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FBI’s Police Shooting Tracking System a “Travesty”, British Cabinet Office Concealing War Scare Report Despite Strong Evidence for its Release, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 12/10/2015

December 10, 2015
What is FOIA?

What is FOIA?

The FBI will replace its “travesty” of a tracking system for fatal police shootings by 2017. The new system will be shared with the public in near-real-time (the data is currently compiled at the end of each year), and will include statistics on “any incident in which an officer causes serious injury or death to civilians, including through the use of stun guns, pepper spray and even fists and feet.” The success of the system will rely on local police departments sharing the data with the bureau – an initiative only 3 percent of the nation’s 18,000 police departments have taken since 2011. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics is also launching a pilot program utilizing open-source data-collection efforts by The Washington Post, The Guardian, and others “to identify deaths that are not being reported. Then, BJS officials contacted police, medical examiners and other local officials to check the accuracy of the information and to gather additional facts.”


Visit the Able Archer Sourcebook for the most comprehensive collection of documents on the 1983 War Scare.

Nate Jones, the National Security Archive’s FOIA Project Director, requested a British joint intelligence committee document “that would shed fresh light on how Britain and the US came close to provoking a Soviet nuclear attack” in 1983 over a year ago. The Guardian reports that the British Cabinet Office, however, is continuing to block its release despite: the US’s release of thousands of pages of documents on the crisis; the UK’s vaunted 20-year-rule; and Michael Herman’s – former head of GCHQ’s Soviet division – call for the document’s release.

At least we can now play Able Archer 83, the “expandable strategy card game where you take command of a strategic cold war power and face off in a simulated military exercise against enemy forces” while we wait for the British Cabinet Office to uphold transparency and declassify this key document.

How Able is your Able Archer card game strategy?

How Able is your Able Archer card game strategy?

A recent article on ArsTechnica provides more detail on the technological factors that contributed to the 1983 War Scare – namely how the Soviet’s modeling for monitoring the balance of power between the US and the Soviet Union “nearly triggered WWIII”. KGB annual reports for the years 1981 and 1982 and posted on the Archive’s website corroborate the creation of Operation RYaN (the Russian acronym for Raketno-Yadernoye Napadenie, “nuclear missile attack”), the largest peace-time intelligence gathering operation in history to “prevent the possible sudden outbreak of war by the enemy.” The KGB software model constructed as part of Operation RYaN, however, “fed growing paranoia about the intentions of the United States, very nearly triggering a nuclear war.” As Sean Gallagher surmises, “Given all the weird inputs that the model was getting and the Soviet leadership’s predisposition to believe the worst of Reagan to begin with, the Politburo ultimately decided that Able Archer was, in fact, a cover for an actual surprise nuclear attack. They began acting accordingly.”

"...Congress did not intend the fees be erected as barriers to citizens access, it is quite clear that the Congress did intend that agencies recover [???] of their costs."

“…Congress did not intend the fees be erected as barriers to citizens access, it is quite clear that the Congress did intend that agencies recover [???] of their costs.”

The FOIA Advisory Committee’s latest meeting (held October 20 although the video was only made available recently, raising concerns that technical issues are hampering the Committee’s potential influence) tackled, among other things, OMB’s outdated and incomplete FOIA fee guidance. OMB’s guidance to all agencies on when and how they can charge FOIA fees dates from 1987 – well before the Internet Age and agencies’ ability to send FOIA responses via email – and is missing a key word. The Committee voted a formal “show of support” to recommend to the Archivist that he advise OMB to update its Fee Guidance, language for which will be provided in advance of the January 19, 2016 meeting. Other highlights from the meeting include discussion of the fee subcommittee survey, which was only given to government agencies (ostensibly because “logistical problems, problems about doing polls and publishing results” made it impractical to distribute a similar poll to the public). The National Security Archive and the Project on Government Oversight will soon distribute a similar, independent, unofficial fee survey to non-government FOIA stakeholders so that their views on FOIA fees can be cataloged and documented.

Matthew Aid recently highlighted a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report on the threat Mexican drug cartels pose to the US on his website. Aid notes that the interesting report “is a nice compact order of battle of all the Mexican drug cartels. The DEA separately released a two page report that has a very nice map showing the respective areas of control inside Mexico of all the major Mexican drug cartels.”

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is widening its investigation into the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations for allegedly spending $43 million to build one compressed natural gas station “by [further] probing allegations that it spent $150 million, or nearly 20 percent of its budget, on private housing and security.” In a letter to the Secretary of Defense SIGAR notes that while it would have been more practical for the Task Force to live on US military bases, the Task Force – according to one official – “expressly avoided staying on military bases because ‘the goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.’” Accommodations included in the Task Force’s housing and furnished by tax payers included rooms equipped with 27-inch flat screen TVs and menu options of 3-star food, “with each meal containing at least two entrée choices and three side order choices, as well as three course meals for ‘special events.’”

A bipartisan congressional investigation has uncovered “a half-dozen previously undisclosed security breaches” at the White House since 2013, leading lawmakers to call the Secret Service an “agency in crisis”. The most eyebrow-raising finding involves new details of a September 27, 2014, Black Caucus Foundation’s awards dinner in which a man posed as Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) and was escorted to meet the president. The report notes, “The agency’s recent public failures are not a series of isolated events, but the product of an insular culture that has historically been resistant to change”. Compounding “systemic mismanagement”, the agency is suffering from a “staffing crisis”, operating with only 6,315 agents – the lowest number personnel in a decade. Unsurprisingly, a recent Best Places to Work in the Federal Government poll found that only a third of Secret Service officers are happy with their job and would recommend it as a good place to work.

Mark H. Grunewald, James P. Morefield Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, is undertaking a FOIA Oral History Project. The project seeks to document, through a series of individual interviews, the history of the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act by federal agencies, with a view toward having at least the first phase of the project completed by July 4, 2016, the 50th anniversary of the Act’s passage. If you are interested in providing voluntary feedback to Professor Grunewald you may contact him directly at 540-458-8526 or Please note that it is especially helpful if you have had frontline supervisory/ leadership responsibilities for FOIA implementation below the political level.

December 7th’s Final Jeopardy clue was “The website for this ’60s act says “First look to see if the information you are interested in is already publicly available”. The answer? The Freedom of Information Act, of course! FOIA Advisor’s Kevin Schmidt highlighted FOIA’s pop-culture moment here.

This week’s #tbt document pick is a 2003 posting on Nixon’s historic February 1972 trip to China, which includes Kissinger’s intelligence briefing to the Chinese and the complete texts of Nixon’s conversations with Zhou, including the assurances on Taiwan.

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Happy FOIA-ing!

  1. Ryan C. permalink
    December 13, 2015 8:13 pm

    I would love to know what questions are on hand for the oral history project.


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