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FRINFORMSUM 11/7/2013: Action Plans, Bills, Budgets, and the CIA and DOD’s Baffling ‘OK-to-Torture’ Rationalization

November 7, 2013
The White House's outline for its second National Action Plan.

The White House’s outline for its second National Action Plan.

The Open Government Partnership’s London summit concluded on November 1, with 37 members offering brand new open government commitments. For its part, the Obama administration announced the outline for the United States’ second National Action Plan (NAP), which includes a lot of potentially powerful improvements, like developing a set of common FOIA regulations, improving FOIA training across the government, and establishing a FOIA modernization committee. However, these potential improvements will only be felt if the administration puts in the hard work to make substantive improvements to how it administers FOIA –not mere lip service.

Snowden's, pictured here with German MP Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow, was denied his request for clemency.  Photo: EPA

Snowden’s, pictured here with German MP Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow, was denied his request for clemency. Photo: EPA

The White House rejected Edward Snowden’s request for clemency in the wake of his revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance practices this week. Both the White House and Congressional leaders argued that Snowden should return to the US to face charges, and that his unofficial disclosures damaged national interests. While Snowden’s revelations have caused a host of domestic and international problems for the administration, the White House insists that while it may be necessary to curtail some of the NSA’s surveillance practices, for now ‘there is no workable alternative to the bulk collection of huge quantities of “metadata,” including records of all telephone calls made inside the United States.’

While the White House argues the continuation of bulk collection of metadata is necessary, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy’s proposed bill, the USA Freedom Act, would “place stringent restrictions on the agency’s programs and forbid it from collecting metadata in bulk.” The bipartisan Freedom Act is getting more support, most recently from Senator Ron Wyden.

The National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the U.S. Intelligence Community released its 37-page unclassified report on Tuesday, finding that the scientific research efforts of the intelligence community are “poorly coordinated, and agencies have struggled to develop adequate defenses against emerging threats including cyberattacks.” The commission found that agencies often pursue “competing research agendas, with no overarching strategy to make sure that spending and resources are being aimed at the most critical U.S. intelligence needs…conclud[ing] that U.S. agencies are too focused on developing ways to stop cyberattacks and restore networks, rather than anticipating intrusions and protecting intellectual property.” Panelists who helped compile the report, completed before Edward Snowden’s leaks, said the recent NSA revelations “underscores a failure to develop more targeted abilities to mine data rather than assembling as much of it as possible.” There is a classified version of the report hundreds of pages long that delves deeper into the threat of cyberespionage.

One of the National Commission’s main recommendations “was to create a more powerful position within the office of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee research, redirecting money to the most promising projects and pulling the plug on others,” which hopefully made its way into the latest intelligence budget. The Senate Intelligence Committee Passed its FY 2014 intelligence budget by a vote of 13-2 this week, and the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 will soon head to the Senate floor for a vote. One of the Act’s provisions includes “[m]aking the director and inspector general of the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.” It was reported this week that the White House is considering an even larger change in leadership at the NSA, and is debating separating the leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command, presumably to “avoid an undue concentration of power in one individual and separate entities with two fundamentally different missions,” as well as discussing whether or not the NSA should be led by a civilian.

An al-Qaida detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Photograph: Shane T Mccoy/PA

An al-Qaida detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Photograph: Shane T Mccoy/PA

In other news this week, The Guardian reported that the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres found the CIA made doctors and psychiatrists torture suspected terrorists after 9/11. The report primarily faults the CIA and Department of Defense, which “required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.” Especially troubling, the task force found that medical staffs were told, for all intents and purposes, that their medical ethos of “first do no harm” did not apply because they were not treating people who were ill.

On a lighter note to end this week’s posting, it was reported that the U.S. intelligence agencies have their own Twitter, and it’s called eChirp. According to the Washington Post, “[i]t allows analysts to weigh in on breaking news from across several agencies, much like Twitter allows in the public sphere.  The project started as a pilot program in 2009 and expanded to the entire U.S. intelligence community in 2010.”

Happy FOIA-ing!

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