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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

CIA Inspector General report on abuse of prisoners

The last paragraph in Thomas Paine’s 1795 essay entitled Dissertations on First Principles of Government said this:

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

On Monday, Attorney General Eric holder released the confidential CIA Inspector General report entitled “Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003). The report is not for the faint of heart, but I hope libraries will add the document to their collections. As Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti said in today’s NY Times (Report Shows Tight C.I.A. Control on Interrogations):

The Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program operated under strict rules, and the rules were dictated from Washington with the painstaking, eye-glazing detail beloved by any bureaucracy.

Many have written about the report (Michael Sherer, Publius, Dahlia Lithwick to name but a few) but folks should read Glenn Greenwald’s post on the topic:

“What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report”. Glenn Greenwald. Monday Aug. 24, 2009.

As a side note, I’d like to reiterate my twitter comment for those that didn’t see it. PLEASE would all journalists include links and citations for supporting documents on ALL of their pieces?? The Web means that there’s no excuse or need to save space. Don’t make your readers have to search for supporting documents. It’ll make them go away.

Released CIA Report — post-9/11

President Obama Halts Guantanamo Trials

Yesterday, President Obama issued orders to halt the pending Guantanamo trials for 120 days. This would temporarily stop the proceedings of the remaining twenty-one cases. Obama has guaranteed that he will close the Guantanamo prison camp. As the trials will be suspended until May 20, the new administration would have some time to assess the cases. At present, there are 245 foreign prisoners held at the prison camp. If you like to read the full article, it is available in The New York Times.

Recently, Human Rights Watch “called upon the new administration to ensure the rights of detainees at Guantanamo who have been slated for release but who cannot be returned home for fear of torture or persecution.” In November 2008, the organization published a briefing paper, Fighting Terrorism Fairly and Effectively: Recommendations for President-Elect Barack Obama, which outlined eleven steps that the new administration should take to change the counterterrorism practices of the United States.

Civil Defense Documents and Films…My Current Obsession

Several student patrons are working on research papers about the Cold War era and some are focusing on the nuclear arms race and the fear of nuclear attack. It’s been fascinating finding and reading materials we have in our print collection, including information published by the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) in the 1950s and the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM) during the Kennedy administration. (For a concise history of civil defense preparedness, read “Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness Efforts” published by the Homeland Security National Preparedness Task Force).

The students are just as fascinated (and sometimes amused) as I am with these documents that represent an era we never knew and a fear we can’t relate to. Or maybe we can relate…our generation lives in fear of terrorism “code red” rather than the red scare of communism or atom bomb attack, but it’s still a fear.

Anyways, the students and I found some more civil defense documents listed in the print Monthly Catalogs (we owned some FCDA and OCDM docs, but not as many as I would’ve liked), but we also found some on the internet. So I thought I’d share some of these online government sources I’ve discovered in my hunt for all things Cold War/Civil Defense related:

* Clips of historical “test” films at the DOE agency website.

* “Mr. Civil Defense Tells About Natural Disasters!” A government document comic book!

* “In Time of Emergency: A Citizen’s Handbook on Nuclear Attack, Natural Disasters” (1968).

* The “Survival Under Atomic Attack” booklet can be found in federal depositories, but here is an online transcription.

* NARA records of the OCDM.

* “Atomic Culture” article by the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.

* Not a government source, but a virtual Civil Defense Museum website created by a Civil Defense enthusiast.

* “Civil Defense Log Dies at 67, and Some Mourn It’s Passing” article at NYTimes.com.

And my favorite…Civil Defense videos!

* Internet Archive’s collection of Civil Defense Films and other media/film resources on civil defense.

* Some of YouTube’s collection of Civil Defense Films.

Did they really think ducking n’ covering under a school desk would protect them from a nuclear attack?

Freedom and Information: Assessing Publicly Available Data Regarding U.S. Transportation Infrastructure Security

Assessing Publicly Available Data
From RAND website:

How much data regarding U.S. anti- and counterterrorism systems, countermeasures, and defenses is publicly available and how easily could it be found by individuals seeking to harm U.S. domestic interests? The authors developed a framework to guide assessments of the availability of such information for planning attacks on the U.S. air, rail, and sea transportation infrastructure, and applied the framework in an information-gathering exercise that used several attack scenarios. Overall, the framework was useful for assessing what kind of information would be easy or hard for potential attackers to find. For each of the attack scenarios, a team of “attackers” was unable to locate some of the information that a terrorist planner would need to gauge the likely success of a potential attack. The authors recommend that procedures for securing sensitive information be evaluated regularly and that information that can be obtained from easily accessible, off-site public information sources be included in vulnerability assessments.

Lack of collaboration among DHS watch centers

The Department of Homeland Security has 25 operations centers throughout the U.S., and according to a recent GAO audit, they’re not collaborating very well.

Here’s the full story:

GAO faults DHS for poor management of watch centers

According to the report, DHS doesn’t have a clear set of procedures in place for the operation of its Homeland Security Information Network, which in turn hampers the operations centers’ ability to share information related to terrorist threats and the like.

As we saw after 9/11, the lack of coordination between the FBI and CIA put the nation at risk. Obviously, there has to be better cooperation among these 25 centers in order to avoid a similar situation. The same goes for information-sharing prior to, during, and following a natural disaster or other catastrophe.

It’s alarming that “basics” like information-sharing policies and procedures are either non-existent or poorly defined at both the regional and national levels, especially given that more complex and technical processes are needed to keep the citizenry safe.