FBI Adds Electronic Form for FOIA Requests

The FBI has a new electronic form designed to make requesting information easier. In addition, the bureau has retooled it records website, including a guide for research in FBI Records.

Of course, filing a request has always been the easiest part of making a FOIA request of the FBI. George Washington University’s National Security Archive has criticized the bureau for its high percentage of “no records exist” responses in 2008, and the low percentage of requests granted by the FBIA.

For more, click here.

Three More Domestic Spying Programs Revealed

The Department of Homeland Security is acknowledging the existence of three more government programs charged with spying on American citizens in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The programs — Pantheon, Pathfinder and Organizational Shared Space — used a variety of software tools to gather and analyze information about Americans, according to documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The DHS turned over the papers in response to a December 2008 Freedom of Information Act request. The documents shed new light on the proliferation of domestic intelligence and surveillance efforts after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to the CIR:

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WikiLeaks: Collateral Murder

WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff. Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded. For further information please visit the special project website www.collateralmurder.com.

ACLU sues USAID for FOIA violations over abstinence-only programs

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for failing to provide documents regarding its overseas religiously-influenced abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In July and September 2009, the ACLU sent USAID requests for the programs funded through HIV/AIDs grants, including requests for proposals, contracts with USAID, curricula used by grantees, communications between USAID and the White House, and communications between USAID and its grantees about religious instruction in the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

A recent Inspector General’s report says the programs unconstitutionally promote religiously infused materials and messages.

For more information, click here.

Homeland Security Releases Annual FOIA Report

The Department of Homeland Security has released the 2009 Freedom of Information Act Report. The report shows that the Department processed over 160,000 requests in the past year, with 27,182 requests remaining pending. Of the requests processed, 11% were granted in full, 60% were classified as “partial grants/partial denials,” and the remaining 29% were denied in full. The overwhelming majority of backlogged requests and appeals are pending at the Customs and Immigration Service. For denied requests with processed appeals, nearly 30% were fully reversed on appeal, and another 32% were reversed in part. EPIC currently has two FOIA cases pending against the Department relating to its use of Body Scanner machines. For more information, see EPIC v. DHS, EPIC FOIA Litigation Docket.

Proposed Law Would Extend FOIA Reach to Private Prisons

Congress is considering proposed legislation to extend the Freedom of Information Act to private prisons that contract with government agencies. At present, the companies that run private prisons say they are not subject to FOIA because they are not public agencies.

Read more about H.R. 2450 here. (Private Prison Information Act of 2009)

EPIC Posts TSA Documents on Body Scanners

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has posted more than 250 pages of documents it obtained in  a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit concerning body scanners. The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security, reveal that Whole Body Imaging machines can record, store, and transmit digital strip search images of Americans. This contradicts assurances made by the Transportation Security Administration. The documents include TSA Procurement Specifications, TSA Operational Requirements, TSA contract with L3, TSA contract with Rapiscan (1), and TSA contract with Rapiscan (2). The DHS has withheld other documents that EPIC is seeking. For more information, see EPIC: Whole Body Imaging Technology and EPIC: Open Government.

Officials Hid Truth of Immigrant Deaths in Jail

Silence has long shrouded the men and women who die in the nation’s immigration jails. For years, they went uncounted and unnamed in the public record. Even in 2008, when The New York Times obtained and published a federal government list of such deaths, few facts were available about who these people were and how they died.

But behind the scenes, it is now clear, the deaths had already generated thousands of pages of government documents, including scathing investigative reports that were kept under wraps, and a trail of confidential memos and BlackBerry messages that show officials working to stymie outside inquiry.

The documents, obtained over recent months by The Times and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act, concern most of the 107 deaths in detention counted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement since October 2003, after the agency was created within the Department of Homeland Security.

The Obama administration has vowed to overhaul immigration detention, a haphazard network of privately run jails, federal centers and county cells where the government holds noncitizens while it tries to deport them.

But as the administration moves to increase oversight within the agency, the documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.

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Federal Agencies Need Not Confirm or Deny Electronic Surveillance under FOIA

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that the National Security Agency and the Department of Justice do not need to confirm or deny the existence of electronic surveillance records under the Freedom of Information Act. The appellate court found that federal agencies are allowed to file “Glomar” responses, which were first judicially recognized in 1976 and grant an agency express refusal to even confirm or deny the existence of any records responsive to a FOIA request in the national security context.

