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FRINFORMSUM: 3/3/2011

March 3, 2011

Cooking up some controversy.

Congressman Darrell Issa, the controversial Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has issued his first subpoena to the Obama Administration, requiring testimony from two Department of Homeland Security employees regarding allegedly questionable FOIA practices.  Democratic members of the committee have consistently criticized Issa’s efforts as partisan and his methods as inappropriately unilateral, with ranking member Elijah Cummings claiming, “The coercive power of this committee should be used only when the purpose of the subpoena is clear and reasonable efforts to obtain the information have been exhausted.”  Some critics have further noted that Issa’s recent interest in freedom of information contrasts starkly with his prior efforts to exempt the Bush Administration’s DHS from some elements of FOIA and to separately kill a 2007 bill that sought an expansion of the FOIA system.  Issa maintains that the DHS subpoena, and the other recent subpoenas issued by the committee, including one to Bank of America for information regarding potentially preferential mortgage treatment for VIPs including Democratic Congressmen, are entirely legitimate.  Issa’s then-spokesman Kurt Bardella, retorted, “Another day, another complaint and more righteous indignation, what else is new?”

Bardella’s comment proved to be one of his last as Issa’s spokesman.  The man whom Issa labeled “my secret weapon,” whose ostensible goal was to “make Darrell Issa an actual political figure” by “focus[ing] like a laser beam on the five hundred people here who care…who’s up, who’s down, who wins, who loses,” was fired shortly after Politico reported that Bardella was “sending correspondence with journalists to [Mark] Leibovich [a New York Times reporter] for a book project on the machinations of modern Washington.”  The scandal has caused some Republicans to question Issa’s leadership of the committee.  One anonymous Republican staffer aptly noted the hostile media relationship developing between Issa and the press, claiming that “Issa actually has a job to do.  He needs the press and the public to trust him to be able to do that job effectively.”  Another Republican congressman reportedly bemoaned that Issa’s “ego has returned with a vengeance.”

In non-Issa news, the Supreme Court recently ruled that private corporations have no personal privacy rights that exempt them from document disclosure under FOIA.  Chief Justice John Roberts quipped in the majority opinion that “We trust that AT&T [the defendant in the case] will not take it personally.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, responding to a question by Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, denied allegations regarding the Justice Department’s purportedly unequal treatment of FOIA requests from Conservative Groups.  Wolf’s question pertained to a report by former DOJ lawyer Christian Adams that claimed DOJ showed a pattern of “politicized compliance” with FOIA requests according to the political persuasion of the requester.  According to Holder, “there is no ideological component with regard to the response times” but difficult or complicated requests “take more time, requests that are relatively simple in nature can be answered faster.”

According to Secrecy News, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is “anticipating the potential declassification of significant amounts of film-based imagery… in 2011″ and is currently seeking a contractor to convert the images to digital format.  The NGA is DOD’s lead geospatial intelligence arm responsible for “develop[ing] imagery and map-based intelligence solutions.”

The Washington Post has an interesting look at the relationship between Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice while the former was Secretary of Defense and the latter National Security Advisor.  Though much has been written on the topic, the article cites some interesting documents from the so-called Rumsfeld Papers.

The Post also has a look at Chilean hopes that President Obama’s trip to Chile next month will result in the declassification of additional U.S. documents regarding the U.S.-sponsored 1973 coup that overthrew Salvador Allende and inaugurated the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet.  Many Chileans, including the families of Allende and his predecessor Eduardo Montalva, believe that the unredacted declassification of certain U.S. documents could aid in the prosecution of those responsible for some of the heinous human rights abuses committed by the Pinochet regime.

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