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FRINFORMSUM 10/3/2013: Appeal, Appeal, Appeal

October 3, 2013

It’s been a big week in Washington for all the wrong reasons, and we at the Archive sympathize with our federal colleagues. While the intelligence community, particularly the National Security Agency (NSA), is being criticized after leaked documents reveled the scope of the agency’s surveillance programs, the furlough of 70% of the intelligence community’s civilian employees impacts its ability to staff necessary programs, including its FOIA offices.

The HEXAGON spy satellite, in active use from 1971 to 1984, and often referred to as "Big Bird," was the size of a school bus, and carried 60 miles of high-resolution photographic film. (Source: NRO & National Museum of the USAF)

The HEXAGON spy satellite, in active use from 1971 to 1984, and often referred to as “Big Bird,” was the size of a school bus, and carried 60 miles of high-resolution photographic film. (Source: NRO & National Museum of the USAF)

The government shutdown also means that researchers won’t be able to check out the hundreds of canisters of high-resolution KH-9 HEXAGON satellite imagery that were recently delivered to the National Archives (NARA) by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Once the shutdown is resolved, the cans will be a great resource for researchers interested in the history of the National Reconnaissance Office’s satellite systems. However, researchers should be warned that no finding aids or indexes were delivered to NARA along with the satellite images. In other words, there’s no way to know what’s in the multitude of cans.

In more accessible declassification news, President Clinton praised the CIA for posting 300 newly declassified documents on the Bosnian War to their electronic FOIA reading room. The documents highlight “the accomplishments of the Clinton Administration in brokering the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which resolved the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and the role the Director of Central Intelligence Interagency Balkan Task Force (BTF) played in informing policymakers’ decisions.” Check out the historic documents here.

NSA chief Keith Alexander before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Alexander chose being evasive over being "misleading." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

NSA chief Keith Alexander before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Alexander chose being evasive over being “misleading.” (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Even with the shutdown, the Senate Judiciary Committee went forward with its hearing on the NSA’s surveillance practices yesterday. The hearing, along with the proposal of the bipartisan Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, is indicative of a Congress that is gearing up to tackle the issues raised by the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Last week during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, Senator Ron Wyden (D – OR ), one of the sponsors of the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, asked NSA chief Keith Alexander twice during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing if the NSA had ever, or had any future plans, to collect and track locations of cell phone calls. Alexander, apparently learning from Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that it’s better to be evasive than to lie directly to Congress, responded by saying, “[w]hat I don’t want to do … is put out in an unclassified forum anything that’s classified.”

Speaking of classified, a recent Department of Justice audit found that, in reviewing documents for declassification, FOIA officers make on average “more than two errors per classified document.” The DOJ audit was prompted by the September 11, 2001, Commission Report, which determined that intelligence hoarding by agencies contributed to the attacks, and recommended greater information sharing between agencies to prevent that problem in the future. While the audit is informative, and a great reminder of why its always a good idea to appeal your FOIA and MDR denials, Secrecy News’ Steve Aftergood says the report is a missed opportunity, arguing that the report doesn’t address the root of the problem, which “is not technical errors in classification, but mistakes in judgment about what to classify.”

The Department of Justice also released a 43-page report on the use of unmanned drones throughout the agency. According to Matthew Aid, ‘[t]he report gives remarkably little detail about what the FBI has been doing in the realm on unmanned drones…The only detail provided about when and where the FBI has used its drones is the following sentence “The FBI reported that it had used UAS in very limited circumstances to support operations where there was a specific operational need. For example, the FBI used a UAS in January 2013 during a hostage crisis in Midland City, Alabama.”’

And OpentheGovernment.org has just released it’s must-read annual Secrecy Report.  We’ll dive deeper into this in the upcoming week, but for now here it is.  

Happy FOIA-ing!

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