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25-Year-Old FOIA Request Confirms FOIA Delays Continue Unabated

Happy Sunshine week (well, technically it’s next week, March 10-16, 2019)! The National Security Archive did a massive FOIA audit which showed that FOIA delays and backlogs continue across federal agencies. the most interesting/disturbing to me were the requests that fell into a FOIA “referral black hole” where agencies refer to or consult with other agencies on “any FOIA request in which it feels another agency or agencies may possibly claim ownership of, or “equity” in, the information within the records.” These referrals often result in massive delays.

One of the easiest ways to better deal with these referral delays is to allow FOIA.gov‘s request form to be submitted to multiple agencies (or multiple units within agencies) if the requester feels that the question overlaps agencies. but If anyone has other good ideas for how agencies can more quickly deal with the “referral black hole” please send me an email at freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com.

Washington, D.C. March 8, 2019 – Five federal agencies have FOIA requests more than a decade old and one, the National Archives and Records Administration, has a FOIA request more than 25 years old, this according to a National Security Archive Audit released today to mark the beginning of Sunshine Week. The survey also found there is a correlation between agencies with the oldest FOIA requests and those with the largest FOIA backlogs.

The Archive Audit team parsed through the annual FOIA reports federal agencies are required to submit to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy and found that while many agencies appear to have used new reporting requirements as a tool to address the oldest agency FOIA requests, others have let decades-old requests linger. The Archive used the Fiscal Year 2017 reports because they were the most comprehensive collection available at the time of publication due to the delay caused by the government shutdown, and will update this posting once the complete set of FY 2018 reports are available.

The key driver for FOIA requests that could be renting cars by now and growing backlogs is the “referral black hole.” Agencies currently refer or consult on any FOIA request in which it feels another agency or agencies may possibly claim ownership of, or “equity” in, the information within the records. This daisy chain of referrals can often result in decades-long delay, and the re-review of the same document by multiple agencies is redundant, costly, and inefficient.

via 25-Year-Old FOIA Request Confirms FOIA Delays Continue Unabated | National Security Archive.

National Security Archive highlights 50 news stories for FOIA’s 50th birthday

The [[Freedom of Information Act (United States)]] (FOIA) was born on July 4, 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law. To celebrate, the National Security Archive has posted 50 of the year’s most important stories made possible by FOIA! I can only hope the 2nd 50 years of FOIA’s life will see the law being strengthened. Thanks FOIA and thanks National Security Archive for the work that you do!!

Today the National Security Archive celebrates the Freedom of Information Act’s upcoming 50th birthday by highlighting 50 of the year’s biggest news stories made possible by FOIA. The diverse front-page news shows how FOIA can impact human rights, government accountability, and even what you eat.

Here is a sampling of this year’s top stories:

FOIA releases to the National Security Archive provided critical evidence in the historic conviction of 14 Argentine military officers and 1 Uruguayan military officer for their participation in the Operation Condor international murder ring and were cited 150 times by the prosecution.

Documents released through FOIA proved Pentagon officials deliberately misled Congress on the Defense Department’s handling of sexual assault cases in order to undermine reform legislation.
A FOIA lawsuit uncovered that the Obama White House’s Justice Department aggressively lobbied to kill uncontroversial bipartisan FOIA reform in 2014.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were, FOIA releases to the National Security Archive show, climate change heroes who took action to protect the ozone layer.

State-level FOIA releases in Michigan exposed the cost-driven decisions by Flint administrators not to add corrosion controls to the water supply, causing lead poisoning in kids, and the cover-up by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Documents released by the Food and Drug Administration under FOIA show that cheese marketed as being“100% parmesan” contained 0% parmesan – and some wood pulp.

Government audits freed by a FOIA lawsuit show widespread billing mistakes – primarily overcharging – in Medicare Advantage program.

via FOIA Commands Headlines as Law Approaches 50th Anniversary.

President’s Daily Briefs from Kennedy and Johnson Finally Released. FOIA FTW!

Wow! It took 8 years, but a collection of 2,500 declassified President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations are now available. Now we’ll see how easy (or difficult) it is to collect them all for the Stanford FOIA Web archive. I also hope the UCSB Presidency Project makes them available from their site. It’s a rich collection for researchers and also a great FOIA precedent set!

