Tag Archives: FOIA

Free Press Advocates Alarmed by US Government’s “Terrifying” Secret Rules for Spying on Journalists

“It makes me wonder, what other rules are out there, and how have these rules been applied?”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-17-2018

Press freedom advocates have obtained and released federal government documents detailing an invasive process officials can use to spy on journalists. (Photo: ACLU)

Journalists and free press advocates are responding with alarm to newly released documents revealing the U.S. government’s secret rules for using Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders to spy on reporters, calling the revelations “important” and “terrifying.”

The documents—obtained and released by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed last November—confirm long held suspicions that federal officials can target journalists with FISA orders. Continue reading

Share

‘Spitting in the Eye of Transparency,’ Govt Reveals Just 22 Mar-a-Lago Visitors

Watchdog groups promise to keep fighting Trump administration in court after it refuses to release full list of presidential visitors to so-called Winter White House

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-15-2017

On Friday, the Trump administration released a list of visitors from President Donald Trump’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (Photo: Shealah Craighead/TheWhite House)

“See you in court, Mr. President,” a watchdog group warned on Friday, after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under pressure from a federal lawsuit, released just two pages of Mar-a-Lago visitor records, despite earlier promises to reveal the full list of visitors to President Donald Trump’s so-called Winter White House.

After waiting months for a response to our request for comprehensive visitor logs from the president’s multiple visits to Mar-a-Lago and having the government ask for a last minute extension, today we received 22 names from the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, and nothing else,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Continue reading

Share

‘Stunning’: CIA Admits ‘Mistakenly’ Deleting Copy of Senate Torture Report

The CIA inspector general—the agency’s internal watchdog—admits to deleting its copy of the U.S. Senate’s torture report, as well as a backup

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-16-2016

The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency inlaid in the floor of the main lobby of the Original Headquarters Building. Photo by user:Duffman (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency inlaid in the floor of the main lobby of the Original Headquarters Building. Photo by user:Duffman (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The CIA’s inspector general office admitted to reporters that the department inadvertently deleted its copy of the U.S. Senate’s report detailing the nation’s post-9/11 detention and torture of detainees, Yahoo News reported Monday.

The department also deleted a hard disk backup of the report.

“Clearly the CIA would rather we all forgot about torture,” Cori Creider, a director at human rights watchdog Reprieve, responded to the news in a statement. Continue reading

Share

Trying (and Trying) to Get Records From the ‘Most Transparent Administration’ Ever

I experienced firsthand the incompetence and neglect behind Obama’s failure to make good on his FOIA promises.

by Justin Elliott ProPublica.  March 11, 2016, 7 a.m.

Photo: Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon (FBI FOIA) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commonshoto

Photo: Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon (FBI FOIA) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commonshoto

Two years ago last month, I filed a public-records request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of my reporting into the flawed response to Hurricane Sandy. Then, I waited.

The Freedom of Information Act requires a response within 20 business days, but agencies routinely blow that deadline. Eight months later, ProPublica and NPR published our investigation into the Sandy response, but it did not include any documents from FEMA. The agency had simply never gotten back to me.

Finally, this Feb. 10 2014 492 business days past the law’s 20-day deadline 2014 I got a curious phone call from FEMA. The agency was starting a “clean search” for the documents I asked for, because the original search “was not done properly.”

Why?

“I wish I had the answer,” the staffer told me. “There are quite a few cases that this happened to.”

Documents are the lifeblood of investigative journalism, but these problems aren’t of interest only to reporters. The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to deliver on the idea of a government “for and by the people,” whose documents are our documents. The ability to get information from the government is essential to holding the people in power accountable. This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the law, which has been essential in disclosing the torture of detainees after 9/11, decades of misdeeds by the CIA, FBI informants who were allowed to break the law and hundreds of other stories.

President Obama himself waxed poetic about FOIA on his first full day in office in 2009, issuing a statement calling it “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” He promised that his would be “the most transparent administration in history.”

But Obama hasn’t delivered. In fact, FOIA has been a disaster under his watch.

Newly uncovered documents (made public only through a FOIA lawsuit) show the Obama administration aggressively lobbying against reforms proposed in Congress. The Associated Press found last year that the administration had set a record for censoring or denying access to information requested under FOIA, and that the backlog of unanswered requests across the government had risen by 55 percent, to more than 200,000.

The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee looked into the state of the public-records law and in January issued a report with a simple, devastating title: “FOIA Is Broken.”

