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This just came through my twitter feed from @MuckRock. Through a FOIA request which shook it loose from the notoriously difficult NSA, we now have access to NSA’s 2007 Untangling the Web: a guide to Internet research. It kind of reads like a Terry Pratchett novel if Terry was having a psychotic/psychedelic episode. As MuckRock notes, “you don’t have to go very far before this takes a hard turn into ‘Dungeons and Dragons campaign/Classics major’s undergraduate thesis’ territory.” Read on, you’ll thank me later!
And if you’re interested, I collected and cataloged a version for our library. The original NSA link to the document no longer resolves (and it was put up just last year!!), but there’s an archived copy in the WayBack Machine.
The NSA has a well-earned reputation for being one of the tougher agencies to get records out of, making those rare FOIA wins all the sweeter. In the case of Untangling the Web, the agency’s 2007 guide to internet research, the fact that the records in question just so happen to be absolutely insane are just icing on the cake – or as the guide would put it, “the nectar on the ambrosia.”
I was so happy to see that the Memory Hole — which for a long time posted amazing FOIA’d and found government documents but which went dark in 2009 — is back to work. Russ Kick is doing yeoman’s work to shake loose and shine light on amazing documents. I often save copies in the Stanford Digital Repository and make them available via our library catalog. I hope others will do the same. Scroll to the bottom of the site to subscribe to weekly updates. Welcome back Russ and the Memory Hole!!
The Memory Hole 2 – run by Russ Kick – saves important documents from oblivion. Its predecessor, The Memory Hole (2002-2009), posted hundreds of documents, many of which will be reposted on the new site.
The Memory Hole 2 achieves its mission in several ways:
- Discovering what documents the US government has pulled offline, recovering them, and reposting them here. In this way, The Memory Hole 2 is the reverse of its namesake in George Orwells 1984, in which official documents that were no longer convenient for the powers-that-be were sent to a furnace through a hole in the wall.
- Digitizing and posting important documents that previously existed only on paper.
- Filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents across the federal government (including Cabinet-level departments, regulatory agencies, intelligence agencies, and the military), then posting the results. I also sometimes file at the state and local levels, as well as with governments outside the US.
- Posting documents obtained by other researchers.
- Proactively mirroring important documents that seem in danger of being pulled offline.
- Posting documents that are available but are languishing in obscurity. This may include documents buried in huge search-only archives (not browsable), forgotten news reports, startling passages from books, court decisions, etc.
- Converting documents from inconvenient or cumbersome formats into convenient ones. This might include taking hundreds of one-page and two-page PDF files and merging them into a single document, or making a photo gallery out of images in scattered locations.
- I do some behind-the-scenes work by downloading gigabytes worth of documents from government websites that use dirty tricks to block automatic archiving and caching, As long as the documents stay on the official sites, I may not post them, but if they ever go missing, I have copies.
This is why US government information needs to be preserved off of .gov servers by FDLP libraries and other non-governmental organizations. It’s not enough that each agency has an Inspector General. Each agency should have one or more libraries collecting, preserving and giving access to its information *regardless* of political embarrassment or any other excuse for government information being deleted and lost.
The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.Although other copies of the report exist, the erasure of the controversial document by the CIA office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight “out of the Keystone Cops,” CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods.
This is a strange and interesting twist of a story. About a week ago, a couple of graphic designers from NY City decided they wanted to crowdfund the republication of NASA’s 1975 Graphic Standards Manual as a tribute to Designers Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn who originally created the manual — and which was revoked in 1992 when NASA decided to change from the “worm” logo and went back to their old logo nicknamed “meatball.” I didn’t find any FDLP libraries with this manual in either WorldCat or GPO’s Catalog of Govt Publications, so it is indeed a rare item. The reissued manual will include a 500+ word foreword by Richard Danne and a 2000+ word essay on the culture of NASA at the time of the manual by Christopher Bonanos (New York magazine, Instant: The Story of Polaroid) and will weigh “approximately 5lbs on earth, 0.9lbs on the moon.”
But now, 2 days ago on September 8, NASA published a PDF version of the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual — and I’ve grabbed a copy for the Stanford digital repository and submitted it as a fugitive to GPO. There’s no mention from NASA on whether it is coincidence or if they decided to make the old manual available because of the interest generated by the kickstarter campaign.
Far from being ecstatic that NASA would make the manual freely available online, designers Reed and Smyth are vowing to go through with their kickstarter campaign — which has garnered 6,576 backers and $693,690 pledged of $158,000 goal — and print the book. “It’s great that they’re [NASA] making the guidelines available to the public, we think they should be. That said, we don’t think that having an online PDF is the easiest way to engage with the information.” And therein lies the rub. Here’s a public domain govt publication that’s currently only available as a PDF download from the NASA site, but the graphic designer community — and perhaps the NASA space nerd community too — wants this manual in physical book form because that’s the “best way to engage with the information”!
A little over a week and a half ago, New York-based graphic designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, who are best known for their New York City Transit Authority Standards Manual project, took to crowdfunding giant Kickstarter once again to raise funds so that they can re-issue the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual.
Reed and Smyth wrote:
“[In 1972] Neil Armstrong has uttered his famous words. The Apollo era has come to an end. Public interest in space exploration wanes. After all, how do you top a man on the moon? Designers Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn—of the New York firm Danne & Blackburn—walk into a room at NASA with a portfolio. Inside is a presentation that will change the face of NASA and their careers with it.
The presentation is a hit. The work is approved. But what Danne and Blackburn don’t know is that over the next 18 years, some people at NASA will attempt to revoke their work. And they will succeed in 1992. This Kickstarter campaign is a celebration of Danne and Blackburn’s work—brought back to earth 41 years after it was designed, and 23 years after it was lost.”
Jim Jacobs and I gave a webinar in January, 2015 entitled “Community-Based Digital Collection Development of Born-Digital Government Information” for the “Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian” webinar series. You can find our notes and slides at freegovinfo.info/fugitives. And now you can find our presentation on YouTube! Thanks to Lynda Kellam and the Help! webinar team for posting this and all of their presentations on their new YouTube channel.