National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has launched The Collaboration Project, "an independent forum of leaders committed to leveraging web 2.0 and the benefits of collaborative technology to solve government's complex problems. Powered by the National Academy of Public Administration, this "wikified" space is designed share ideas, examples and insights on the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies in the field of public governance."
See also: NAPA launches collaboration Web site, By Anne Laurent, The Agile Mind blog, NextGov, 05/09/08. "The site is a great example of collaboration, chock-a-block as it is with case studies, a long discourse on government 2.0 by Don Tapscott, Anthony Williams and Dan Herman, authors of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Portfolio Media, 2006), a blog and plenty more. There’s even a catchy slogan: 'Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what we can do together.'"
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has withdrawn a secret demand, issued as a national security letter (NSL), that the Internet Archive (IA) provide the agency with a user's personal information after Brewster Kahle, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the records request in court.
- FBI Withdraws Unconstitutional NSL Served on Internet Archive, ACLU. (Includes links to documents)
Since the Patriot Act was authorized in 2001, relaxing restrictions on the FBI's use of the power, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase. Reports from the Justice Department's Inspector General reveal that the FBI has issued nearly 200,000 NSL between 2003 and 2006. Multiple investigations have found serious FBI abuses of regulations and numerous potential violations of the law.
- Internet Archive Challenges F.B.I.’s Secret Records Demand, by Grant Gross, IDG News Service, New York Times, May 7, 2008 (or Internet Archive challenges FBI's secret records demand, by Grant Gross, in InfoWorld).
In each of the three court challenges to the NSL program, the FBI has withdrawn the information demands, ACLU's Goodman said. "I think that calls into question how much the FBI needed the information in the first place and, frankly, whether the FBI needs this kind of sweeping and unchecked surveillance power," she said.
Secret Laws are laws that citizens and even Congress do not know about or are forbidden from seeing.
A recent Senate hearing examines how these "laws" become law and why they are 'repugnant' and 'an abomination.'
The official page for the hearing with links to written testimony and a video of hearing: Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government, Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, April 30, 2008.
A brief overview of the hearing by Steven Aftergood with links his and others' to testimony: Secret Law Debated in Senate Hearing, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, April 30, 2008.
A concise op-ed by Senator Russ Feingold about secret laws: Government in secret, By Russ Feingold, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2008.
Former staff writer for the Washington Post and Time Magazine Ted Gup has written a book on secrecy worth our attention:
- Nation of secrets : the threat to democracy and the American way of life, by Ted Gup, New York : Doubleday, c 2007.
In it he describes the problems of "secretocracy," which, in our "post-9/11" society, has made information that citizens need off-limits to citizens. So, despite the fact that is "more likely for a bridge to collapse than for it to [be] struck by terrorists" Homeland Security instructed state governments to take bridge maintenance reports off their Websites. (Our Great 'Secretocracy' by Sean Gonsalves, AlterNet, May 6, 2008).
And court records are not just unavailable but "the software system used in all federal courts is designed to spit out 'No Such Case Exists' when anyone queries cases that have been sealed" because they were settled through "alternative dispute resolutions." (Calling for a secrecy beat, Commentary, By Ted Gup, Nieman Watchdog, April 29, 2008).
See also: Secrets and the Press By Walter Pincus, Nieman Reports, Spring 2008.
During the period between March 2003 and October 2005, at least 5 million e-mails may have been sent but not preserved.
- White House Backups are Incomplete, May Not Contain Some Missing E-mails, National Security Archive, May 6, 2008.
The White House yesterday admitted to a federal magistrate judge that it has no computer back-up tapes with data written before May 23, 2003, and that it cannot track the history of individual hard drives within the White House system that may contain missing e-mails.
Agencies not complying with record preservation policies, By Jill R. Aitoro, NextGov, April 24, 2008.
At the hearing, Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the Government Accountability Office, released preliminary results from an ongoing GAO study of how four agencies managed e-mail and electronic records. ...Koontz said the agencies print and then file e-mails, but about half of senior officials were not following these procedures, and the e-mails for these officials were maintained in e-mail systems that lacked record-keeping capabilities, such as the ability to group the e-mails using a classification system.
The House is considering the Electronic Communications Preservation Act, which would strengthen policies for preservation of government records including White House e-mails.
Gary Stern, general counsel for NARA said that the legislation's potential cost to agencies could be "astronomical," and noted the bill's requirement that the National Archives would maintain authority over the White House's electronic records might be unconstitutional.
