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Declassification of Senate’s CIA Torture Report Summary Nears, Probe Resumes of Systemic Problems in FBI’s Forensic Testimony, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 7/31/2014

July 31, 2014
Secretary of State Powell was initially uninformed of the harsh methods used by the CIAs interrogation program. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Secretary of State Powell was initially uninformed of the harsh methods used by the CIAs interrogation program. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The White House is expected to declassify the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s scathing report on the CIA’s torture program in the coming days, at which point it will be provided to Congress. The New York Times reported that former CIA director George Tenet, under whose leadership the CIA conceived its detention and interrogation program, has been orchestrating a rebuttal since the report’s declassification was announced in April. According to the Times, “Mr. Tenet is working behind the scenes [] to develop a strategy to challenge the report’s findings.”

A White House document accidentally emailed to an Associated Press reporter allegedly shows the State Department, however, concurs with the Senate report’s findings. The White House document contains the State Department’s “preliminary talking points” on the report, including the department’s conclusion that the report “leaves no doubt that the methods used to extract information from some terrorist suspects caused profound pain, suffering and humiliation. It also leaves no doubt that the harm caused by the use of these techniques outweighed any potential benefit.” The White House document also found that then Secretary of State Colin Powell was initially kept in the dark about the CIA program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's earlier accusations of CIA spying on her staff have been vindicated. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s earlier accusations of CIA spying on her staff have been vindicated. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Recent revelations that the CIA did in fact “improperly access” computers Senate staff were working on for the report, as well as reports that the agency intercepted an email to Congress concerning “allegations that the agency’s inspector general, David Buckley, failed to properly investigate CIA retaliation against an agency official who cooperated in the [Senate] committee’s probe,” will do little to ease the tension between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. McClatchy reports that the agency accessed a “legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring” concerning the Senate report, though how it did so remains unclear.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) have jointly introduced “legislation to restore common sense to the classification and security clearance system.” The Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction Act (CORRECT Act) was introduced in response to reports that as of 2013, over 5 million people –more than 1.5 percent of the US population– hold security clearances, attempts by federal agencies to establish programs to monitor the activity of their security-cleared employees, and the rising cost of keeping too much information classified.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also introduced a bill this week, one determined to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone records. Sen. Leahy’s bill is a “stricter” version than one recently passed in the House and clarifies some of the House’s ambiguous language. The Senate bill does not, however, address the searching of American communications that are swept up during surveillance of non-Americans abroad, and does not provide for a public advocate to have the power to intervene or file appeals with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Ex-NSA director Keith Alexander. AP Photo

Ex-NSA director Keith Alexander. AP Photo

Former NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander may charge banks and other large companies millions for the use of a “new kind of technology” he invented while at the agency to help deflect cyber attacks. The “unique,” patented technology he invented with partner IronNet Cybersecurity Inc. is designed to detect persistent threats. “Alexander is believed to be the first ex-director of the NSA to file patents on technology that’s directly related to the job he had in government.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered the resumption of the FBI’s “massive investigation” into widespread forensics errors made by an FBI lab unit over the span of two decades. According to The Washington Post, the FBI discontinued its initial review last year after it learned that “Nearly every criminal case” examined for the investigation contained “flawed forensic testimony from the agency.” The Bureau suspended the investigation, which was initiated after The Post reported two years ago that the flawed evidence led to the conviction of hundreds of potentially innocent defendants and “includes 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s,” last August after reviewing only 160 cases.

In a “very curious” move, the DOJ is fighting in court to shield the files, including the donor list, of an anti-Iranian group. The group, United Against Nuclear Iran, consists of high-ranking former government officials and is “best known for its ‘name and shame’ campaigns, which unearth information about Western companies suspected of doing business with Iran.” A Greek shipping mogul is currently suing the group in a defamation case after the group accused him of doing business with Iran. The Justice Department has intervened in the case and is blocking the group from having to reveal its files and donor list as part of the defamation proceedings. The government’s involvement in the case is unorthodox, but “the court filings indicated close ties between the American government and a group that has proved adept at pressuring the government and corporations to isolate Iran economically.”

The CIA determined that a recent FOIA request submitted by MuckRock co-founder Michael Morisy for documents on technical problems with the CIA’s FOIA portal to be “too burdensome.” More interesting than the CIA denying a reasonably described FOIA request for being too vague was its additional argument that the CIA requires “requesters seeking any form of ‘electronic communications’ such as emails, to provide the specific ‘to’ and ‘from’ recipients.” Twitter user @Mythosopher succinctly described the CIA’s circular reasoning thusly: “You can’t see any emails or know who sent or received them. But you must request the exact email and who sent and received it.”

The CIAs response to MuckRocks FOIA request.

The CIA’s response to MuckRock’s FOIA request.

This week’s #tbt document pick is a Secret May 31, 1973, Department of State intelligence memorandum that predicted the 1973 Arab-Israeli War a little over four months later. Check out William Burr’s March 2013 posting for the whole story behind the document and the exceptionally difficult task of finding it.

Happy FOIA-ing!

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