The lawsuit was brought by advocates for former Guantanamo Bay detainees after the agencies invoked FOIA exceptions to information request regarding warrantless electronic surveillance conducted by the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Get more particulars here.

FBI Releases Michael Jackon Files

Michael Joseph Jackson, a celebrity pop star, was born on August 29, 1958. He died unexpectedly on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50.

Between 1993 and 1994 and separately between 2004 and 2005, Mr. Jackson was investigated by California law enforcement agencies for possible child molestation. He was acquitted of all such charges. The FBI provided technical and investigative assistance to these agencies during the cases. The Bureau also investigated threats made against Mr. Jackson and others by an individual who was later imprisoned for these crimes.

This release consists of seven separate files, as described below:

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Federal court says mug shots not public records

A federal court in south Florida told a freelance journalist that his request for the mug shot of a securities fraud mastermind will go unfulfilled because the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to booking photos of suspects in federal custody — at least not if you make the request in the Eleventh Circuit.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul C. Huck said the United States Marshals Service correctly withheld the mug shot of Luis Giro from freelance journalist Theodore Karantsalis‘s FOIA request because Giro’s right to personal privacy was more important than the public’s interest in seeing the photo.

The court rejected Karantsalis’s argument that Giro, who pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 2009 after six years as a fugitive, had no continuing privacy interest related to his crime.

“[A] booking photograph does more than suggest guilt; it raises a unique privacy interest because it captures an embarrassing moment that is not normally exposed to the public eye,” Huck wrote.

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Intelligence Improperly Collected on U.S. Citizens

WASHINGTON — In February, a Department of Homeland Security intelligence official wrote a “threat assessment” for the police in Wisconsin about a demonstration involving local pro- and anti-abortion rights groups.

That report soon drew internal criticism because the groups “posed no threat to homeland security,” according to a department memorandum released on Wednesday in connection with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The agency destroyed all its copies of the report and gave the author remedial training.

That was just one of several cases in the last several years in which the department’s intelligence office improperly collected information about American citizens or lawful United States residents, the documents show.

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Millions of Bush-era e-mail messages to be recovered

Two groups announced Monday that they have settled a 2007 lawsuit against the government over millions of missing e-mail messages that were sent during the Bush administration, USA Today reported.

Citizens for Professional Responsibility and the National Security Archive reached a deal with the Obama White House to have 22 million missing e-mail messages from the Bush administration restored. The lawsuit accused the former administration of taking no action to prevent the loss of electronic records even after problems in the backup system were revealed.

The two groups sued the government in 2007 to recover millions of e-mail messages that were not preserved on White House servers over a two-and-a-half year period. As part of the settlement, the Obama Administration agreed to restore and turn over 94 calendar days of e-mail traffic.

“The dates for restoration were chosen based on email volume and external events because there simply was not enough money to restore all the missing emails,” a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington statement said.

One of CREW’s founders, Norman L. Eisen, is now special counsel to the president, MSNBC reported recently.

Another watchdog group, Judicial Watch, filed a lawsuit against the Obama White House last week seeking access to White House visitor logs after filing multiple unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests.

White house announces 20 agency open government initiatives

Each of the 20 cabinet departments has unveiled a new open government initiative in response to the directive issued Tuesday by the Obama administration, the White House reports.

“This work represents only the beginning of an ongoing commitment across the Administration to create a culture of openness in government,” the White House stated in its release.

The White House categorized the new open government initiatives according to how they will increase transparency efforts. The Department of Justice, for instance, will begin providing its annual Freedom of Information Act report in a machine-readable format that will allow the public to track and monitor detailed statistics on Freedom Of Information Act requests.

Other agencies, such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will make data available to the public for free download for the first time.

Still other agencies will disclose previously unreleased records, though not necessarily online. The Department of State plans to release new data about the conflict in Darfur from 2003 to 2009, while the Department of Agriculture will disclose the nutrition information of more than 1,000 frequently consumed foods.

Not all of the open government initiatives touted by the White House are entirely new however, according to the Huffington Post. The online media outlet reported yesterday that the open government effort announced by the Treasury department includes what it claimed is a “new report” on bank trading and derivatives that has actually been available since 1995.

Lawsuit demands info on government’s use of social media sites

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing five different government agencies for refusing to disclose their policies on investigations using social networking websites.

The lawsuit was filed Monday after the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of the Treasury, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests that sought all records and guidelines outlining the collection of personal information from social media.

