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This just in from our friends at MuckRock: Senate introduces legislation to clarify presumption of disclosure in FOIA. This new bill will will protect public access to information from private entities that do business with the government following the *terrible* Supreme Court decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader, which overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent by letting corporations decide whether the public was entitled to access government spending information. Also, according to OpenTheGovernment’s analysis, the bill addresses “…the EPA’s move to undermine FOIA by issuing regulations, without the legally required public notice and comment period, that appear to allow officials to withhold portions of documents as “not responsive” to a FOIA request, despite a federal court ruling forbidding the practice.”
The “Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019” would address limits to FOIA being imposed by regulatory agencies, in addition to those recently created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. That decision allowed for a broad interpretation of confidentiality under the FOIA’s b(4) trade secret exemption, and transparency advocates are confident the ruling, if allowed to stand, would severely limit access to government dealings with private companies.
“Last month’s Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent, and will force government agencies to withhold large swaths of information about private contractors and other companies who do business with government,” said Emily Manna, policy analyst at Open The Government. This bill would return us to the status quo, and restore the public’s right to access this critical information.”
The proposed amendments would expand the language of the “trade secrets” exemption to explicitly require a standard of substantial harm for the nondisclosure of commercial information. That standard seemed to have been set by the case National Parks & Conservation Ass’n v. Morton, but the Supreme Court’s recent ruling did not acknowledge it.
Document of the day — perhaps of the decade!! Thanks MuckRock!
In 1984, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sent a psychic back in time to talk to Martians. This is not code language. The CIA sent psychics back in time to talk to Martians because the CIA had time-traveling spacefaring psychics. Nothing else we could say would make more sense given what the CIA had and did.
This just in from Michael Best, the CIA has just announced that it will soon release Officially Released Information System, or ORIS. ORIS is the counterpart to the CREST database — the CIA Records Search Tool — begun in 1991. This is a whole lot of declassified records that will soon be available to researchers, journalists, and the public. Check out Best’s MuckRock story for FOIA’d information about the database and much more background and context. Just WOW!
CIA has agreed to release a copy of the ORIS database and waive all fees for it. ORIS, or the Officially Released Information System, was essentially a counterpart to CREST implemented in 1991. According to the proposal document, ORIS includes officially released CIA information that: Was previously classified OR Is part of the content of a classified, previously classified, or classifiable record OR Pertains to the CIA mission, functions or organizational structure OR Pertains to any aspect of sources or methods OR Is part of the content of a record of another Government entity, was previously classified or classifiable, and the CIA is identified or identifiable as the source.
It was also due to include: Releases under the FOIA, Privacy Act and MDR processes Officially sanctioned speeches Media releases Affidavits and judicial and congressional testimony Material declassified and released outside the agencyMore information as it develops. =)
The CIA’s CREST database of declassified records is gradually being made publicly available online, thanks to the efforts of MuckRock, Michael Best and others. Prior to MuckRock’s lawsuit, CREST was *technically* available, but only Monday through Friday from 9 Am to 4:30 PM at the National Archives facility at the University of Maryland. Some CREST documents are already available from the CIA’s FOIA Reading Room — like the files of arch anti-communist George Wackenhut, founder of the Wackenhut private security corporation which maintained dossiers on 2.5 million suspected American dissidents — but it’s unclear how soon all of the CREST documents will be accessible. Estimates are a couple of months rather than the 28 years(!) the CIA originally said it’d take to process all of the files. Thanks to all for their perseverance in assuring that CIA declassified documents see the light of the Internet day!
So what *is* CREST? CREST is the CIA’s full-text searchable system of a subset of CIA records reviewed under the CIA’s 25-year declassification program (manually reviewed and released records are accessioned directly into the National Archives in their original format). So far over 775,000 files and over 13,000,000 pages have been declassified as part of the 25-year automatic declassification review period. According to the very handy context for the lawsuit and description of CREST by Michael Best, the database includes the following:
- Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s papers: 40,000 pages of newly declassified documents. The papers did not originate with CIA, but “contain many CIA equities.”
- Directorate of Science and Technology R&D: 20,000 pages
- Analytic intelligence publication files: Over 100,000 pages.
- News archives: The Agency collected a lot of news stories about themselves and the subjects they were interested in. Their news archive, much of which is included in CREST, contains many
Office of the DCI Collection (ODCI): 28,550 documents/129,000 pages from the records of the first five Directors of Central Intelligence: Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, General Walter “Bedell” Smith, Allen Dulles, John McCone, and Richard Helms. These records run from the beginning of CIA in 1947 through the late 1960s and include a wide variety of memos, letters, minutes of meetings, chronologies and related files from the Office of the DCI (ODCI) that document the high level workings of the CIA during its early years.
- Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Central Intelligence Bulletins: 8,800 documents/123,000 pages from a collection of daily Central Intelligence Bulletins (CIB), National Intelligence Bulletins (NIB) and National Intelligence Dailies (NID) running from 1951 through 1979. The CIBs/NIBs were published six days a week (Monday through Saturday) and were all source compilations of articles and consisting initially of short Daily Briefs and longer Significant Intelligence Reports and Estimates on key events and tops of the day. The CIBs/ NIBs were circulated to high level policy-makers in the US Government.
- General CIA Records: Records from the CIA’s archives that are 25 years old or older, including a wide variety of finished intelligence reports, field information reports, high-level Agency policy papers and memoranda, and other documents produced by the CIA.
- STAR GATE: A 25-year Intelligence Community effort that used remote viewers who claimed to use clairvoyance, precognition, or telepathy to acquire and describe information about targets that were blocked from ordinary perception. The records include documentation of remote viewing sessions, training, internal memoranda, foreign assessments, and program reviews.
- Consolidated Translations: Translated reports of foreign-language technical articles of intelligence interest, organized by author and each document covers a single subject.
- Scientific Abstracts: Abstracts of foreign scientific and technical journal articles from around the world.
- Ground Photo Caption Cards: Used to identify photographs in the NlMA ground photograph collection. Each caption card contains a serial number that corresponds to the identical serial number on a ground photograph. The master negatives of the ground photography collection have been accessioned separately to NARA. The caption cards provide descriptive information to help identify which master negatives researchers may wish to request.
- National Intelligence Survey: National Intelligence Survey gazetteers.
- NGA: Records from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, primarily photographic intelligence reports.
- Joint Publication Research Service: Provided translations of regional and topical issues in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Office of Strategic Services files: Documents from the OSS, CIA’s World War II predecessor.
Back in December, we wrote about how the CIA would be placing its previously-inaccessible CREST database online. The move was a response to our lawsuit, handled pro bono by with Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors, as well as Mike Best’s diligence in trying to manually print and scan the archive.
Today, we’re happy to announce that all 25 years worth of declassified documents are now available – no trip to the National Archives required.
This is very cool. Check out — and bookmark right away! — the just released FOIA wiki. This looks to be a great resource not just for journalists, but for researchers of all stripes as they wend their way through the arcane and sometimes frustrating world of FOIA. And while you’re at it, check out the sites of the organizations which helped to build FOIA wiki — the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the FOIA Project, MuckRock, and FOIA Mapper. Thanks to them for moving the FOIA needle forward.
IF CONFUSION IS THE FIRST STEP TO KNOWLEDGE, FOIA users must be geniuses. Fee categories. Pre-determination agency actions. Multitrack processing. Administrative appeals. Glomar responses. In some ways, the FOIA is as impenetrable as it is helpful, but a new resource wants to change all that: FOIA Wiki, which launched in beta today.