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ICE FOIA Library Still Down: FRINFORMSUM 10/12/2017

October 12, 2017

ICE FOIA Library Still Down

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement took down its FOIA library on October 3 “for review” – and has yet to reactivate the site. MuckRock’s Emma Best drew attention to the issue, which is important not only because the library houses, among other things, the agency’s FOIA reports that ICE is required to make public under the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996. The scenario where any legitimate review would require the site being taken entirely offline – much less for well over a week –, is hard to fathom. Hopefully Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who sponsored the bipartisan 1996 bill, and Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), can get to the bottom of why the agency is not complying with the 20-year-old E-FOIA amendments.

Keen Reporting Gets Broad CBP FOIA Carve-Out Removed from House Border Bill, but Bill Still Bears Watching

U.S. Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ) pulled a provision from border bill making its way through the House (H.R. 3548) -that would have exempted Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from FOIA requirements within 100 miles of the border- but only after reporting from the Tucson Sentinel shed light on a move that would have allowed the agency to “operate nearly as secret police, without any public accountability.” McSally, after the story broke, “said during a House hearing Tuesday that providing a loophole from public disclosure laws was ‘not the intent of this bill,’ and offered an amendment to clarify that ‘nothing in that section of this act will allowing waiving of FOIA responsibilities.’” Her amendment to remove the carve-out was unanimously approved in committee during a markup session the day after the Sentinel’s initial report.

No explanation was provided about the carve-out’s initial inclusion in the bill.

Interior Department Brainstorms Ways to Weaken FOIA – Among Other Bad Ideas

Notes from a closed Interior Department meeting hosted by the Bureau of Land Management on September 21 and attended by local government officials show a wide-ranging effort to weaken environmental laws – and the agency’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The notes were provided to The Washington Post by a group that obtained the call-in information but was not on the invitation list. According to the Post, “They talked about working around environmental analyses that determine whether infrastructure projects harm ecosystems, about stripping conservation groups of the power to sue the BLM if it wrongly approves a project and about limiting the number of federal Freedom of Information Act requests that allow the public to scrutinize how decisions were made.” Any effort to restrict the public’s ability to file FOIA requests – or to slow the processing of submitted FOIA requests to achieve the same effect – bears watching.

FOIA Sheds Light on Bleak Moral Aboard USS Shiloh Under Capt. Aycock

Command climate surveys aboard the USS Shiloh – which made news this summer when one sailor, who was presumed lost at sea but was later found in the ship’s engine room in an effort to hide from his the rest of the crew – that were obtained by a Navy Times FOIA request show a vessel where the sailors did “not trust the CO,” Capt. Adam M. Aycock. One comment, capturing the sense of dread aboard the vessel, called the Shiloh a “floating prison.” Taken together, the anonymous comments show an atmosphere of inefficiency and fear of Aycock, of whom many said “minor on-the-job mistakes often led to time in the brig, where they would be fed only bread and water.”

Navy officials were aware of issues with Aycock’s command after the first survey taken two months into his 26-month rotation aboard the Shiloh. Aycock was not fired, and recently completed his command at the end of August.

A B28RI nuclear bomb recovered eight days after the January 1966 midair collision between a B-52 bomber and KC-135 over Palomares, Spain.

Palomares Veterans Want Documents to Help Receive Disability Benefits

Airmen who participated in the 1966 Palomares clean-up – initiated after a B-52 bomber crashed into a KC-135 refueling tanker midair over the coastal village of Palomares, Spain, causing one of the nuclear weapons on board to go missing and coating the Spanish countryside in radioactive dust – have filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Defense Department for the release of information that would help them secure disability benefits related to the incident. Specifically, “The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, alleges that an untold number of the airmen involved in the Palomares cleanup have been denied disability benefits because the Defense Department has refused to turn over medical records and other data that would show the extent of their radiation exposure.”

Dr. William Burr, the curator of the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault, has an excellent blog on the Palomares and Thule clean-ups here.

FBI Works with Hollywood to Encourage Public Cooperation with Agency, Downplay Surveillance Work

Buzzfeed’s Ariane Lange and Jason Leopold have a very interesting long read on the FBI’s working relationship with Hollywood, and how the Bureau’s Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit works with filmmakers to portray the agency in the most flattering light. The Bureau takes the job seriously, noting, “Most people form their opinion of the FBI from pop culture, not a two-minute news story.” Lange and Leopold drew from hundreds of pages of documents obtained in response to a FOIA lawsuit for their report. The reasons for the Bureau’s interest in working with Hollywood are made clear in one FBI slide, which shows that, “In any given week, Nielsen data indicates that FBI-themed dramas or documentaries reach 100,000,000+ people in the United States.” Another document makes clear the effort is a key part of the FBI’s mission and help to “encourage public cooperation with the FBI.”

According to the Bureau, “the ideal onscreen FBI character is approachable, polite, and not conducting surveillance.”

DOJ Appears to Investigate Admissions Practices at Harvard

A FOIA denial from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sent that was to American Oversight and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law appears to confirm that the agency is investigating admissions practices at Harvard. The request, made for records concerning admissions investigations at Harvard and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was submitted in August on the heels of “reports that DOJ would be launching an investigation related to allegations of discrimination against Asian-American students.” The DOJ said there were no documents concerning UNC Chapel Hill, leading requesters to believe there is an active investigation into Harvard.

Top-Secret CIA Memo Shows US Officials Thought Che Guevara’s Death A Crucial Victory

The National Security Archive’s Cuba Project director, Peter Kornbluh, recently authored a must-read article for The Nation Magazine on the 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death in Bolivia. Kornbluh highlights a top-secret CIA memo, prepared for LBJ five days after Che’s death, showing that US officials considered his execution a crucial victory—but they were mistaken in believing Che’s ideas could be buried along with his body. The memo “confirmed that Guevara had not died from ‘battle wounds’ during a clash with the Bolivian army, as the press had reported from Bolivia, but rather had been executed ‘at 1315 hours…with a burst of fire from an M-2 automatic rifle.’” The article can be read here.

TBT Pick – The Death of Che Guevara, Declassified

This week’s #TBT pick is the National Security Archive fifth posting – dating from 1997 – on the thirtieth anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. The posting features key CIA, State Department, and Pentagon documents on the killing, but the documents “provide only a partial picture of U.S. intelligence and military assessments, reports and extensive operations to track and ‘destroy’ Che Guevara’s guerrillas in Bolivia; thousands of CIA and military records on Guevara remain classified.”

A bonus TBT pick for those interested – a 2007 posting by Kornbluh on the auctioning off of Guevara’s hair, among other macabre memorabilia.)

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