From Gitmo secrets to activities involving Navy seals — the ones with whiskers — reams of information hide inside a classified vault
by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
To help promote the U.S. military and its activities, Pentagon public affairs officials will attend almost any event or otherwise keep a record. But American officials don’t always deem the pictures or video clips ready for public consumption.
As of April 2016, the Defense Media Activity possessed hundreds of classified visual records including both physical and digital items. This vault of information covers everything from the controversial American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to U.S. Navy seals — the semi-aquatic whiskered mammals, that is.
An individual obtained this eye-opening document through a Freedom of Information Act request that they had limited to still-restricted “historical films.” Independent website GovernmentAttic.org published the records online.
The Pentagon’s media arm listed basic descriptions of all the items in a table more than 100 pages long. Censors redacted the titles of some of the entries entirely, citing national security concerns.
The DMA doesn’t even know what’s contained in dozens of secret flash drives and other physical media, labeling them only as “unknown.” The titles for other items are not particularly descriptive, like the more than 50 thoroughly outdated Zip disks from the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Combat Camera Squadron.
However, there are notable items described in enough detail to prompt serious questions, including a trove of still classified media relating to terrorist detainees and Gitmo. It seems like the Pentagon classifies much of what comes out of the camps regardless of the actual content.
Some of these records sound absolutely banal, like video and pictures of American troops building Camp Delta — the official name of Guantanamo’s prison camp— and of a ceremony when the U.S. military opened the site in 2002. The “detainee barbecue” sounds fascinating, but hardly damning.
But based on the use of Pentagon-standard numerical codes, we can see records that date back far enough to apparently show Gitmo’s original detention cell designs and the first detainees arriving at the Caribbean base. Video or photos exist of another detainment cell on the Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Port Royal.
Mention of things like a “prosthetic specialist” and “abulance [sic: ambulance] shots and & ferry to camp” highlight the state of at least some of the prisoners at the time. One 2003 disk contains documentation of an “ambulance transports juvenile detainees from detainee hospital to the Iguana House.”
Also called Camp Iguana, the Pentagon held three minors 16 years old or under in that part of the camp until 2004. The following year, Washington admitted it held up to 20 minors of or under the age of 18 in the adult portions of the prison.
Two more items describe “psyops,” short for psychological operations, applied to Saudi detainees. A third mentions other, unspecified psyops, at the camp.
For more than a decade, musicians and others have criticized the Pentagon’s attempts to break suspected terrorists with loud music. The U.S. military, intelligence agencies and their contractors used loud noise and other psychological “stress” at Gitmo and other top-secret foreign “black sites.”
After the numerous reports about controversial and abusive practices at the prison camp, one has to wonder what might be on the myriad CDs and other disks simply marked with titles like “Camp Delta Activities” and “GTMO [Guantanamo] Activities.” Similar secret footage exists of American troops managing Iraqi prisoners of war after invading the country in 2003.
While detainees and prisoners of war take up a substantial part of this secret archive, they hardly comprise the majority of the items. The DMA’s vault has a number of things that one might reasonably expect to be secret.
The archive contains photos and video from intelligence briefings on North Korea and the Chinese military. Some appear to show, in detail, how the Pentagon controls its nuclear weapons and tests of ballistic and cruise missiles. And the Navy is already highly secretive about its submarines.
There are clips of special operations training exercises, and sensitive military operations listed only by nicknames like “Juniper Falconry.” There is footage relating to spy flights over Colombia.
We’re not entirely sure why a number of pieces of Navy media showing “marine mammals” — yes, dolphins and actual Navy seals — is particularly sensitive. The visuals might show too much about the sailing branch’s ability to hunt for mines and other underwater obstacles with the animals.
On the other hand, the Pentagon has fielded complaints from animal rights groups about the program in the past, too.
Without doubt, the table shows just how long government information can remain hidden from the public eye. The DMA still has classified “stringers” from the first Gulf War in 1991. There exists classified media from the U.S.-led United Nations peacekeeping mission in Somalia that kicked off the following year.
And the secret vault stretches back decades earlier. There is video or photographs from a test of the U.S. Air Force’s supersonic B-58 Hustler bomber on Sept. 5, 1958. The Pentagon is still holding onto classified Vietnam War footage of B-26K Invader attack aircraft at a base in Thailand from 1969.
If those records are still restricted, we can only wonder how long it will take for the Gitmo items to make it into the public domain — if they ever do.