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Movement on FOIA Improvement Act, US Ramping up National Security Reviews of Chinese Investments, US Ratification of Treaty Banning Torture Leaves Open Possible Loopholes, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 11/13/2014

November 13, 2014
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) and Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-CT) (R).  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) and Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-CT) (R). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Exciting news regarding the FOIA Improvement Act this week, as Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) office recently announced that the Senate Judiciary will vote on the bill next week. A statement issued by Leahy’s office says, “I have worked with Senator Cornyn for months on the FOIA Improvement Act. It has broad bipartisan support, including the support of Ranking Member Grassley.  Because of scheduling challenges in the Senate this Thursday, we are likely to hold the Committee markup off the floor this week. This FOIA bill should be debated in full public view, and so we will hold over our legislation this week so all members and the public can participate in this important debate. I expect the Judiciary Committee will approve our bipartisan legislation next week when the Committee meets at its regularly-scheduled time.” The Archive looks forward to the Judiciary vote next week, and thanks the Senators for continuing to support such an important piece of bipartisan (and bicameral) legislation.

The famed Waldorf Astoria hotel, whose purchase by a Chinese investment firm will be investigated by CFIUS. WikiImage.

The famed Waldorf Astoria hotel, whose purchase by a Chinese investment firm will be investigated by CFIUS. WikiImage.

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the D.C. Circuit ordered the Obama administration and the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is responsible for vetting foreign companies’ purchase of American ones, to explain why it denied a Chinese firm’s bid to purchase several Oregon wind farms. The ruling comes two years after Obama voided the initial sale on national security grounds “after the Navy objected that power windmills … would interfere with its test flights for drones and bomber squadrons at a naval site in northern Oregon.” An appeals court later ruled the action had violated the Chinese company’s constitutional due process rights.

CFIUS is also expected to investigate a Chinese insurance company’s planned purchase of New York City’s legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which routinely serves as a “home-away-from-home for presidents visiting New York.” The CFIUS noted in its last annual report to Congress in 2012 that “China surpassed Great Britain for the first time as the country with the most foreign investments subject to national security review.”

Obama administration delegates met with the UN committee that monitors international compliance with a treaty banning cruel treatment of prisoners this week. The Obama administration pivoted away from the Bush-era DOJ interpretation of the treaty that argued the treaty’s obligations do not apply to US actions abroad and that the US is not obligated “to bar cruelty outside its borders.” Instead, the Obama administration took the position that the treaty applies to anywhere the US exercises governmental authority. This, however, still appears to exclude “black site” prisons and American military detention centers that exist “on the sovereign territory of other governments.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants her committee's CIA torture report declassified this month. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants her committee’s CIA torture report declassified this month. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release the executive summary of its scathing report on the CIA’s torture program this month. While this is not the first time the Committee has announced its plans to release the summary, it’s likely Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wants to declassify it while she maintains the committee chair. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who is poised replace Feinstein in the new congressional session and has an ACLU score of 0%, commented after Senator Feinstein’s blistering Senate-floor attack on the CIA’s spying on committee staff while it completed its report this March that, “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly.”

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled last week that the military does not need to modify the way it force-feeds Guantanamo detainee Abi Wa’el Dhiab. Dhiab is appealing the ruling, arguing that the military’s techniques are torturous. It is unclear what role the 28 videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, which Kessler ordered be released in October, had on her ruling, or if they were released at all.

A recent New York Times editorial chided the Obama administration for continuing its failed efforts to promote regime change in Cuba – efforts that have cost $264 million over the last 18 years. Two such campaigns include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plan to employ Costa Rican, Peruvian, and Venezuelan youths to participate in Cuban HIV prevention programs (called the “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists) as a cover for US-sponsored anti-Cuban activism that was revealed in an August 4, 2014, Associated Press story, and the USAID’s  sham “Cuban Twitter” account intended to stir political unrest in the communist country, a plan that Senate Judiciary Committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy called cockamamie and said had not been described adequately to Congress after the story broke this April.

Loretta Lynch, reportedly Obama’s candidate for replacing Attorney General Eric Holder, has “little to no” background in national security law. It’s an interesting choice considering Holder’s tenure was rife with national security debates, including targeted drone killing of American citizens, the legal obstacles surrounding closing Guantanamo, and defending the legality of the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance of American citizens.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  November, 1964.

Hoover’s “abnormal beast,” Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. November, 1964.

History professor Beverly Gage recently uncovered an uncensored letter from an unnamed author, later revealed to be FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to Martin Luther King, Jr. “tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives.” The letter, previously only available in heavily redacted form, is commonly referred to as the “suicide letter” for its vague warning that King should kill himself. The uncensored version contains “explicit allegations about King’s sex life, rendered in the racially charged language of the Jim Crow era” and “offers a potent warning for readers today about the danger of domestic surveillance in an age with less reserved mass media.”

This week the Archive is proud to announce the publication of two new documents sets through the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) with the help of our partners at ProQuest. Electronic Surveillance and the National Security Agency: From Shamrock to Snowden, represents the most comprehensive collection of leaked and declassified records on the controversial subject of electronic surveillance, and The Kissinger Conversations updates the Archive’s substantial body of documents focusing on Kissinger’s roles in policymaking and diplomacy under presidents Nixon and Ford.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Archive posted a collection of formerly secret documents from Soviet, German, U.S., Czechoslovak and Hungarian files to its website this week. The documents show “the historic events of the night of November 9, 1989, came about from accident and contingency, rather than conspiracy or strategy,” and that the Wall’s actual collapse “began with Hungarian Communist reformers who proposed in early 1989 to open their borders to the West, while seeking particularly West German foreign investment to solve Hungary’s economic crisis. Hungarian Communist leaders checked in with Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1989, letting him know they planned to take down the barbed wire; and Gorbachev — true to his ‘common European home’ rhetoric — responded only that ‘we have a strict regime on our borders, but we are also becoming more open.’ The Hungarian decision sparked a stream and then a flood of East German refugees.”

Morris Childs, photo circa 1940s. WikiImage.

Morris Childs, photo circa 1940s. WikiImage.

This week’s #tbt document pick is chosen with Hoover’s hatred of MLK in mind, and highlights brothers Morris and Jack Childs, together codenamed SOLO, who were the “FBI’s most valued secret agents of the Cold War.” This week’s pick is the SOLO file, nearly 7,000 pages cataloging the Childs brothers’ reports to J. Edgar Hoover dating back to 1958, which include “the origins of Hoover’s hatred for Martin Luther King, some convincing reasons for Dwight Eisenhower’s decision to hold off on the CIA’s plans to invade Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and the beginnings of Richard Nixon’s thoughts about a détente with the Soviets.”

Happy FOIA-ing!

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