HRC Political Appointees Meddled in Politically Sensitive DOS FOIA Releases, Archive and Coalition of Historical Associations Win Remaining Grand Jury Testimony from Rosenberg Spy Trial, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 5/21/2015
Hillary Clinton’s political aides while she was serving as the Secretary of State allegedly scrutinized politically sensitive documents requested under the FOIA. The Wall Street Journal reports that her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, “insisted on reviewing all Keystone-related documents being prepared for release, and flagged as problematic a few that the department’s records-law specialists felt obligated to release.” Mills reportedly informed a FOIA specialist that if records were released that Mills wanted withheld, “Mrs. Clinton’s office wouldn’t comply with any future document requests on any topic.” The Journal further reports that the State Department was advised by a FOIA expert to shield Keystone pipeline documents by withholding them under the b(5) “withhold it because you want to” exemption. Troublingly, the report also noted “there is no pressure on bureaus or embassies to respond to document searches in a timely fashion; that FOIA specialists hold little stature; and that there are no consequences for people who don’t produce documents requested.”
Jason Leopold recently reported that the government argued — and lost — that it could not make former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails public until January 2016. The State Department filed court papers this week in connection with a VICE News FOIA lawsuit for Clinton’s emails maintaining it needed so much time because, “The collection is … voluminous and, due to the breadth of topics, the nature of the communications, and the interests of several agencies, presents several challenges.” The judge, however, “ordered the agency to being releasing the documents on a rolling basis.” The State Department’s focus on the HRC emails is likely bad news for FOIA requesters. Last week The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reported on the State Department’s use of “the Hillary Dodge” to delay processing pre-existing FOIA requests, highlighting a 2001 Archive request for Henry Kissinger’s 700-still-secret telephone conversations (telcons) that the State Department petitioned the US District Court that it needed more processing time, citing a huge “surge” in FOIA lawsuits and processing delays related to Hillary Clinton’s emails – all of which are unclassified.
In a huge win, this week the National Security Archive and a coalition of leading US historical associations won a petition for the release of key remaining grand jury records from the prosecution of accused spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were indicted in 1951 in what was then billed as the “trial of the century,” convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union, and executed in 1953. In this week’s ruling, which secured the release of David Greenglass’ likely perjured testimony, US District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein dismissed the Government’s argument that the release would rekindle antipathy towards the Greenglass family, and found, “The requested records are critical pieces of an important moment in our nation’s history. The time for the public to guess what they contain should end.”
The Washington Post’s Al Kamen recently highlighted the problem of incorporating control markings into email templates after obtaining an email from Janet Webb, deputy director of Enforcement Operations at the Department of Justice, on possible commuter traffic. The email warned DOJ employees that a demonstration scheduled in downtown DC might affect commutes home, and to “plan accordingly.” The bottom of the email is stamped “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION,” “ATTORNEY WORK PRODUCT,” and “SENSITIVE/PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION.” National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton told Kamen, “These automatic labels slow down all the processes, because they send a flag to the FOIA people not to release,” a sentiment reiterated by Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood.
The New York Times reported that the US military used the classification system to hide which dangerous chemicals harmed soldiers in Iraq, and denied FOIA requests concerning information on the chemicals for a decade. The Army only recently released the 2003 Camp Taji Incident report, written by the multinational Iraq Survey Group, which found that the chemical soldiers came in contact with was a potentially fatal “carcinogen and poisonous chemical.” The Archive’s Director Tom Blanton told the Times that, in addition to the secrecy trumping common sense, that “the outrage here is extraordinary.” Blanton noted, “Soldiers exposed to something really dangerous cannot find out what it was because ‘Sorry it’s classified’?” he said. “It’s creepy and it’s crazy.”
A coalition of 140 technology companies, civil society groups, and security experts are petitioning the White House to refuse any government proposal that would grant law enforcement a “back door” into encrypted phone data. The FBI has argued in favor of companies building a US-government-only back door into devices that are increasingly encrypted. Former Bush administration senior policy official at the Department of Homeland Security, Paul Rosenzweig, said, “If I actually thought there was a way to build a U.S.-government-only backdoor, then I might be persuaded. But that’s just not reality.” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called the FBI’s suggestion “technologically stupid,” and George W. Bush’s cybersecurity adviser Richard Clarke said FBI director James Comey “is the best FBI director I’ve ever seen,” but “he’s wrong on this [issue].”
The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) released a 182-page report this week that found the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) should be merged with the FBI. CAP’s findings echo long-standing Republican proposals. The CAP report found that ATF “is plagued by inadequate management, insufficient resources, burdensome restrictions and a lack of coordination,” and argues that the gun lobby, led by the National Riffle Association, has fought “to keep it a weak stand-alone agency. It has done so, according to the report, by lobbying Congress to keep ATF ‘underresourced’ and to attach provisions to appropriations bills, limiting its ability to do its job.” The Department of Justice, which oversees both the ATF and the FBI, supports maintaining the ATF as an independent agency.
The General Counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Bob Litt, recently weighed in on a debate surrounding the classified annexes that accompany intelligence appropriations bills, none of which have ever been made public and that Seven Aftergood characterized as “secret law.” Aftergood initially noted that the annexes “legislatively establish programs, allocate resources, impose requirements and prohibitions on executive agencies, and more– all without public notice or accountability.” He notes, however, that the secret intelligence legislation is but “a subset of an even larger problem of secret congressional records that, once classified, remain that way indefinitely.” Litt responded by saying, in short, that, “The schedule of authorized amounts that is contained within the classified annex does have the force of law, but the rest of the classified annex does not.” Aftergood accepted the correction, and applauded Litt for participating in the public dialogue.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified 103 documents recovered from the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 this week. The released documents – which are a small fraction of those recovered – include bin Laden’s reading material, which the ODNI has dubbed “Bin Laden’s Bookshelf,” and an application to join al Qaeda that includes space for the applicant to indicate if they wish to participate in a suicide mission.
The Army’s Delta Force “came away with a treasure trove of materials” after this weekend’s raid to kill the Islamic State’s finance chief in Syria. A spokesperson said the team “left with laptops, phones, documents and, likely, hard drives, DVDs, CDs and SIM cards,” and an initial assessment of the records’ contents is currently underway.
Poland is paying a quarter of a million dollars in reparations to a Palestinian man and a Saudi national, who were charged with orchestrating the 2000 USS Cole bombing and were held at a CIA “black site” prison in the eastern European country where they were tortured by CIA interrogators. Last July the European Court of Human Rights ruled Poland had violated the men’s rights, and required Poland “seek diplomatic guarantees from the United States that the suspects not face the death penalty, a request that Poland sent several weeks ago,” in addition to the reparations. The case has caused tension in part because no US officials have been prosecuted in connection with the CIA’s torture program. The plaintiffs are currently held at Guantanamo.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) announced that Afghanistan’s future “is threatened by the [US] military’s chronically poor intelligence on Afghan security forces and an anemic central government in Kabul that is unable to operate on its own” during a recent speech in Washington. Part of the blame for the US’ poor intelligence on Afghan forces lies with the measurement system the US uses to monitor training successes, which has changed four times in the last decade, making meaningful comparisons virtually impossible. SIGAR also released an audit this Wednesday calling for disciplinary measures against three high-ranking Army officials in relation to waste and mismanagement at Camp Leatherneck.
This week’s #tbt document pick is chosen with the Archive’s recent victory in obtaining David Greenglass’ grand jury testimony in mind, and are the grand jury testimonies of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, which the Archive and historical associations won the release of in 2008. The posting also contains the testimonies of 41 of the 45 witnesses who appeared before the grand jury between August 1950 and March 1951.