The initial FOIA requests were made after recent news reports indicate that government investigations have been increasingly relying on social networking sites — in October, for example, the Federal Bureau of Ivestigation used Twitter to catch a man accused of bank fraud.

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Climate Scientists’ E-Mail Hacked

This archive presents over 120Mb of emails, documents, computer code and models from the Climatic Research Unit at the , written between 1996 and 2009.

The CRU has told the BBC that the files were obtained by a computer hacker 3-4 days ago.

This archive includes unreleased global temperature analysis computer source code that has been the subject of Freedom of Information Act requests.

The archive appears to be a collection of information put together by the CRU prior to a FOIA redaction process.

fastest (Sweden), slow (US)

FBI kept tabs on Pulitzer-winning author Studs Terkel for 45 years

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which acted as America’s political police during the Cold War, spent several decades watching Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, who died earlier this year at age 96.  The revelation was made by the City University of New York’s NYCity News Service, which acquired 147 of the 269 pages in Terkel’s FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request.  The FBI said that it intends to keep the remaining 122 pages kept secret “because of privacy and other reasons”.  The FBI appears to have opened a file on Terkel in 1945, in an attempt to discern whether he was affiliated with the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).

The released pages contain an intense dialogue among FBI agents and informants, with some suggesting that Terkel was not a CPUSA member and the file should be closed, and others arguing that the author of Working and The Good War was “a concealed C[ommunist] P[arty] member in 1945” and “subscribed to the Daily Worker”, the CPUSA’s newspaper. The file appears to contain some reports from the 1960s and 1970s, and was last updated in 1990, when for some bizarre reason an FBI agent in Miami, Florida, filed a copy of an article in The Wall Street Journal about a high-yield bonds scandal, in which Turkel was quoted.

A complete copy of the released pages in Studs Terkel’s FBI file is available here (.pdf).

State police want nearly $7 million to fulfill FOIA request

The Michigan Department of State Police is charging the Mackinac Center for Public Policy nearly $7 million to fulfill its Freedom of Information Act request for information on how the state has used homeland security grant money since 2002, the nonpartisan research group reported.

A communications specialist at the center requested information after the Department of Homeland Security‘s inspector general released a report that detailed multiple implementation problems in how $129 million in security grants was spent in seven Michigan counties between 2002 and 2004.

The center filed a follow-up FOIA request for all documents relating to homeland security grants in the state since 2002, but the state police department, which administers homeland security grants in Michigan, said there would be more than 2 million pages and that it would cost $6.9 million to process the request.

Q&A With FBI Director Mueller

As a result of polygraph testing, more than a thousand applications for employment at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been rejected or otherwise terminated in the last year alone, the FBI told Congress last month.  Polygraph testing has been the single largest reason for discontinuing an application, well ahead of administrative or medical issues, use or sale of illegal drugs, or other suitability or security issues. In Fiscal Year 2009, 339 special agent applicants were turned away on polygraph-related grounds, and 825 professional support applications were similarly discontinued.

These data were presented in responses to questions for the record (pdf) from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (pdf) last March, and were transmitted to Congress on behalf of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on September 15, 2009.

Most of the congressional questions, on everything from Freedom of Information Act compliance to detainee interrogation, are focused and pointed.  Some of the answers are informative and occasionally even startling.

Each day between March 2008 and March 2009, Director Mueller told the Committee, “there were an average of more than 1,600 nominations for inclusion on the [Terrorist] watchlist,” as well as 4,800 proposed modifications of existing records, and 600 proposed removals.  “Each nomination for addition [to the watchlist] does not necessarily represent a new individual,” Mueller cautioned, “but may instead involve an alias or name variant for a previously watchlisted person.”

Soldiers broke law in Alabama shooting response

SAMSON, Ala. — An Army investigation found that soldiers should not have been sent to man traffic stops in a small Alabama town after 11 people were killed in March during a shooting spree.

An Army report released to The Associated Press on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request said the decision to dispatch military police to Samson from nearby Fort Rucker broke the law. But an Army spokesman said no charges have been filed following the Aug. 10 report.

“As a result of the findings of the report, the Army took administrative action against at least one person,” Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.

The action was less than a transfer or discharge but Garver would not elaborate.

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Special Interests See ‘Classified’ Copyright Treaty; You Can’t

picture-221Want to know the Language of the ever-transforming proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement?

