CIA Loses Over Three Weeks Worth of FOIA Requests, Senate’s CIA Torture Report Excludes Interviews with those Subjected to Most Brutal Treatment, and More: FRINFORMSUM 11/26/2014
If you made any FOIA requests to the CIA using their electronic submission portal between October 14 and November 6, you’re going to need to resend them. Buried in the CIA’s Electronic Reading Room is a notice that it lost over three weeks of requests: “Our eFOIA request form is now working. However, electronic submissions made in the past few weeks did not reach the office of the Information and Privacy Coordinator. Therefore, if you made an online request between 14 October and 6 November requests will have to be re-submitted.”
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that Custom and Border Protection (CBP) forgot about 12,000 FOIA requests from 2012. Apparently after the agency’s reorganization, “a new manager found a stack of boxes containing 12,000 paper requests from 2012 that had never been entered into their processing system.” The CBP reported it processed the thousands of requests after they were discovered. The GAO report also criticized CBP for improperly closing 11,000 requests in 2012 and subsequently having to re-open and re-process them.
The Senate report on the CIA’s torture program, which cost $40 million and took five years to complete, excludes interviews with four highest-value detainees subjected to the “CIA’s most brutal treatment,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was waterboarded 183 times. While the Senate committee did not comment on this revelation, lawyers for the four detainees “consider the committee’s omissions consistent with years of US efforts to conceal the truth about the program and insulate those involved from reprisal.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned this week following tension over transferring Guantanamo detainees and a dispute with National Security Advisor Susan Rice over Syria policy. According to White House officials, in a two-page memo to Rice, Hagel “warned that the administration’s Syria policy was in danger of unraveling because of its failure to clarify its intentions toward President Bashar al-Assad. Senior officials complained that Mr. Hagel had never made such a case in internal debates, suggesting that he was trying to position himself for history on a crucial issue as he was talking to Mr. Obama about leaving his job.” Hagel was chosen to lead the Defense Department two years ago to counter Pentagon officials who wanted to pursue a more aggressive U.S. presence in Afghanistan and a slower U.S. drawdown in Iraq.
In the latest Brookings Report, Gary D. Bass, Danielle Brian and Norm Eisen – Obama’s early point person on transparency issues – argue “transparency is actually one of the areas today where Congress can find common ground to help make government work better.” Citing the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 as an example of how open government can breed bipartisanship, the authors state “core laws need to be updated to further the affirmative government to disclose information and to better utilize technology to make information widely available to the public in timely, accurate, and useful formats.”
Congress recently published the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) 400-page volume, “The Evolving Congress,” to help commemorate the CRS’ 100th anniversary. CRS does not publicly release its reports, although Congress could easily change this practice, subsequently giving “the public something tangible in return for the $107 million it pays for CRS’s operations: an oasis of unbiased information in an Internet awash with half-truths and outright buncombe.” Currently CRS “posts its reports at CRS.gov, a website accessible only to Congress and its staff.”
The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) recently posted “a status log of all of the open mandatory declassification review (MDR) and classification challenge appeals active” during the current Obama administration. The log, noticeably full of the names of Archivists taking advantage of ISCAP’s release rate, which overrules agency denials in more than 65 percent of its decisions, reveals that the ISCAP does not work on a first-in, first-out basis, and confirms that the wait times tend to be quite long, with decisions typically reached 4-6 years after the date of the request.
The FOIA Ombuds Office of Government Information Services’ (OGIS) director, Miriam Nisbet, will be retiring at the end of the month. Ms. Nisbet has been OGIS’ director since its inception five years ago, and the Archive applauds the commitment to open government and FOIA she’s demonstrated while at the helm. The Department of Defense’s chief FOIA Officer, Will Kammer, who championed best FOIA practices within the DOD, retired at the end of October.
On Monday, December 1 Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones will join Professor Bernd Schaefer and former CIA Chief Historian Ben B. Fischer on a panel discussing newly-translated Stasi and foreign intelligence branches of the Soviet KGB documents concerning Project RYaN, the early-warning system that constituted one part of the Soviet response to the perceived threat of a surprise “decapitation” strike by NATO nuclear forces. The documents and panel discussion will “give unprecedented insight into the capabilities and fears of the Eastern Bloc intelligence services from the Able Archer ’83 War Scare to the end of the Cold War.”
Frank Mankiewicz, the renowned political and media strategist and former president of NPR, served as a “special channel” of communication between Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Cuban commandante Fidel Castro in the mid 1970s, according to formerly classified documents posted this week by the National Security Archive. The secret Kissinger-Castro talks, and Mankiewcz’s efforts to facilitate them, are detailed in a new book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana by Archive senior analyst, Peter Kornbluh, and American University Professor William M. LeoGrande. According to the book, Mankiewicz helped set in motion “the most serious effort to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba since Washington broke ties with Havana in January 1961.”