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FRINFORMSUM 4/17/2014: NYPD to Shut Down Unit that Labeled Entire Mosques “Terrorism Enterprises,” the FBI Accused of Meddling in 9/11 Trial, Sen. Grassley Stands Up for Whistleblowers, and More.

April 17, 2014
Protesting the NYPD's Demographics Unit. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Protesting the NYPD’s Demographics Unit. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

The New York Police Department is shutting down its Demographics Unit, which came under intense scrutiny for spying on Muslim neighborhoods and designating entire mosques “terrorism enterprises.” The “terrorism enterprises” label allowed the unit to collect the license plate numbers of every car in mosque parking lots, videotape worshipers, and record sermons using hidden microphones. The program was the brainchild of lawyer Lawrence Sanchez who worked for the NYPD while on the CIA payroll, began in 2003, and “never generated a lead.”

The Joint IED Defeat Organization’s (JIEDDO) Counter-IED Operations/Intelligence Integration Center (COIC) was recently investigated for “improper intelligence collection.” The COIC’s mission is to counter improvised bombs, but was investigated after the DOD’s inspector general received a hotline complaint that the unit “illegally or inappropriately collected info about U.S. persons” in 2011 and 2012. The DOD IG recently posted the investigation report’s title on its website, along with a note saying to file a FOIA request for a full copy of the report. A better idea, of course, would be to proactively post the document on the site.

A recent Washington Post article revealed more details about the FBI’s secret relationship with the Joint Special Operations Command overseas, specifically the bureau’s role in “hundreds of raids” in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some questioned whether participating in overseas counterterrorism programs was in the bureau’s best interest, others saw it was a “natural evolution” for the FBI’s Hostage and Rescue Team (HRT). According to the Post article, “[t]he relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.”

Pentagon-approved sketch of defendant Ramzi Bin al Shibh, center, at his pretrial hearing at the Guantánamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Monday, April 14, 2014.  JANET HAMLIN / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pentagon-approved sketch of defendant Ramzi Bin al Shibh, center, at his pretrial hearing at the Guantánamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Monday, April 14, 2014. JANET HAMLIN / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Defense lawyers for five men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks currently awaiting trial at Guantanamo argued that the FBI violated attorney-client confidentiality by attempting to recruit members of the defense security team –who have Top Secret clearance, advise the defense teams what information should be redacted from court filings, and “are privy to internal defense discussions and strategy”–as bureau informants. The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, agreed to look into the FBI’s conduct in order to determine how it will effect the trial.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating how classified conclusions of its CIA torture report were leaked to McClatchy news. Last week McClatchy revealed several of the report’s conclusions, which, all told, “paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program.” Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein responded to the leak saying, “[i]f someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted.”

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan rejected Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning’s request for clemency this week, approving her 35-year sentence for leaking 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 military documents to WikiLeaks. Manning’s lawyers are challenging the 35-year sentence and the six convictions under the Espionage Act of 1917, convictions that prompted one of Manning’s lawyers to argue, “the Espionage Act has essentially become a strict liability crime, that the only intent required is an intent to disclose.”

Senator Grassley commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Senator Grassley commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Senator Chuck Grassley delivered a speech on the 25th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act on the floor of the Senate last week, laying out “a number of ways President Obama’s Insider Threat detection program threatened whistleblowers.”  Grassley also addressed the FBI’s refusal to explain if its Insider Threat Program “adequately distinguished insider threats and whistleblowers.” Grassley said that in response to his request for material, an FBI official told his staff “there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications.  He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people.” Grassley noted some of the obvious problems with this attitude later in his speech, saying “[a] federal employee has every right to make protected disclosures anonymously, whether at work or off the job.  Every member of this body should realize that without some safeguards, there is a chance their communications with whistleblowers may be viewed by the Executive Branch.”

The DATA Act, which would require agencies to report how they handle money, unanimously passed the Senate last Thursday. If enacted, the DATA Act would “mandate government-wide standards for federal spending data,” and require that information be placed online in fully searchable formats. The Senate and the House are expected to work speedily on approving identical versions of the bill, then giving President Obama the opportunity to sign this important legislation into law.

Marc Ambinder at The Week magazine took a closer look at the recently released “Holy Grail of Sept. 11th, 2001, documents: transcripts from the emergency conference calls initiated by the National Military Command Center.” The Pentagon release provides further details on spotty communication, the lack of Andrews fighters, and the activities of the three National Airborne Operation Center planes that day.

The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA helped publish and distribute “Doctor Zhivago” in the Soviet bloc in an effort to promote political unrest there. “Zhivago,” however, was just one of many cultural causes the CIA promoted. Voice of America recently revealed details on the agency’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, which tried to advance American ideology abroad during the 1950s by funding artistic endeavors, including Britain’s Encounter magazine, the Paris Review, and the animated film version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The Congress also “dumped millions” throughout the 1950s to subsidize NYC’s abstract expressionist movement abroad, including promoting the movement’s artists -like Jackson Pollack- who weren’t widely recognized in the US.

The Hughes Glomar Explorer.

The Hughes Glomar Explorer.

The latest volume of the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), National Security Policy: 1973-1976, contains 200 newly-declassified pages on Project AZORIAN and the Glomar Explorer, including new details on eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes’ role in the operation.

Finally this week, don’t miss the Archive’s #tbt document pick -a 2001 posting, entitled “Solidarity’s Comic Victory: Big or Too Big,” on the 1989 Polish Round Table Agreements. 

Happy FOIA-ing!

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