It’s classified. And, according to the Obama administration, it carries national security implications. According to leaked documents on WikiLeaks, the proposed treaty would require ISPs to terminate repeat copyright scofflaws, criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and even interfere with the legitimate sale of brand-name pharmaceutical products.

But as it turns out, the administration has shared the secret treaty’s contents with more than three dozen individuals in the private sector, from the left and the right of the copyright debate. Those individuals include Business Software Alliance attorney Emery Simon, Google copyright czar William F. Patry and president of Public Knowledge Gigi Sohn.

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Telephone Company Is Arm of Government, Feds Admit in Spy Suit

The Department of Justice has finally admitted it in court papers: The  nation’s telecom companies are an arm of the government — at least when it comes to secret spying.

Fortunately, a judge says that relationship isn’t enough to quash a rights group’s open records request for communications between the nation’s telecoms and the feds.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wanted to see what role telecom lobbying of the Justice Department played when the government began its year-long, and ultimately successful, push to win retroactive immunity for AT&T and others being sued for unlawfully spying on American citizens.

The feds argued that the documents showing consultation over the controversial telecom immunity proposal weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act since they were protected as “intra-agency” records:

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CIA documents on Agent Posada Carriles released

The Washington, DC-based investigative nonprofit National Security Archive released several documents on Oct. 6 written by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1965 and 1966 about its Cuban-born longtime “asset” Luis Posada Carriles, who currently lives in Miami under indictment after entering the US illegally in 2005. The Archive’s Peter Kornbluh obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The documents show that in the middle 1960s Posada was reporting to the CIA about the activities of other right-wing Cubans, including the late Jorge Mas Canosa, who founded the influential Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) in the 1980s. In July 1965 Posada reported that he had completed two 10-pound Limpet mines for a Mas Canosa operation against Soviet and Cuban ships in the port of Veracruz, Mexico, using eight pounds of Pentolite explosives and a pencil detonator. Current CANF president Francisco Hernandez told the Associated Press that he found the story difficult to believe. “The fact of the matter is that Jorge was never a man who believed in terrorism,” Hernandez said.

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DoD Suppressed Critique of Military Research

“Important aspects of the Department Of Defense basic research programs are ‘broken’,” according to an assessment performed by the JASON Defense Advisory Group earlier this year, and “throwing more money at the problems will not fix them.”

But that rather significant conclusion was deliberately suppressed by Pentagon officials who withheld it from public disclosure when a copy of the JASON report was requested under the Freedom of Information Act.  Instead, it was made public this week by Congress in the conference report on the FY 2010 defense authorization act, which quoted excerpts from the May 2009 JASON report, “Science and Technology for National Security.”

“Basic research funding is not exploited to seed inventions and discoveries that can shape the future,” the JASONs also determined, as quoted in the congressional report (in discussion of the act’s section 213).  Instead, “investments tend to be technological expenditures at the margin.”

Furthermore, “the portfolio balance of DOD basic research is generally not critically reviewed by independent, technically knowledgeable individuals,” and “civilian career paths in the DOD research labs and program management are not competitive to other opportunities in attracting outstanding young scientists and retaining the best people.”

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Attorney: Oklahoma City bomb tapes appear edited

OKLAHOMA CITY  — Long-secret security tapes showing the chaos immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are blank in the minutes before the blast and appear to have been edited, an attorney who obtained the recordings said Sunday.

“The real story is what’s missing,” said Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney who obtained the recordings through the federal Freedom of Information Act as part of an unofficial inquiry he is conducting into the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

Trentadue gave copies of the tapes to The Oklahoman newspaper, which posted them online and provided copies to The Associated Press.

The tapes turned over by the FBI came from security cameras various companies had mounted outside office buildings near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They are blank at points before 9:02 a.m., when a truck bomb carrying a 4,000 pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb detonated in front of the building, Trentadue said.

“Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995. There ain’t no such thing as a coincidence,” Trentadue said.

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ACLU demands records of border searches of laptops

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol‘s controversial practice of randomly searching laptops upon U.S. entry quietly began last year but has quickly drawn attention, including a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union for records related to the practice.

With regard to the searches, which don’t require “individualized suspicion” to conduct, the ACLU has asked for “records pertaining to the criteria used for selecting passengers for suspicionless searches, the number of people who have been subject to the searches, the number of devices and documents retained and the reasons for their retention.” The suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan.

