FRINFORMSUM 5/8/2014: Dueling House Surveillance Bills, NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee, and Much More.
The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that would end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet collection of American’s phone records this week. The bill, the USA Freedom Act, is sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and co-sponsored by 151 members of the House, and would authorize that bulk phone records stay with phone companies for the current 18-month requirement, and would only allow the government to obtain records of callers two links from a suspect, as opposed to the current three.
A rival bill from the House Intelligence Committee that also aims to end the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, co-sponsored by House Intelligence Committee chairman Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) and ranking member C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), will likely be voted on today. The House Intelligence bill is a “somewhat less restrictive version of the [Judiciary] package,” and the primary difference between the two bills is the question of judicial review. Specifically, “a provision in the Judiciary bill  would require a judge to approve records requests for each phone number before the NSA obtains them,” which the White House previously insisted be part of any new surveillance legislation. House aides predict that the USA Freedom Act will be the surveillance bill that advances to the Senate.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will create a FOIA advisory committee that will work to improve the way the government processes Freedom of Information Act requests. The creation of the FOIA advisory committee, which was announced in a May 5 Federal Register notice, comes nearly two months after the National Security Archive’s latest FOIA Audit reported that more than half of federal agencies still operate under obsolete FOIA guidelines.
A recent report by the American Immigration Council “found that 97 percent of abuse complaints lodged against Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers resulted in no disciplinary action once an investigation had been completed.” AIC’s report also found, thanks to a FOIA request, that complaints against Border Patrol agents and CBP “have more than doubled in size in the last seven years.” The most common abuses cites were physical abuse, excessive use of force, and racial profiling.
Corporations from Amazon to FedEx are putting pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to legalize commercial drone usage. Since 2007 the FAA has taken the position that commercial drones are illegal, even appealing an administrative order this April that “tossed out the legal foundation for its policy” declaring them so. The FAA, which has already approved over 600 public-sector entities to fly drones, plans to propose a rule for commercial drones by the end of the year.
Emails obtained by Al Jazeera in response to a FOIA request show that Google had a much closer relationship with the NSA than the company portrayed in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the agency’s surveillance practices. In one instance, the NSA “thwarted” a Chinese basic input/output system (BIOS) plot against the tech giant, arguing that the attack could have destroyed the US economy. Some, including Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Nate Cardozo, argue it is contradictory for the NSA to help “Google secure its facilities from the Chinese and at the same time hack in through the back doors and tapping the fiber connections between Google base centers.”
The US will not allow Israeli citizens visa-free entry into the US over spying concerns. Israel has lobbied to add itself to the list of 38 countries the US currently allows visa exemptions for, however the US intelligence community has raised concerns over Israel’s espionage activities, which “greatly exceed that of any other American ally.” The White House is simultaneously considering releasing Jonathan Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, to revive the floundering Middle East peace negotiations. Israel has petitioned successive presidents for Pollard’s release, with Clinton only dropping the idea after CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if he did.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), while not acknowledging any wrongdoing, has agreed “to pay 14 contractors $500,000 to settle a lawsuit that accuses the agency of illegally requiring them to undergo highly intrusive lie detector tests to keep their jobs as translators.” Court documents show that during the polygraph tests, DEA employees asked the translators “very personal and even alarming questions about their lives, including about their sexual practices and crimes such as bestiality.” Polygraph testing also came under fire last months after the Inspector General for the Director of National Intelligence reported that federal agencies are inconsistent in reporting crimes divulged by potential employees during polygraph tests. The IG report attributed the inconsistencies, which occurred while testing at least 3 percent of personnel between 2009 and 2012, to “breakdowns in government reporting procedures and poor advice from agency lawyers.”
The New York Times reported this week that the long-secret “Midwest Depot,” an arms cache the CIA has used to stockpile and distribute “untraceable weapons linked to preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion and the arming of rebels and resistance fighters from Angola to Nicaragua to Afghanistan,” is likely located at Camp Stanley, an Army weapons depot just north of San Antonio. The report credits retired CIA analyst Allen Thompson, who has “assembled a mosaic of documentation suggesting that it is most likely the home of Midwest Depot,” for the discovery.