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Trump Visitor Logs FOIA Lawsuit: FRINFORMSUM 4/13/2017

April 13, 2017

Trump Visitor Logs Lawsuit

The National Security Archive, together with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for the release of the White House visitor logs this week in the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit seeks only the same data that was routinely published by the Obama administration for seven years without incident.

As the Washington Post reports, “Since President Trump took office in January, the website where such records had been publicly available has gone dark, and White House officials will say only that the policy is under review, making no assurances that they will operate with the same openness.”

The Archive suit seeks to establish that the visitor logs are agency records subject to the FOIA. “President Obama routinely released the data we’re seeking with no damage to presidential privilege,” said the National Security Archive’s Director Tom Blanton, “and this information is central to the Secret Service mission and thus clearly agency records subject to FOIA.”

Visit the National Security Archive’s website for everything you need to know about the suit.

Able Archer Could Have Started a Nuclear War with Russia in 1983

The National Security Archive’s Nate Jones teamed up with author and New America fellow J. Peter Scoblic for Slate’s cover story, “The World Almost Ended One Week in 1983,” about the NATO war game – Able Archer 83 – that could have led to nuclear war though miscalculation. How “the world survived the second week of November 1983” is in large part due to the restraint of the Air Force’s Leonard Perroots who, on the eve of retirement, “wrote a letter recalling the danger he experienced during Able Archer 83 and outlining his disquiet that the U.S. intelligence community did not give adequate credence to the possibility that the United States and Soviet Union came unacceptably close to nuclear war during Able Archer 83. He sent this letter to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which was shocked into action.” As the authors note, “For decades, the U.S. government kept whole chapters of this near-catastrophe secret, but the lessons of that fraught autumn are finally coming into focus. And not a moment too soon.”

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by DOD/National Security Archive and TASS via Getty Images.

DOJ Won’t Release Resignation Letters of US Attorneys Ousted by Trump Administration

The Burlington Free Press reports that the Justice Department is refusing to release the resignation letters of the U.S. attorneys who “left their posts at the request of the Trump administration.” The letters are being withheld pursuant to the FOIA’s personal privacy exemption, and, according to the Justice Department, none of the information is appropriate for discretionary release. Former Justice Department lawyer Allan Blutstein said the DOJ denial letter and the speed with which it was sent, “less than 10 days after receiving the request — suggest department staff conducted no search for responsive records and relied instead on the belief that all the resignation letters are exempt from disclosure.”

Big Day in Open Government Coming Up on April 20

OGIS Public Meeting The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) will host its first public meeting at 9 AM, also on April 20 and in NARA’s McGowan Theater. The meeting is required by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and will allow the public a chance to ask questions and present oral or written statements. Register here.

FOIA Federal Advisory Committee Meeting The FOIA Advisory Committee’s next meeting will take place on April 20 at 10 AM at the National Archive’s McGowan Theater (postings on the most recent meetings can be found here and here). A representative from the Justice Department will be presenting on using e-discovery software for FOIA searches – the most efficient and cost-effective tools for conducting FOIA searches. Register here.

“Risk Avoidance” Leads to Overclassification

New guidance from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence instructs officials not to aim for perfect security when deciding whether to classify national security information. Steve Aftergood published the new guidance, which states, “A Risk Avoidance strategy — eliminating risk entirely — is not an acceptable basis for agency [classification] guides because it encourages over-classification, restricts information sharing, [and] hinders the optimal use of intelligence information in support of national security and foreign policy goals.” However, Aftergood notes that the “risk management construct is not as helpful as one would wish. That is because its proponents, including the Joint Security Commission and the authors of the new ODNI document, typically stop short of providing concrete examples of information that risk avoiders would classify but that risk managers would permit to be disclosed.”

Presidents Ford and Park making toasts at the state dinner during Ford’s visit to South Korea, November 1974.

Stopping Korea from Going Nuclear, Part II

The Ford administration had to use a combination of approaches to keep South Korea’s Park dictatorship from going forward with a suspected nuclear weapons program in the mid-1970s, according to documents posted this week by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project.

The U.S. effort required strong bilateral political pressure, along with Canadian and French government collaboration, to stop Seoul from quietly acquiring a reprocessing plant that could have been used to produce weapons grade plutonium. Even Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who initially may have doubted whether Seoul had a weapons program in mind, praised the outcome, agreeing with Canadian Foreign Minister Alan MacEachen that the allies had delivered a “knockout blow” against the South Korean nuclear plans.

Documents published in the new posting include:

  • A message drafted in early 1975 by CIA officer Richard Lawless indicating that new evidence about South Korea’s commitment to acquiring a reprocessing facility demonstrated that “something is clearly afoot.” Lawless played a key role in detecting the secret South Korean nuclear program.
  • Ambassador Sneider’s report of his meeting in September 1975 with Deputy Prime Minister Nam who said that President Park did not yet know about the extent of U.S. objections to the reprocessing deal and that Nam would meet with senior officials to discuss how to tell Park the bad news.
  • State Department plans to persuade the French and Canadian governments to add to the pressure on Seoul to cancel the reprocessing contract. Deputy Secretary of State Robert S. Ingersoll would ask the Canadian embassy to consider the “leverage Canada might effectively bring to bear in the nuclear area, for example, with regard to nuclear reactor sales or credits.”

Find Part 1 here.

How Are States Preparing to Meet Cyber Challenges?

A National Governor’s Association memo from December 2016 identifies commonalities and differences among 32 plans, produced by 26 states, for addressing cybersecurity incidents. The memo instructs states to create a centralized state-wide cybersecurity authority that “allows that leader to tailor employee cyber hygiene programs, recommend key legislation, foster important relationships and recognize the specific workforce needs of the state. As a result, that cyber leader will have the tools in place to adequately prepare for an event, and have the human capital and relationships in place to adequately respond to a significant cyber event.”

The document is one of 11 new additions to the Archive’s Cyber Vault.

TBT Pick – President Reagan, General Zia, Nazir Ahmed Vaid, and Seymour Hersh

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2015 posting from the Nuclear Vault on the US and the Pakistani bomb, 1984-1985. Declassified documents published by the Archive for the first time portray State Department officials on the defensive in their discussions with journalist Seymour Hersh over his article on Pakistani national Nazir Ahmed Vaid, who had been convicted of violating export control laws for trying to purchase krytrons and smuggle them out of the US. Declassified State Department documents also show internal debate over whether to enforce “red lines” for nuclear activities in Pakistan and worries about an Indian pre-emptive strike.

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Happy FOIA-ing!

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