Buroker's arguments for withholding PDBs
Buroker’s arguments for withholding PDBs

Today the CIA and the LBJ Library are releasing online a collection of 2,500 declassified President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The PDBs are Top Secret documents containing the most current and significant intelligence information that the CIA believes that the President needs to know, and are records that CIA Director George Tenet once claimed could never be released for publication “no matter how old or historically significant it may be,” and that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer described as “the most highly sensitized classified document in the government.”

The release of this collection of PDBs comes eight years after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the National Security Archive and Professor Larry Berman, then a professor of political science at University of California Davis, now based at Georgia State University, in his efforts to obtain the disclosure of two Presidential Daily Briefs written for President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. Professor Berman and the Archive were represented by Thomas R. Burke and Duffy Carolan of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in San Francisco, CA. In its ruling, the Court noted –without viewing the documents– that their disclosure could “reveal protected intelligence sources and methods.” The Court rejected, however, the CIA’s “attempt to create a per se status exemption for PDBs.”

via President’s Daily Briefs from Kennedy and Johnson Finally Released.

FOIA’d doc reveal narrowly averted 1961 Goldsboro Nuclear Accident

The T-249 switch used to arm nuclear bombs on Strategic Air Command bomber aircraft. Photo courtesy of Glenn’s Computer Museum
The National Security Archive yesterday published a new “Electronic Briefing Book” entitled “New Details on the 1961 Goldsboro Nuclear Accident” which details the 1961 nuclear weapons accident in Goldsboro, North Carolina as described by a recently declassified Sandia National Lab report. The report was originally declassified by a FOIA request by Eric Schlosser, who wrote about this and other nuclear accidents in his 2013 book Command and control : nuclear weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the illusion of safety. If the bomb had detonated, it would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima!

By the way, all of the National Security Archive’s electronic briefing books have been cataloged in Worldcat so you should download the records to your library catalog post haste!

Washington, D.C., June 9, 2014 – A recently declassified report by Sandia National Laboratory, published today by the National Security Archive, provides new details on the 1961 Goldsboro, North Carolina, nuclear weapons accident. While both multi-megaton Mk 39 bombs involved in the mishap were in the “safe” position, the report concluded, by the time one of them hit the ground it was in the “armed” setting because of the impact of the crash. If the shock had not also damaged the switch contacts, the weapon could have detonated.

Since the advent of the nuclear age, the nightmarish possibility of an accidental detonation has made weapons safety a boiler-plate item in the U.S. nuclear weapons program — yet potentially serious errors continue to occur. A series of 2013 reports on the Goldsboro accident provided a fresh reminder of the role of luck in preventing nuclear disaster: the same switch involved in the 1961 event had failed in other incidents.

via New Details on the 1961 Goldsboro Nuclear Accident.

Spy Chief James Clapper Wins Rosemary Award

What’s the opposite of “prestigious?” The National Security Archive today named DNI James Clapper as this year’s Rosemary Award winner. The award — named for Rosemary Woods, Richard Nixon’s secretary who erased 18 1/2 minutes of audio tape key to the Watergate investigation — is awarded each year for worst open government performance. The National Security Archive noted that this year’s award was a team effort as the National Security Agency, Justice Department National Security Division, FBI, and White House were all “awarded” for misleading the public, Congress, the Supreme Court, the wiretap court, and even each other.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has won the infamous Rosemary Award for worst open government performance in 2013, according to the citation published today by the National Security Archive at www.nsarchive.org. Despite heavy competition, Clapper’s “No, sir” lie to Senator Ron Wyden’s question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” sealed his receipt of the dubious achievement award, which cites the vastly excessive secrecy of the entire U.S. surveillance establishment.

The Rosemary Award citation leads with what Clapper later called the “least untruthful” answer possible to congressional questions about the secret bulk collection of Americans’ phone call data. It further cites other Clapper claims later proved false, such as his 2012 statement that “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.” But the Award also recognizes Clapper’s fellow secrecy fetishists and enablers

via Spy Chief James Clapper Wins Rosemary Award.