Declassified Dirty War Documents, PDBs from Nixon and Ford Administrations to be Released, and More: FRINFORMSUM 8/11/2016
The Obama Administration this week released what it called “the first tranche” of declassified documents on America’s role in Argentina’s Dirty War, fulfilling promises made by President Obama when he visited Buenos Aires earlier this year during the 40th anniversary of the military coup.
The release marks the first installment of thousands of CIA, NSC, Defense Department and FBI documents that are currently being gathered and reviewed as part of President Obama’s executive declassification project on Argentina. Another release of records is expected before Obama leaves office, with additional “tranches” of the most sensitive records to be released under the next administration. (During the last year of the Clinton administration in 2000, the State Department initiated a special declassification on Argentina which resulted in the release of 4,200 State Department records during the first year of the George W. Bush administration.)
The National Security Archive, which has worked on previous executive declassification projects, hailed the publication of records related to Argentina. Carlos Osorio, who directs the Archive’s Southern Cone project, told the Washington Post that “This release marks an important step forward in the quest for truth, justice and historical accountability.” Osorio also told the Buenos Aires Herald that, with this publication, “the United States government is proactively contributing to the reconstruction of memory and history.” The Obama administration, according to senior analyst Peter Kornbluh, “deserves credit for this act of declassified diplomacy and for making the declassification of secret government records a creative component of U.S. policy to advance human rights.”
This week the CIA announced that it will be releasing the President’s Daily Briefs from the Nixon and Ford administrations. An agency press release states, “Previously classified President’s Daily Briefings (PDB) from the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford Administrations produced by the CIA are scheduled to be released on Wednesday, August 24 at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.” PDBs are Top Secret documents containing the most current and significant intelligence information that the CIA believes that the President needs to know, and are records that CIA Director George Tenet once claimed could never be released for publication “no matter how old or historically significant it may be,” and that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer described as “the most highly sensitized classified document in the government.” The documents will be posted online here.
A Dallas woman, Malia Litman, filed 89 FOIA requests to learn more about the Secret Service after news of sexual scandals at the agency broke several years ago. (The Secret Service has been plagued by a variety of scandals recently, including posting dozens of officers to sensitive assignments without security clearances, members of the Secret Service’s elite Prowler unit being ordered by the agency director to abandon their post to watch his personal friend for two months in 2011, and leaking embarrassing information about Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s rejection from a job with the Service after he rebuked the agency for its repeated failures.) Litman’s FOIAs uncovered a number of revelations, including “A culture of ‘wheels up; rings off’” and multiple incidents of agents engaging with prostitutes. Most notable about this case, however, is not the indiscretions uncovered, but U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings’ ruling that Litman was not entitled to attorney’s fees because she did not show “that her pursuit of records involves a legitimate public benefit.” Cummings cited as precedent another FOIA case that ruled “that generally increasing public knowledge about the government is not a legitimate public benefit.”
The National Reconnaissance Office recently redacted information from a FOIA request that was previously released four years ago. In response to a FOIA request filed by Gizmodo’s Matt Novak with the NRO for “a bibliography of history papers,” the agency invoked the national security exemption, the personal privacy exemption, and the exemption pertaining to other statutes to fully redact the title of one 1998 paper – even though it had released the full title to Government Attic in 2012 – a paper that Government Attic posted online. The title? “Synchronous SIGINT Satellite Operations, A Continuing History.” Novak concludes that “the scariest hypothetical isn’t that they’re trying to retroactively hide information. It’s that they’re probably winging it.”
Recently released emails show that Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s State Department chief of staff, knew in December 2012 that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a FOIA request seeking all email accounts used by Secretary Clinton. The State Department gave a “no records” response to the request. Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes that “The incident is noteworthy because had the agency’s response been more thorough, Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server as secretary of state could have been exposed years before it became public in March 2015.”
The D.C. Circuit ruled that the FBI must release more documents to Jeffrey Labow, a man the bureau “identified as an anarchist extremist” in the course of its investigation into the 2008 vandalism of Washington, D.C.’s Four Seasons hotel during anarchist’s protest of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Labow filed a FOIA request from the Bureau for records on himself and the Bureau responded that it had no records (this “no records” response is unsurprising considering the Bureaus’ FOIA search is designed to fail – more on that here). Labow sued, and the Bureau uncovered hundreds of pages of documents, many of which it withheld incorrectly under the FOIA’s exemption 3 (information protected by other statutes). Exemption 3 was primarily used in this case to “withhold information associated with a pen register order, a device for monitoring the phone numbers dialed on a telephone line,” but the Court ruled that “Exemption 3 of FOIA, as regards the Pen Register Act, primarily authorizes the government to withhold a responsive pen register order itself, not all information that may be contained in or associated with a pen register order.”
D.C. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg recently criticized the FBI’s national security letters (our take on the NSL’s here). Specifically, Boasberg faulted “several large loopholes” in the “new rules regarding how long the government can demand secrecy from companies when it requests data on national security cases.” Some of the loopholes Boasberg cited include various circumstances that would allow the NSLs to remain open indefinitely and the lack of review for “large swaths” of issued NSLs. Boasberg is the first judge to publicly assess the new gag-order rules mandated by the USA Freedom Act of 2015.
Earlier this month the FBI placed 18 hours of video surveillance taken during the Freddie Gray protests online in its FOIA vault. The action preceded a blistering Justice Department report faulting the Baltimore police department, which the DOJ says “regularly discriminated against black residents in poorer communities.” Kudos to the FBI not only for releasing this timely information, but for making it available to all on its FOIA site.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently posted an October 2009 report on “North Korea Centrifuge Capabilities” to its FOIA reading room. The Archive’s Cyber Vault director, Dr. Jeffrey Richelson, said the release of this heavily-redacted 124-page report was notable for the or the extent of DOE reclassification and the use of FOIA’s Exemption 3 to redact U/FOUO material.
This week’s #tbt pick is a 2009 posting on Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala. The posting details how internal records presented as evidence to the Spanish National Court showed that “the Guatemalan army, under the direction of military ruler Efraín Ríos Montt, carried out a deliberate counterinsurgency campaign in the summer of 1982 aimed at massacring thousands of indigenous peasants.” The National Security Archive’s Kate Doyle presented the documentation as evidence in the international genocide case; Ríos Montt was convicted in 2013 of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison.
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