Last summer, the practice also drew the attention of a Senate subcommittee which held a hearing where defenders likened it to searching a suitcase. Opponents of the practice — including some reporters — fear the government’s intention may be to collect information about otherwise private matters. Regardless, as the ACLU argues, this practice may compromise individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

DHS Admits It Failed to Disclose 11 More Deaths at Immigration Facilities

In response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed yesterday that the government had failed to disclose 11 more deaths in immigration detention facilities.

In April, DHS officials released what they called a comprehensive list of all deaths in detention. That list included a total of 90 individuals. With yesterday’s announcement, the government has now admitted to a total of 104 in-custody deaths since fiscal year 2003.

But the ACLU is continuing to express doubt that they now have a complete tally of those who have died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, told us, “Even after the government’s announcement yesterday we still can have no real confidence that each and every death has been accounted for.”

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Senate Bill Would Disclose Intel Budget Request

The Senate version of the FY2010 intelligence authorization bill (pdf) would require the President to disclose the aggregate amount requested for intelligence each year when the coming year’s budget request is submitted to Congress.  Currently, only the total appropriation for the National Intelligence Program is disclosed — not the request — and not before the end of the fiscal year in question.

Disclosure of the budget request would enable Congress to appropriate a stand-alone intelligence budget that would no longer need to be concealed misleadingly in other non-intelligence budget accounts.

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Report Finds ICE Home Raids Violate the Constitution

Constitution on ICE: A Report on Immigration Home Raid Operations

The Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic has just released this report which cites widespread constitutional violations from immigration home raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in recent years. “This report is the first public effort to compile and analyze the available evidence regarding the prevalence of constitutional violations occurring during ICE home raids. Through two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, the authors of this report obtained significant samples of ICE arrest records from home raid operations in New York and New Jersey. Analysis of these records, together with other publicly available documents, reveals an established pattern of misconduct by ICE agents in the New York and New Jersey Field Offices. Further, the evidence suggests that such pattern may be a widespread national phenomenon reaching beyond these local offices.”

“During the last two years of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) vastly expanded its use of home raid operations as a method to locate and apprehend individuals suspected of civil immigration law violations. These home raids generally involve teams of heavily armed ICE agents making predawn tactical entries into homes, purportedly to apprehend some high priority target believed to be residing therein. ICE has admitted that these are warrantless raids and, therefore, that any entries into homes require the informed consent of residents. However, frequent accounts in the media and in legal filings have told a similar story of constitutional violations occurring during ICE home raids-a story that includes ICE agents breaking into homes and seizing all occupants without legal basis.”

Congressional Action on Secrecy

The Senate on June 17 passed a bill sponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham that would exempt from the Freedom of Information Act certain photographs documenting the abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody.  Senator Graham said that if the bill was not enacted into law, the Obama Administration had assured him it would classify the photos to prevent their release.  “Rahm Emanuel has indicated to me that the President is committed to not ever letting these photos see the light of day,” he said.

Strictly speaking, however, classification alone is not sufficient to exempt any such record from the FOIA.  It must also be “properly classified,” and that is a determination that is to be made by a court of law.

Senate Jay Rockefeller introduced a bill to limit the abuse of the “sensitive security information” (SSI) marking to withhold certain health and safety information from the public.  “When an industrial emergency happens and threatens the lives of residents, workers and first responders, I absolutely believe the public has the right to receive important information about what it means for them and their health,” he said. “Period.”

Strictly speaking, again, the bill (pdf) does not modify the definition of “sensitive security information” nor does it even place public health and safety considerations on an equal footing with security.  Rather, it simply prohibits the deliberate, witting abuse of the SSI control marking.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary again postponed its consideration of the State Secrets Protection Act (S.417) that would limit the ability of the executive branch to terminate litigation by invoking the privilege.  Senator Orrin Hatch outlined his opposition to the bill in a floor statement last week.  “Unless serious changes are made to this legislation and the amendments offered by myself and my Republican colleagues are adopted, I cannot in good conscience vote this bill out of committee,” he warned on June 10.

ACLU seeks data on border laptop searches

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a FOIA request for records on laptops searched by border officials, PC Magazine reported. ACLU says these searching practices raise questions concerning First and Fourth Amendment rights because “they involve highly intrusive governmental probing into a traveler’s most private information.” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to release updated guidelines regarding these border laptop searches in the next few months.

How many laptops have border officials searched at U.S. borders? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants to know.

The group filed a freedom of information (FOIA) request with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Homeland Security Department requesting any and all records dating back to January 1, 2007.

