Scottish FOI Release on Dealings with Trump Golf Course, NARA Guidance on Presidential Records, and More: FRINFORMSUM 2/16/2017
Scottish police have released 49 documents in response to FOI requests on “its dealings with Trump International Golf Links Scotland (TIGLS) since 2009.” The Ferret reported that the FOI documents show concerns with private security hired by Trump and worry “that the Trump organisation failed to understand Scotland’s land reform law giving the public the right to roam across golf courses.” According to one email, the police note that the Trump organization’s “belief is that the land is private and that they will be able to restrict access unconditionally. This is obviously not the case and this is a potential area of conflict that will need to be managed diplomatically.”
NARA Releases Guidance on Presidential Records
The U.S. National Archives recently released its guidance on presidential records. The 16-page manual lays out which offices the Presidential Records Act applies to (including but not limited to the White House Office, the Office of the Vice President, the National Security Council, and the Office of Administration), what the requirements are, and reminds readers that, “The PRA states that the incumbent President must obtain the views in writing of the Archivist before disposing of any Presidential records.” NARA lays out a few key steps the administration should take to ensure the effective implementation of the PRA, including providing a briefing for staff, involving NARA at the “design stage of electronic records systems,” and establishing separate files for personal records. The guidance also contains a useful guide on how the PRA intersects with FOIA:
We Could Lose 200 Million in Nuclear War and Still be OK, According to Air Force Official
The Air Force chief of staff told the Joint Chiefs at a September 1971 meeting that in a nuclear war the United States “could lose two hundred million people and still have more than we had at the time of the Civil War.” The quote – and very questionable math – comes from a recently declassified diary entry by JCS Chairman Thomas Moorer, recently published for the first time by the National Security Archive.
The notes are not only an eye-opening acknowledgement of certain senior military attitudes about nuclear survivability in the early 1970s, but are part of a critically important discovery – the existence among Admiral Moorer’s files of at least a partial record of JCS meetings that were thought to have been lost after the Chiefs in the late 1970s destroyed their entire collection of minutes going back to 1947.
Take Our FOIA Search Survey
The National Security Archive and the Project on Government Oversight are distributing an unofficial survey for both FOIA processors and FOIA requesters on how agencies conduct searches. The goal of the survey will be to collect data on disparate agency search methods and software – and the more people who fill it out, the more useful the collected data will be.
Please take 10-15 minutes to fill out the survey and help us circulate it as widely as possible.
Senator Wyden Urges FBI to Reinstate FOIA Email
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) recently wrote FBI FOIA head David Hardy and urged his agency to continue accepting FOIA requests submitted by email. The FBI recently and abruptly announced they will stop accepting FOIA requests via email by March 1, stating that requesters wanting to file electronic requests should use the beta version of its FOIA portal, which will “significantly reduce paper costs, mailing costs, and response times associated with FOIPA records requests.”
There are numerous problems with the FOIA portal, however. Wyden notes, among other things, that the portal places an arbitrary 3,000-character limit on requests, and the language is ambiguous about “whether the online FOIA system can be used to request internal FBI communications, such as memos, emails, guidance, or a wide range of other important internal agency records.” The portal also requires a requester to indicate whether or not they are in the U.S. – even though U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike can use FOIA and submit requests regardless of their location. Wyden also asks Hardy to explain why the bureau decided to develop its own portal rather than opt into FOIAonline, and argues that the change creates more work for both FOIA requesters and FBI staff.
Backlog Numbers Not Improving
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the only cabinet level agency that was able to meet President Obama’s 2009 instruction to reduce FOIA backlogs by 10 percent per year. Out of the 15 federal departments surveyed by the National Security Archive, HHS reduced its backlog by 12.7 percent per year. The average for all federal departments was an 8.21 percent increase. The departments of Homeland Security, State, and Housing and Urban Development are some of the worst offenders, with an average increase of nearly 30 percent per year. Take an in-depth look at the numbers here.
The National Security Archive’s FOIA project director and Able Archer 83 expert, Nate Jones, recently wrote a blog about the death of Air Force lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Leonard H. Perroots. Jones first became familiar with Perroots while reading the declassified President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board report on Able Archer 83 and the 1983 War Scare. According to the report, which Jones won the release of in 2015, NATO nuclear exercise Able Archer 83 so closely represented a nuclear launch that the USSR began readying its nuclear forces for a possible first strike, and the United States “may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger.”
Jones notes that “Before Perroots retired from the DIA in 1989, he sent a final letter stating his disquiet over the lack of treatment given to the War Scare.” Unfortunately, Jones was informed by the DIA – on the same day Perroots’ death was reported – that the agency could not find its copy of Perroot’s letter about his role during Able Archer 83 and his view of the danger.
Want to learn more about Able Archer? Check out Jones’ discussion of the war scare and his new book on C-SPAN.
The New York Times’ obituary on Perroots can be found here.
When U.S. Intel had a Handle on Soviet Cyber Capabilities
A 1973 CIA study found that the Soviet RYAD computer program was “in serious trouble” and in need of allied and Western assistance. The report concluded that, even in the event the program became fully effective, it would probably “keep the Soviet computer industry technologically inferior to those in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.” The document also includes some interesting tables on the technical specifications of selected RYAD computers, other Soviet computers, and USSR facilities for RYAD production.
This document is one of 11 new additions posted in the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault on Wednesday, February 15.
Sources and Methods
The Wilson Center has just launched a new blog, Sources and Methods, “that showcases fresh archival evidence and presents new insights into contemporary international history.” Christian Ostermann writes, “The short, accessible, and engaging content on Sources and Methods will include:
● Archival highlights and commentaries on documents recently added to DigitalArchive.org,
● History ‘explainers‘ and commentaries which bridge the past and present,
● Field reports from archives and libraries,
● Teasers for new books and other major publications in international history,
● Debates among multiple parties on historically-relevant topics,
● Information on new, unique, or under-utilized resources.”
TBT Pick – When GOP Presidents Led the Climate Change Debate
Today’s #tbt pick is a 2015 posting from our Environmental Diplomacy project on how Republican presidents Reagan and Bush (41) actively promoted measures to combat climate change. The post notes that “Both presidents’ secretaries of state, George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III, played key roles in blocking efforts by other Cabinet secretaries to frustrate implementation of more environmentally friendly policies. For example, memos for senior State Department officials in today’s posting note that ‘Global climate change is the most far reaching environmental issue of our time’ and that notwithstanding the need for continued research, ‘We simply cannot wait – the costs of inaction will be too high.’”
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