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FRINFORMSUM: 5/18/2011

May 18, 2011
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Over the weekend, the CBC reported on a Wikileaked document revealing that the Canadian government’s opposition to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was far less absolute than public pronouncements led many to believe.  The leaked briefing cable reported on a meeting between Canadian officials at the Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa and diplomats from the United Kingdom and United States two days before the invasion began.  An excerpt reveals: “While for domestic political reasons […] the GOC [Government of Canada] has decided not to join in a U.S. coalition of the willing, […] they are also prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins.”  At the time, Canadian naval vessels were deployed to the Strait of Hormuz in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Perhaps Canada merely watched the back door as the “coalition of the willing” stormed through the front.

A new directive from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence expands the role of the Government Accountability Office in overseeing the U.S. Intelligence Community. Intelligence Community Directive 114 takes effect on June 30, and compels intelligence agencies to cooperate with GAO auditors.  However, elastic and loosely-defined language may ultimately limit what the GAO can accomplish.  “Sources and methods,” “information related to covert action,” and “core national intelligence capabilities” will not be made available to the GAO.

The Department of Justice has released updated guidance on Exemption 2 of the FOIA.  The Milner v. Department of the Navy ruling by the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the exemption and this guidance discusses the implications of the ruling, what can now be withheld under Exemption 2, and how material previously exempted under pre-ruling Exemption 2 can continue to be withheld.  Full text of the guidance is available from the Department of Justice website.

A coalition of over 150 groups with interest in the food and agriculture industries and involved in advocacy for rural communities have submitted a letter to the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture. The letter requests a release of findings from an ongoing study into possible antitrust violations in the agricultural sector.  Throughout 2010, the two agencies held a number of unprecedented “antitrust workshops” across the U.S.  The workshop transcripts are publically available, but no official report has been produced in response to any findings.

Last year, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee ruling by the Supreme Court reversed a number of precedents regarding restrictions on corporate and union spending on political campaigns. The White House may be on the brink of introducing an interesting twist to the ongoing battle over campaign financing.  A draft executive order is floating through the Office of Management and Budget that would require organizations lining-up for federal contracts to disclose donations of at least $5000 to federal candidates, political parties/committees and “relevant third-party committees.”

Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case that concerned the federal government’s ability to shut down lawsuits that could expose state secrets. The American Civil Liberties Union had brought forward the case against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppensen Dataplan, which allegedly ran flights for the Central Intelligence Agency to move prisoners, including the five men represented by the ACLU, subject to “rendition.” In the district court, the government motioned to throw-out the case claiming it could expose national security information and the judge subsequently granted the motion.

Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense after receiving notice that their FOIA request for the release of the photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body would not be completed within the 20 days stipulated by law.  The issue of the release of these purportedly graphic images continues to be a bone of contention between the Obama administration and organizations like Judicial Watch and other media groups. National Security Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones has also chimed in on the application of FOIA to these photos.

Last Friday, the efforts to shed light on Argentina during the 1976-1983 military junta were dealt a set-back by Congress.  In a vote of 214-194, an amendment, which would have forced intelligence agencies to declassify their documents on Argentina at the time, was defeated. The amendment resembled the 1999 Chile declassification project which provided evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the Pinochet regime.

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