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Sign on to Fight the CIA’s Covert Attack on Mandatory Declassification Review

February 15, 2012

Let's fight back.

Our friends at OpenTheGovernment.org  have started a petition to “Restore Accountability to the CIA’s Secrecy System.  If you don’t think the CIA should be allowed to price out MDR requesters –by charging up to $72 per hour search and review fees, with a minimum cost of $15 reproduction fees –even if only one page is released– then sign it.  And tell your friends to sign it.  And post it on facebook.  And tweet it.

Here’s a brief rundown on the CIA’s attack on MDR.  More info can be found here.

On 23 September 2011, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with no notice for public comment, decreed that the public will now have to pay outrageous fees to have Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests processed. The fees, which can run requesters up to $72 per hour — even if no information is found or released — and the requirement that requesters pay a minimum of $15 in reproduction fees– even if only one page is released– effectively cut off access to a system that researchers, historians, public interest advocates and others have used successfully to challenge the CIA’s extreme secrecy.

Before surreptitiously passing the new regulation, the CIA processed MDR requests by charging, “in the same amount and under the same conditions as specified in [the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)] 32 CFR part 1900.”  Under FOIA, Congress stipulated that public interest, educational, journalism, and other fee waivers must be  granted, when applicable under the statute. Furthermore agencies must forfeit their right to collect some FOIA processing fees when they miss their processing deadline — unfortunately, an extremely common occurrence at the Agency.  Throughout the government, and previously at CIA, MDR fees were commensurate to FOIA fees.

So why did the Agency quietly pass this regulation to gouge MDR requesters?  Our conclusion is that the Agency is attempting to price the public out of submitting MDR requests because it wants to avoid the independent accountability and oversight that the Mandatory Declassification Review process provides.  Unlike the FOIA, adverse MDR responses are subject to review by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), which regularly overturns CIA denials.  According to the US Information Security Oversight Office, ISCAP officials have overruled agency classification decisions more than 65 percent of the time since 1996.  Because the CIA, by all appearances, resents that the public can turn to an independent panel to question and overturn its dubious classification decisions, the Agency is attempting to charge outrageous fees to deter citizens from requesting information.

This regulation was quietly passed without notice for public comment, imposes burdensome fees incongruous with those charged for FOIA requests, and is absolutely contrary to President Obama’s call for “a new era of open government.”

Angry??  Sign the petition!

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