“Disclosure of the requested information … will further public understanding of the government’s expansive exercise of search authority over all travelers, including U.S. citizens, passing through the country’s international borders,” the letter reads.

More here.

A Few Intelligence Science Board Reports

There is “an astonishing number of groups and activities concurrently pursuing the subject” of information sharing, according to a newly disclosed 2004 report (pdf) of the Intelligence Science Board (ISB).  But those activities are not well coordinated.  “In effect, we aren’t even sharing information about information sharing.”

The ISB is a little-known advisory panel that addresses intelligence science and technology issues at the direction of the Director of National Intelligence.  Almost all of its products are classified, but a few are not.

It’s hard to say whether the ISB is influential.  But it has performed important and interesting work, most notably on the science of interrogation.  Its 2006 report on “Educing Information” (pdf), concluded that there was no scientific evidence to support a belief in the efficacy of coercive interrogation.  (“Intelligence Science Board Views Interrogation,” Secrecy News, January 15, 2007.)

Now the only other unclassified ISB reports have been released by ODNI under the Freedom of Information Act “Concept Paper on Trusted Information Sharing” (November 2004) and “What Makes for a Great Analytic Team?:  Individual versus Team Approaches to Intelligence Analysis” (February 2005). All of the unclassified ISB reports are available here.

Reporters Committee releases summary of Sotomayor decisions

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has released a report summarizing the First Amendment and freedom of information opinions of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

The report notes that while Sotomayor has an abundance of judicial experience, “it is surprising to see that no clear standard on First Amendment issues has emerged from her many cases.” However, this is primarily due to the small number of such cases that she has heard. When confronted with the question of public and press access to the judicial system, she has favored the right of access. But her Freedom of Information Act cases tend to favor withholding records from requesters.

The report is available on the committee’s Web site.

Newly declassified documents reveal More than $97 million from USAID to separatist projects in Bolivia

The declassified documents in original format and with Spanish translation are available here

Recently declassified documents obtained by investigators Jeremy Bigwood and Eva Golinger reveal that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has invested more than $97 million in “decentralization” and “regional autonomy” projects and opposition political parties in Bolivia since 2002. The documents, requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), evidence that USAID in Bolivia was the “first donor to support departmental governments” and “decentralization programs” in the country, proving that the US agency has been one of the principal funders and fomenters of the separatist projects promoted by regional governments in Eastern Bolivia.

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LSD canine psychosis article from USSR (1962)

“Description of an Experimental Psychosis Induced by Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.” Official US government translation of an article from a Soviet psychiatric journal in 1962. [Released due to a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Defense Technical Information Center by Russ Kick, 28 Feb 2009. The request was referred to and fulfilled by the National Technical Information Service.]

Click here to download the article [PDF format | 20 pp | 500K]

Army Intel Journal Back Online

The U.S. Army last year blocked online public access to the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin (MIPB), an Army intelligence journal, and moved the publication archive to the password-protected “Intelligence Knowledge Network.”  (“Army Blocks Public Access to Intel Journal,” Secrecy News, March 31, 2009).

But in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists, the Army promptly handed over a softcopy of the MIPB archive, as it was obliged to do.  (One exception: A Fall 2007 issue on Biometrics, marked FOUO, has not yet been approved for public release.)

Back issues of the MIPB through the end of 2008 are now available here.

For the last several years, a growing volume of government information, especially unclassified defense-related information, has been removed from official websites and transferred behind password-protected portals.  There is no complete record of what has been removed, and to reverse the process therefore requires a time-consuming, piecemeal effort just to identify and secure the most valuable items.

See also: Army Blocks Public Access to Intel Journal

FAA drops plan to make bird-strike data secret

Government officials promised Wednesday to stop a proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict access to a key database containing records of aircraft-wildlife strikes.

The Washington Post reported that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the paper in an interview the database would remain public. The FAA is part of the Department of Transportation.

LaHood told The Post comments made in response to the FAA’s Federal Register notice ran “‘99.9 percent’ in favor of making such information accessible.”

“I think all of this information ought to be made public, and I think that you’ll soon be reading about the fact that we’re going to, you know, make this information as public as anybody wants it,” LaHood told the paper.

The FAA had proposed a month ago that the National Wildlife Strike Database be barred from release. The proposal came after several news outlets, including the Associated Press, filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the entire database. The bird strike earlier this year that brought an airplane down into the Hudson River in New York City drew public and media attention to the issue.

