Inspectors General Council Fights Back Against OLC Opinion Substantially Curtailing DOJ-IG Authority, CIA Six Months Without IG, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 8/6/2015
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency have sent a letter to Congress asking it to pass legislation affirming “the independent authority of Inspectors General to access without delay all information and data in an agency’s possession that an Inspector General deems necessary to execute its oversight functions under the law.” The letter was sent in response to a July 20, 2015, Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that requires the DOJ-IG to seek permission to review documents pertinent to an investigation, even going so far as to state that “the Department of Justice itself decides whether access by the DOJ-IG is warranted – placing the agency that the DOJ-IG oversees in the position of deciding whether to grant the Inspector General access to information necessary to conduct effective and independent oversight.” The IG Council views this as a potentially serious challenge to every agency IG, and a possible roadblock for IGs “to get permission to review sensitive documents from the very agencies they are monitoring.”
The CIA’s beleaguered inspector general, David Buckley, resigned six months ago, and the Obama administration is facing criticism for not yet nominating a replacement – delaying sensitive internal investigations, like the one into the drone strike that killed Warren Weinstein, an American hostage being held by Al Qaeda in Pakistan, in the process. In February Buckley released his report finding that five CIA officials improperly monitored Senate Intelligence Committee staff working on the CIA Torture Report; while his report admonished the involved officials, the agency opted not to punish them. A CIA panel handpicked by Director John Brennan, “in what was widely seen as an embarrassing rebuke to Buckley,” went so far as to clear the officials of any wrongdoing, concluding that the officials had acted reasonably in the face of a potential security breach. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to President Obama in June asking him to nominate Buckley’s replacement, but the White House has yet to suggest one. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists called the move “discouraging,” and the Project on Government Oversight’s Danielle Brian said “It’s clear to me it’s not a priority of this administration to have strong inspectors general.”
A FOIA lawsuit brought by the New York Times has won the declassification and release of documents on the Protect America Act, filling in gaps on the evolution of post-9/11 warrantless surveillance. The Protect America Act, the predecessor to the FISA Amendments Act, was passed in August 2007 and permitted warrantless surveillance on domestic soil provided “the target was a foreigner abroad. The law permitted the NSA to immediately begin using its power, even before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved its procedures.” The documents are from 2007 and 2008 and “Some are entirely new to the public, and some were previously released but have now been reprocessed to see if additional information could be left unredacted.”
FOIA-obtained records played a big role in showing that the Air Force gave Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is currently campaigning for president on the assertion he’s a “battle-tested leader” with “a lifetime of military service”, special treatment “with few expectations in return.” The Air Force promoted Graham twice during his first decade in Congress “even though documents in his military personnel file reveal that he did little or no work. Later, the Pentagon gave the military lawyer a job assignment in the Air Force Reserve that he highlighted in his biography for several years but never performed.” Graham received credit for performing an average of a day and a half of work a year with the Air Force between 1995 and 2005. Graham is often cited for his work between 2006 and 2015 as a senior instructor at the Judge Advocate General’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala, although “Air Force officials said they had no record of Graham teaching any courses on behalf of the school or even visiting it during that period.”
The Air Force’s new instructions on Media Operations clarifies that employees are not to use force against journalists who do not obey instructions regarding classified information, and “generally favors constructive engagement with the news media, both on principle and out of self-interest.” The instructions outline crisis communications in addition to media operations, and emphasizes that “the primary responsibility for protecting classified information lies with the Air Force, not the reporter.”
The Guardian recently published an in-depth expose based on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s research on contractors “working in the processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of intelligence” for military drone strikes. The information, gleaned from interviews, the FOIA, and public sources, notes that about one in ten drone controllers is a contractor, posing potentially troubling implications for transparency. Contractors are not supposed to perform inherently governmental tasks, and the Air Force maintains that it keeps “contractors out of sensitive, decision-making positions.” George Washington University law school’s Laura Dickinson notes, “It’s not that these contractors are necessarily doing a bad job, it’s that our legal system of oversight isn’t necessarily well equipped to deal with this fragmented workforce where you have contractors working alongside uniformed troops.”
Last week Archive Director Tom Blanton penned a memorable op-ed in the Washington Post, pushing back against dubious secrets and securocrats’ efforts to use Hillary Clinton’s emails to stem transparency by requesting the DOJ open a security referral into their handling. Blanton, arguing compellingly that America misguidedly classifies too much information, said, “The word is the Cold War is over, yet Cold War secrecy rules still control the government’s information systems.” Blanton further noted that the “best defense of an open society is open information. We are not safer in the dark.” Despite the potential “egregious waste of time and money” involved in re-reviewing documents that were not sensitive enough to warrant classification when they originated, this week it was reported that the FBI – a DOJ component – was already looking into the security of Clinton’s emails, her server, and a thumb drive in her lawyer’s possession that holds copies of the files.
Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet refused to accept a police report identifying his military was responsible for burning two teenage protesters -Rodrigo Rojas de Negri and Carmen Gloria Quintana- alive in July 1986, according to declassified US documents recently posted by the Archive. One heavily censored CIA intelligence report highlighted in the posting, titled “Government of Chile Pressure to Drop Investigation and Prosecution of Rojas Case,” shows that regime officials intimidated judges and lawyers and intervened to stall legal efforts in the courts to bring those responsible to justice.
The Archive’s definitive collection of primary source documents about the dropping of the atomic bomb at the end of WWII has been updated to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings. New documents reveal, among other things, that a few months after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, General Dwight D. Eisenhower commented that, “he had hoped that the war might have ended without our having to use the atomic bomb.” See this document and read the whole posting here.
Today’s #tbt pick is chosen with the Archive’s recent receipt of 900 declassified Henry Kissinger telephone calls – telcons –, the result of a FOIA lawsuit filed earlier this year. Today’s #tbt document pick is a September 16, 1973, telcon recording a conversation between Kissinger and President Nixon. Highlighted in a 2008 posting by Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh, the document recounts their “first substantive conversation following the military coup in Chile…When Nixon asks if the U.S. ‘hand’ will show in the coup, Kissinger admits ‘we helped them’ and that ‘[deleted reference] created conditions as great as possible.’ The two commiserate over what Kissinger calls the ‘bleating’ liberal press. In the Eisenhower period, he states, ‘we would be heroes.’ Nixon assures him that the people will appreciate what they did: ‘let me say they aren’t going to buy this crap from the liberals on this one.’”