Patrice McDermott, director of OpentheGovernment.org, said:
"I understand the constitutional issues, and I don't have a good answer for that.... But one of the concerns is that there is no way to enforce accountability [of] records management in the White House. We understand it's a difficult dance [for NARA]. They're there at the invitation of the White House in many cases, but there needs to be some way for the outside community to hold the White House accountable."
In an investigation on how the Bush administration uses retired military officers to promote its message on the Iraq war, the New York Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantanamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
The story based on these documents (Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon's Hidden Hand By David Barstow, New York Times, April 20, 2008) is supplemented online by "Audio, video and documents that show how the military’s talking points were disseminated" (How the Pentagon Spread Its Message and a "Document Archive," which allows users to read and download documents and parts of documents. Of the 8000 pages, only a few are available online, but these include emails, a "Talking Points Memo," excerpts from a Transcript of meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, and a Pentagon document that reports "Monitoring of Analysts."
Together, the audio-visual presentation and the documents are a small model for how newspapers could be using the power of the web to enhance their coverage and utility. I would certainly like to see all 8000 pages online!
The story itself is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the daily news.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as "message force multipliers" or "surrogates" who could be counted on to deliver administration "themes and messages" to millions of Americans "in the form of their own opinions."
...Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.
In an odd addendum to the corruption case of (now former) Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, prosecutors are arguing that once the executive branch says something is classified, courts are virtually powerless to review or disagree.
The arguments are in the case of Thomas Kontogiannis, a New York financier who admitted to one charge of laundering bribe money for former Rep. Cunningham.
- Cunningham figure's plea deal was sealed, By Greg Moran, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 20, 2008
While portions of the case remain secret, a batch of previously sealed court filings was released this week that show the government arguing what media law experts said was an astounding position....
In essence, prosecutors argued that once the executive branch says something is classified, courts are virtually powerless to review or disagree. That is true, they argued, even when the information is part of court records - which historically have been considered open under the First Amendment.
There is an excellent post relevant to government information over at ArchivesNext. I recommend this highly.
- NARA and the web harvest: a discussion of the issues, ArchivesNext, April 14, 2008.
Kate does an excellent job, in my opinion, of analyzing the NARA decision to not do another web harvest of agency web sites at the end of the current administration. For example, she says, "For archivists, these web harvests should be troubling because they dispense with the process of appraisal. In effect, anything on the top four levels of an agency’s web site was determined to be of permanent value." Kate also includes links to articles about the issue and the NARA response.
It has excellent and informative comments that include, but go beyond, the specific issue of NARA and web harvesting. I found these comments particularly useful because they are mostly from the perspective of archivists and give insight into long-term preservation issues. Some of those making comments are well known in archival circles and speak from experience and with authority. Christine says that "it is very difficult to do item-level appraisal of web files, because the pages are usually so interconnected."
Of the original blog posting at .govwatch that started off the controversy and its claim that NARA is "Quietly Destroying Millions of Documents," Thomas E. Brown says "Nothing could be father the truth" and backs up what he says with facts.
Maarja discusses information gaps created when dynamic records are overwritten and not preserved. I found this comment by Maarja particularly interesting:
Depending on the agency, decisions on how best to share information might have been driven initially by technological factors more so than long term capture of knowledge. From reading records managers’ forums, I gather that in some agencies IT more so than RM may have driven adoption of solutions for dealing with electronic records.
No two organizations are going to have exactly the same culture and organizational climate. So it’s hard to predict how preservation of electronic information is going to play out throughout the government.
The McClatchy Newspapers have reported on a new National Defense University report on the Iraq war.
- Pentagon institute calls Iraq war 'a major debacle' with outcome 'in doubt', Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, McClatchy Newspapers, April 17, 2008. "The war in Iraq has become "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt" despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon's premier military educational institute."
- Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath, by Joseph J. Collins, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Occasional Paper 5, National Defense University Press, Washington, D.C. April 2008. "Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle."
Dr. Joseph J. Collins has been Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College since 2004. Prior to this assignment, he served for 3 years as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations. From 1998 to 2001, Dr. Collins was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he researched economic sanctions, national security policy, and homeland security. In 1998, after nearly 28 years of military service, Dr. Collins retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel. His many publications include books and articles on war in Afghanistan, Operation Desert Storm, military culture, defense transformation, homeland defense, and the way ahead in Iraq. Dr. Collins holds a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and two master’s degrees and a doctorate in political science from Columbia University. In 2004, he was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, its highest civilian award.