DHS IG Orders Preservation of Docs on Implementation of Immigration EO: FRINFORMSUM 2/2/2017
The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, heeding requests from Illinois senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, will investigate the department’s implementation of Donald Trump’s “executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim majority countries.” An internal document obtained by The Intercept also shows that the IG has ordered all employees to “preserve any document that contains information that is potentially relevant to OIG’s investigation, or that might reasonably lead to the discovery of relevant information relating to the implementation of this Executive Order. For the duration of this hold, any relevant information that is within your possession or control must be preserved in the exact form as it currently exists.”
Senators Duckworth and Durbin also asked the DHS IG whether Customs and Border Protection officers complied with court orders mandating a nationwide stay of the EO, and whether officers “kept a list of individuals that they detained at ports of entry.”
Trump Transition Team Email Implies Desire to Replace IG’s Government-wide
A January 13 email from the Trump transition team’s Katie Giblin, obtained by the House Oversight Committee, shows a move by the new administration to replace inspectors general across the government. The email guides “all transition team leaders to ‘reach out tonight and inform’ the inspectors general in their agencies ‘that they are being held over on a temporary basis.’”
There are currently 73 inspectors general across the government, entrusted to audit and investigate their departments and report to both Congress and agency heads. The Washington Post notes that half of these positions are appointed by agency chiefs, the other half by the president; there are currently nine vacancies.
The letter caused concern because Inspector General reports are a critical part of ensuring effective oversight and accountability, and to perform their roles IGs must be politically independent.
Recent examples of IG reports include:
- A December 2016 Defense Department Inspector General report on cybersecurity weaknesses. The IG found “that, despite a commitment of more than $34 billion over the next five years, the DOD ‘continues to struggle with ensuring that all aspects of its information security program are adequately implemented.’”
- An October 2016 State Department Inspector General report on classification activity found that a report from the Information Security Oversight Office on a drop in original classification decisions was “inaccurate and incorrect.”
- An October 2016 Justice Department inspector general report faulted the Drug Enforcement Administration for misappropriating millions in payments to confidential sources without appropriate oversight – including paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to one AMTRAK employee “for information that was available at no cost to the government.”
House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz said the White House’s general counsel “told him the phone calls to inspectors general were a ‘mistake’ and the work of a ‘junior person.’ The inspectors general were later told to disregard the initial calls.”
DOD IG Finds “Perception” of Intel Distortion, not Actual Distortion
The Defense Department Inspector General, investigating accusations that CENTCOM “regularly produced intelligence that distorted the results of the campaign against the Islamic State, suggesting that command leaders shaped analysis in a way that resulted in a more upbeat depiction of the war,” found no systemic attempt to distort intelligence. Rather, the IG found “a strong perception of such distortion” caused by, among other things, a frantic work pace and lack of communication between senior leadership and analysts.
FBI Broadens Legal Arguments for Withholding iPhone Hacking Information
The FBI has broadened its arguments for withholding information on how it unlocked an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters in a FOIA suit brought by the Associated Press. Last month the Justice Department, the bureau’s parent agency, released heavily redacted documents as part of the ongoing suit, but in new legal filings defending the remainder of the redactions, the bureau is now asserting “that national security was at risk and that the records were entirely exempt from disclosure under the law.” Some of the records in question concern how much the bureau paid an unidentified third party to unlock the phone.
Spike in FOIA Requests and Federal Hiring Freeze a Headache for FOIA Offices
FOIA offices are feeling squeezed by the spike in FOIA requests submitted since the November election combined with the Trump administration’s federal hiring freeze. Federal News Radio’s Meredith Somers recently reported that there is an upside to the surge in requests – good FOIA officers following the “rule of three” and posting frequently requested information. Even better? FOIA offices proactively posting documents likely to be the subject of future FOIA requests.
Collaborative Approach to FOIA and Donald Trump
3,000 people have signed up for MuckRock’s Slack channel as of Monday to learn how to most effectively use FOIA to cover Donald Trump. The channel, launched the week after Trump won the election, “works to help build [FOIA] requests, workshop ideas, ask questions and share results.” More information on the channel, as well as other collaborative efforts to cover the new administration, can be found here.
CJR Analyzes 33,000 FOIA Requests to Try and Identify What Works Best
The Columbia Journalism Review recently announced the results of its efforts to systemically analyze 33,000 FOIA requests to determine what characteristics were shared by successful FOIA requests (defined as records release in full). The study, which focuses on five agencies currently using FOIAonline and requires further unpacking, does hammer home one very important point: know the records systems and organizational structure as well as you can for whichever agency you are filing a request with. In most instances, FOIA officers are not subject matter experts, and the more a requester can help the FOIA officer find the records sought, the better the response to the request will be. Practically speaking, one of the easiest ways to do this is to examine an agency’s organizational chart and ask FOIA officers to include the most likely responsive offices in their search.
The FOIA We File Immediately
Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for Supreme Court justice prompted open government advocates to dig for evidence of any of Gorsuch’s past FOIA rulings. There appear to be none.
Journalist Ken Klipperstein did, however, track down Gorsuch’s Columbia yearbook photo where his chosen quote is Henry Kissinger saying, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” This was a favorite phrase for Kissinger, but who explained in 1975 in conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Melih Esenbel, that “since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”
MuckRock recently posted a gem from the CIA’s newly-electronically available CREST database (the 13-million page database of already declassified document was, until this year, only available onsite at the National Archive’s College Park location in Maryland). It is a head-scratchingly redacted 1981 letter “to an unidentified Ambassador from former CIA Director William Casey, thanking him for the surprise gift of two cases of beer.” What kind of beer? The brand, while identified as being delicious, is redacted. The CIA applied 25X1 as a reason for the exemption, an exemption intended to protect confidential human sources and prevent the degradation of an intelligence method.
Intelligence Community Directive Number 500
A 2008 Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Intelligence Community Directive outlines the authorities and responsibilities of the IC’s Chief Information Officer – including permitting “the DNI to protect intelligence sources and methods while maximizing the dissemination of intelligence.” This unclassified document is one of 11 new additions published in the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault on Wednesday, February 1.
TBT Pick – The Nixon Administration, the SIOP, and the Search for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969-1974
This week’s TBT pick is a 2005 posting of declassified documents on nuclear war planning during the Nixon years. The posting of 26 declassified documents analyzes the Nixon administration, the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP), and the search for limited nuclear options from 1969-1974.
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