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New guidance from Justice on processing FOIA requests

The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy issued new guidance Friday further implementing the attorney general’s memo that gives direction to federal agencies regarding the Freedom of Information Act.

The guidance applies to all federal agencies and stresses “that the FOIA is to be administered with the presumption of openness.”

It also says the “combined impact” of the memos “is a sea change in the way transparency is viewed across the government.”

The change in attitude toward FOIA requests, personnel and the importance of transparency is particularly striking in the wake of the Bush-era guidelines on FOIA.

The new guidance came out in the same week that the Obama Justice Department released several controversial Office of Legal Counsel memos the Bush administration had relied on to justify torture.

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Army Blocks Public Access to Intel Journal

The Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin (MIPB), a U.S. Army journal devoted to intelligence policy and practice, has been removed from online public access and transferred behind a password-protected Army portal.

The former MIPB website states that “The MIPB is now being hosted on the Intelligence Knowledge Network (IKN). (AKO account required).”  AKO (Army Knowledge Online) accounts can only be obtained by military and contractor personnel.

The MIPB, which is unclassified, has long been available on the world wide web and has even been sold commercially. Back issues from 1995 to 2005 are available online from the FAS website, though no longer from the Army.

In an attempt to reverse the removal of the latest MIPB issues from the public domain, the Federation of American Scientists today filed a Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) with the Army seeking release of the now-sequestered publication.

“Our intention is to restore public access to the MIPB by posting recent issues on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.  Alternatively, we request that you post them on an Army or Army-affiliated web site that is publicly accessible.”

Bureau of Prisons pressed to comply with FOIA request

The federal Bureau of Prisons was ordered by a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to either look again for records requested by a legal magazine under the Freedom of Information Act, or prove that its initial search was done properly.

In its lawsuit over the records, Prison Legal News challenged the Bureau’s handling of its 2003 FOIA request. The non-profit magazine initially sought records of lawsuits and claims filed against the Bureau from 1996 to 2003, and requested a processing fee waiver typically granted to the news media, according to the court opinion. The Bureau and the Department of Justice denied the fee waiver request, according to court documents, and in 2005 the magazine filed suit over that denial in federal court in Washington.

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Records now presumed public in South Dakota

South Dakota is now on par with most states and the federal government in treating its government records as presumably public rather than non-public.

Gov. Mike Rounds signed a bill flipping the legal standard despite the fact that he, as well as several other groups, opposed it, the Associated Press reported. South Dakota Sen. Dave Knudson championed the measure, which leaves protection for confidentiality where appropriate, such as with regard to medical, financial and security information and trade secrets.

Many states model their open records laws after the federal Freedom of Information Act. Under these laws, governments presume their records are public and therefore releasable, unless an exemption specifically allows for nondisclosure. South Dakota’s new law puts it in line with these states, which also now includes Pennsylvania. The presumption of disclosure standard in that state took effect Jan. 1.

Attorney General Issues New FOIA Guidelines to Favor Disclosure and Transparency

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder issued comprehensive new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines today that direct all executive branch departments and agencies to apply a presumption of openness when administering the FOIA. The new guidelines, announced in a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies, build on the principles announced by President Obama on his first full day in office when he issued a presidential memorandum on the FOIA that called on agencies to “usher in a new era of open government.” At that time, President Obama also instructed Attorney General Holder to issue new FOIA guidelines that reaffirm the government’s commitment to accountability and transparency. The memo rescinds the guidelines issued by the previous administration.

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Obama Administration Declares Proposed IP Treaty a ‘National Security’ Secret

President Barack Obama came into office in January promising a new era of openness.

But now, like Bush before him, Obama is playing the national security card to hide details of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement being negotiated across the globe.

The White House this week declared (.pdf) the text of the proposed treaty a “properly classified” national security secret, in rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request by Knowledge Ecology International.

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Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) against Venezuela: Washington and its war on the Bolivarian Revolution

A secret document of the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center, recently declassified in part, through the application of the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), confirms that the Pentagon’s most powerful team for psychological operations is employing its forces against Venezuela.1 The document, dating from the year 2006, analyses the border situation between Colombia and Venezuela. It was drafted by the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) (4th PSYOP Group (A) or 4th POG) and the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center, a fact that thus reaffirms that the same psychological warfare team operates in the region against Venezuela.

