DREAMer Files FOIA Suit for Info on His Deportation Same Day DHS Secretary Tells Critics to “Shut Up” and Assume Agency Follows the Law: FRINFORMSUM 4/20/2017
Juan Manuel Montes, 23, was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents 14 years ago and is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; he is also believed to be the first DREAMer deported by the Trump administration. Montes filed a FOIA lawsuit this week for information on his mid-February deportation from Calexico, Calif.; the suit is brought against U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, both Department of Homeland Security components that failed to respond to his initial FOIA requests for information on his deportation.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a crowd at George Washington University on April 18, the same day Montes filed suit, that critics of the department’s tactics should “shut up” and assume the agency is following the law. The comment was not related to the Montes case. Kelly also said that “criticism of the agency’s work is often misguided and based on inaccurate reporting.”
Trumped Up Secrecy Charges
“This is a White House lie,” said National Security Archive director Tom Blanton of the White House’s recent decision to no longer disclose the routine visitor logs maintained by the Secret Service and published online by the Obama administration since 2009, claiming national security and privacy risks. Blanton went on to counter the White House’s claims, “There is no national security risk to releasing the visitor logs; we have seven years of nearly 6 million Obama visitors that prove no problem. Privacy was protected there too. What’s really going on is the swamp suits Donald Trump just fine.”
Anticipating the Trump administration’s move, the National Security Archive and its senior analyst Kate Doyle joined with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and CREW, the watchdog group that first sued Presidents George W. Bush and Obama for copies of the visitor logs, in a new FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, parent agency of the Secret Service, to open the Trump logs – including at Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.
Everything you need to know about the suit and the history of access to the White House visitor logs can be found here.
Iran FRUS Hidden
The State Department has indefinitely postponed the publication of its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume on the 1953 Iran Coup, a coup in which the CIA participated and a long-delayed publication that had, in recent years, looked like it might finally come to fruition. (For a thorough treatment of the CIA’s role in the coup and the State Department’s 1989 iteration of the Iran FRUS that omitted any such involvement, sparking an outcry and 1992 legislation that required the FRUS be accurate and reliable, read this posting by the National Security Archive’s Iran expert, Malcolm Byrne.) The State Department Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) noted in its annual report that it was “severely disappointed” by the Department’s decision, which was based on a political environment it deemed “too sensitive.” Nate Jones reported in March, during HAC’s March 7 public session, that HAC and undersecretaries backing their position fought “until the final day” of the Obama administration arguing for the volume’s release, but were rebuffed “at the highest levels.”
Steve Aftergood notes that the State Department made this decision despite recent declassifications on US involvement in the coup – including by the CIA itself in 2013. This is likely one of the reasons that the HAC report, after noting several bright spots in the FRUS publications – like the first on-time FRUS publication in the last 20 years , concluded that “the declassification environment is discouraging.”
Classified Directives Listings Disappear from DOD and JCS Websites
FOIA requesters who relied on lists of classified directives published by both the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to know what documents to file FOIA requests for may now be out of luck. In a transparency backslide, both the DOD and JCS websites no longer publish lists of classified directives and instructions, making it impossible to know what to FOIA. The National Security Archive’s Jeff Richelson is one of many scholars who used these lists to file FOIA requests for historically significant documents. Check here for a sampling of fist pages of classified directives that Dr. Richelson knew existed – and was then able to FOIA – because of their listing on the DOD Issuances page.
Microsoft Publishes First National Security Letter from FBI
Microsoft has released its biannual transparency report covering the first half of 2016, for the first time publishing one of the national security letters it received – a surveillance order from the FBI seeking information on one of the company’s customers that are largely hidden by strict gag orders. The report also notes that the technology company received “at least a thousand surveillance requests” from the government during the first half of the year, which “was more than double what the company said it received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the preceding six-month interval.”
OGIS Advisory Opinions Would Help Clarify Acceptable FOIA Practices
The National Security Archive’s FOIA project director, Nate Jones, submitted comments on the Office of Government Information Services’ (OGIS) reviews and reports in anticipation of OGIS’s public meeting this morning, April 20. Jones expresses the National Security Archive’s hope that the office will continue to expand its legal requirement to “identify procedures and methods for improving [FOIA] compliance” by issuing advisory opinion, which it has yet to do in its 9-year existence and would help clarify what are acceptable FOIA practices.
Today at the FOIA Advisory Committee meeting the committee members will be discussing the results of the National Security Archive and the Project on Government Oversight’s FOIA search survey, which found that much of the poor search situation FOIA shops find themselves in today is due to the fact that their agencies bought software that “does not play well” with FOIA.
Is ISCAP a Victim of Its Success?
The Archive’s Bill Burr asks in a recent blog if the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) success rate for regularly overturns agency classification decisions may be diminishing its effectiveness – in the form of an ever-growing backlog that means it can take the panel years to process an MDR appeal. Burr notes, “It does not appear that ISCAP has been able to use its authority to create an effective feedback mechanism. Admittedly, the Executive Order’s language ‘shall consider’ does not give ISCAP much clout with the agencies and an effective feedback mechanism would require more demanding language, such as ‘must consider,’ or requiring the agencies to revise instructions and manuals in light of ISCAP decisions…But from long-standing patterns of denials at agencies such as the CIA and the Defense Department, it is hard to tell whether ISCAP decisions have had an impact. At some agencies, over-classification remains endemic.”
The solution remains elusive, but “Whatever happens, ISCAP and ISOO should make even greater efforts to ensure that ISCAP decisions have an impact across the bureaucracy. ”
Reps. Want Info on Rapid Spread of North Korea Cyber Attacks from Treasury
Representatives Robin Kelly and James Himes recently wrote Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in so doing providing additional information on the Lazarus group, a hacking operation linked to the North Korean regime that has targeted banks in 18 different countries. The group successfully stole $81 million from the Bangladeshi Central Bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year. The Members of Congress note, “these high profile attacks are symptomatic of a shift in North Korean hacking strategy from destroying systems to directly acquiring funds…For rogue states like North Korea, we are concerned that these attacks will help fund missile tests and the development of nuclear weapons.” The lawmakers conclude their letter requesting a briefing from the Treasury Secretary on the department’s efforts to counter these threats.
TBT Pick – CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup
This week’s TBT pick is chosen with the recent State Department FRUS decision in mind and is a 2013 posting on the CIA’s first confirmation of its role in the 1953 Iran coup. The posting features newly declassified CIA documents on the United States’ role in the controversial operation; “The explicit reference to the CIA’s role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s.”
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