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June 7, 2011

Pres. Obama meets with current and former officials in Nov. 2010 to discuss the New START treaty.

Last week, Russia and the U.S. released the first New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) fact sheet. This fact sheet reveals aggregate numbers of deployed nuclear weapons in order to publicly demonstrate progress towards the limitations stipulated by the treaty. Transparency in matters of nuclear arms control is a good thing, but this fact sheet comes as a disappointment to arms control and open government advocates. The final fact sheet for the previous START treaty provides a stark contrast to the sparse reporting in this new fact sheet.

In the ongoing story of the National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, the federal judge assigned to the case plans to keep unclassified information secret from jurors and the public. The defense lawyers contend that proposed substitutions would lead jurors to conclude that all the documents that Drake allegedly mishandled were legitimate national secrets. The defense added that keeping both classified and unclassified material off limits would confuse the jurors since only the classified information is pertinent to the charges. The trial is scheduled to begin on June 13.

The Constitution Unit Blog based at the University College of London released an interesting study on the cost of Freedom of Information in different countries. The study is limited to a few British Commonwealth countries plus Ireland and the United States, but serves as an interesting comparison of FOI programs across different nations. A more extensive breakdown and analysis of FOIA data for the U.S. can be found in the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey.

The Department of Justice has issued a subpoena to Boston College for the release of two recordings of interviews with former Irish Republican Army members. Scholars at Boston College conducted interviews with former paramilitary members from both sides of the Northern Ireland conflict. They provided their oral accounts for the record on the condition that their testimonies would remain sealed until their deaths. The subpoena is sealed, but sources close to the investigation have suggested that police in Northern Ireland investigating disappearances requested it. Boston College is seeking to protect those that provided interviews and avoid damaging the peace and reconciliation process. This case serves as a test of the limits of academic research and whether criminal investigations can interfere in the creation of historical records.

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