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DEA’s Operation Xcellerator is Another Justice Department Dog and Pony Show

Despite the  “Largest and Hardest Hitting Operation to Ever Target” the Sinaloa Cartel, the DEA is Merely Treading Water in the War on Drugs

On February 25, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) held a press conference celebrating the culmination of Operation Xcellerator, which it says resulted in the arrests of 755 Sinaloa Cartel members in the United States and Mexico.  Law enforcement agencies arrested the last 52 suspects the day of the press conference, which the DoJ  held on the same day the House of Representatives voted on 2009 funding for Plan Mexico.  Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative, is the US government’s estimated $1.6 billion military and law enforcement aid package to support the Mexican government’s increasingly violent war on drugs.

With Plan Mexico, the United States government wedded itself to Mexican president Felipe Calderon‘s stated strategy of attacking the big drug trafficking organizations in Mexico head-on.  Calderon didn’t invent this strategy; it is the same strategy the United States and Colombia used in Colombia under Plan Colombia.

Since the strategy in Mexico has not decreased the levels of illicit drug flows into the United States, and because it has not decreased drug-related violence (drug-related murders more than doubled in Mexico last year), pressure is on both the Mexican and US governments to prove some quantifiable successes in the war on drugs.  They’re doing this by making (or creating) high-profile arrests of suspected members of Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).

Se also:

Anti-Drug War Marchers block Mexico-US border

At least our Mexican neighbors are still standing up for their freedom (and ours)

100 years of government abuse, corruption and lies

Academics and the Chihuahua Government Say Decriminalizing Drugs is a Subject That Can’t be Avoided

EZLN Criticizes the Drug War

Report Review: New Federal Drug Threat Assessment Finds Prohibition Greatest Drug-Related Menace

Lourdes Cárdenas: Drug War Threatens Mexican Democracy

Mexico More Dangerous Than Iraq, Due to Drug War

US Police Train Mexican Police to Torture

US Releases $90 million in Plan Mexico Military Hardware

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U.S. Navy Classifies Ship Inspection Reports

The U.S. Navy has classified regular reports about the material condition of its fleet, an about-face from when the reports were accessible as public documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The reports, filed by the Board of Inspection and Survey, or InSurv, contain the findings of meticulous, days-long inspections that cover every detail of the workings of surface ships, aircraft carriers and submarines.

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Propaganda Machine: 27,000 Work in Pentagon PR and Recruiting

As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing money spent on winning what it calls “the human terrain” of world public opinion. In the process, concerns have been raised that this is spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law.

An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That’s almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006.

This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations – almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.

See also:

Rumsfeld’s Plan to “Fight the Internet”

Air Force Announces “Counter-Blog” Propaganda Program

NBC and McCaffrey’s coordinated responses to the NYT story

How to Deal with Government Propaganda on the Web

Al Qaeda is More of a U.S. Propaganda Campaign than a Real Organization

Police State Propaganda

Wikileaks Gets Hold of Counterinsurgency Manual

Press and “Psy Ops” to merge at NATO Afghan HQ: sources

German Intelligence Agents Caught Staging False Flag Terror

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Filing FOIA requests

I’m often asked – in interviews and from this site’s readers – how to file a Freedom of Information Act t request. It’s a fairly simple procedure – you don’t need a special form or a lawyer. I keep meaning to write and post a guide, but until that day arrives, here are some guides from elsewhere:

How to Use the Federal FOI Act [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press]

National Archives and Records Administration Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reference Guide

The National Security Archives’ guide

The Justice Department, which advises the rest of the Executive Branch on FOIA, has lots of reference material here.

See also:

Guide to Using Declassified Documents and Archival Materials on U.S. Foreign Policy

DoE Seeks to Limit “Public Interest” FOIA Disclosures

Information Commissioner publishes freedom of information guidance for personal data

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Rumsfeld’s Plan to “Fight the Internet”

A newly declassified document gives a fascinating glimpse into the US military’s plans for “information operations” – from psychological operations, to attacks on hostile computer networks.

Bloggers beware.

As the world turns networked, the Pentagon is calculating the military opportunities that computer networks, wireless technologies and the modern media offer.

From influencing public opinion through new media to designing “computer network attack” weapons, the US military is learning to fight an electronic war.

The declassified document is called “Information Operations Roadmap“. It was obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University using the Freedom of Information Act.

Officials in the Pentagon wrote it in 2003. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed it.

See also:

How to Deal with Government Propaganda on the Web

Air Force Announces “Counter-Blog” Propaganda Program

Press and “Psy Ops” to merge at NATO Afghan HQ: sources

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