Incredibly, it took my ProPublica colleague Michael Grabell more than seven years to get records about air marshal misconduct from the Transportation Security Administration. As he pointed out, his latest contact in the FOIA office was still in high school when Grabell filed his initial request.

After a reporter at NBC4 in Washington sought files related to the 2013 Navy Yard shooting, Navy officials actively strategized about how to thwart the request. The Navy only apologized after it mistakenly forwarded its internal email traffic to the reporter.

When a Mexican journalist asked the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014 for files related to its role in the capture of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the agency sent a letter back demanding $1.4 million in fees to search its records.

“There’s a leadership void that has gotten worse,” veteran FOIA lawyer Scott Hodes told me. “It’s not treated as an important thing within the administration.”

Why is the law failing so badly after all the promises about transparency? My experience and the experience of other journalists suggests the reason is twofold: incompetence and neglect.

When I probed a bit more into what had gone wrong at FEMA, the agency’s entire FOIA apparatus started to look like a Potemkin village of open government. The FOIA staff was never trained properly, a FEMA spokesman told me. Of 16 positions in the office, eight have long been vacant for reasons that are not entirely clear. The backlog of requests at FEMA has ballooned to 1,500. That’s more than double what it was less than two years ago.

Spokesman Rafael Lemaitre promised that the backlog was “frankly unacceptable to senior leadership here at FEMA, who have been aware of the problems and are taking actions to correct it.”

“Obviously the Freedom of Information Act is a very vital resource for taxpayers,” Lemaitre said. “Frankly, we haven’t done a very good job of fulfilling that promise.”

Over the past two years, whenever I periodically called or emailed for updates, agency staffers either ignored me, said their systems weren’t working or told me they didn’t have any new information.

My request outlasted the tenure of my original contact in the FOIA office. When I called 14 months into the process, I was told she had left the agency 2014 fair enough, as people change jobs all the time. But my request had apparently not been handed off to anyone else. No one seemed to know what was going on.

Last year, the federal FOIA ombudsman found that FEMA took an average of 214 days to process complex FOIA requests, the third-worst in the Department of Homeland Security. (That compares to an average processing time for complex requests of 119 days across the rest of the government.) “A lack of responsiveness prompted lawsuits that cost the agency a bunch of money,” said James Holzer, the head of the ombudsman’s office, who praised FEMA officials for at least recognizing the problem.

A hiring freeze at the agency after sequestration didn’t help matters. But officials told Holzer’s investigators last year that the eight long-vacant positions in the public records office would be filled as early as last fall. Today, those jobs remain empty. The FEMA spokesman didn’t have an explanation for what’s taking so long.

When I tried to find out whether anyone had been held responsible for the fiasco, I didn’t find much more transparency. “I cannot discuss any personnel issues, unfortunately,” the spokesman told me.

Has the agency at least set a specific goal for when it will get through its backlog? “Our target is to get these cleared as quickly as possible 2014 I don’t have a date for you.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Share

Pentagon Releases 200 Photos of Bush-Era Prisoner Abuse, Thousands Kept Secret

‘What the photos that the government has suppressed would show is that abuse was so widespread that it could only have resulted from policy or a climate calculated to foster abuse.’

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-6-2016

Photo relating to prisoner abuse released by DoD on February 5, 2015 in long-running ACLU lawsuit.

Photo relating to prisoner abuse released by DoD on February 5, 2015 in long-running ACLU lawsuit.

The Pentagon on Friday was forced to release nearly 200 photographs of bruises, lacerations, and other injuries inflicted on prisoners presumably by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The record-dump was the result of a Freedom of Information Act request and nearly 12 years of litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which fought to expose the Bush-era torture. Continue reading

Share

The US Government Has an Internet Killswitch — and It’s None of Your Business

The Supreme Court has refused to hear a petition concerning the Department of Homeland Security’s secretive internet and cellphone killswitch program.

By Derrick Broze. Published 1-13-2016 by The Anti-Media

United States — On Monday the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that sought to force the Department of Homeland Security to release details of a secret “killswitch” protocol to shut down cellphone and internet service during emergencies.

EPIC has been fighting since 2011 to release the details of the program, which is known as Standard Operating Procedure 303. EPIC writes, “On March 9, 2006, the National Communications System (‘NCS’) approved SOP 303, however it was never released to the public. This secret document codifies a ‘shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crisis.’” Continue reading

Share