important Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism. Specific highlights include the circa 1996 CIA biographic sketch of Osama bin Laden, and the May 2002 "Bombshell Memo" by FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley, featured on the cover of Time Magazine (June 3, 2002 edition).

Research Value of the Collection

This collection covers a great deal of territory. Details of individual attacks, accounts of the experiences of American hostages, and descriptions of U.S. and other governments' responses give researchers a vivid picture of how terrorist incidents often unfold, how they are perceived by various sides, and how costly they are in human terms. Because many of the documents were written by U.S. officials observing and reacting to events as they unfolded, they open a fascinating window into the thinking and patterns of the men and women who sit on the front lines in this international war and whose actions have an immediate impact on many levels. Among these materials are regular, sometimes hourly, reports sent to the president that impart some of the urgency of events at the top levels of the U.S. government, as well as detailed narratives from U.S. embassy and military officials reporting from the scene.

Beyond the immediacy of these descriptive documents, the materials in this collection also give a uniquely detailed portrait of the enormous counter-terrorism planning and decision-making apparatus that has grown over the years within the U.S. government. As mentioned in the previous section, among the set's highlights are the selection of materials from the lawsuit of former Lebanon hostage Terry Anderson, which forced the release of documents often having high levels of original classification. Also featured are the decision-level records of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism from the Nixon and Ford years. This important group met regularly to discuss responses to specific events and overall strategies. In addition, a large selection of CIA weekly reports on terrorism only recently declassified (albeit with some heavy excisions) gives a realistic sense of the priorities and scope of CIA coverage of events world-wide. Yet another feature is the inclusion of comprehensive series of reports and analyses from the research arms of Congress—the Congressional Research Service and General Accounting Office—as well as from the United Nations which offer very different institutional perspectives from those within the executive branch.

The collection also contains numerous contextual documents that shed light on specific missions, notably the 2001–2002 U.S.-led military and intelligence operations inside Afghanistan. There is even documentation on the Soviet experiences during their nine-year war against the Mujaheddin in the 1980s. Thus, the document set offers a multi-dimensional look at the complex interaction of history, politics and warfare that policy-makers and foot soldiers alike must now take into account in the modern era of terrorism.