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Ongoing Government-wide Problems Mishandling Classified Material in this Week’s FRINFORMSUM 2/4/2016

February 4, 2016
The NNSA positively evaluated a contractor that had improperly disposed of nuclear secrets for decades.

The NNSA positively evaluated a contractor that had improperly disposed of nuclear secrets for decades.

Contractors responsible for running the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee grossly mishandled classified information for more than 20 years, throwing away documents concerning nuclear explosive materials and national defense secrets in an open landfill. A must-read report by the Center for Public Integrity shows that not only were the classified documents routinely mishandled, “The company [Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, Y-12, LLC] had failed to appropriately label classified information, failed to protect and control classified information, and had so feebly assessed its own performance that it left national defense secrets susceptible to theft by adversaries for years.”

Despite the persistent problems, the National Nuclear Security Administration “gave Babcock & Wilcox a rating of ‘good’ on its annual performance review in a category including its control of classified information”, which earned the company an extra $10.6 million in bonuses for FY 2014. Moreover, when the mishandling was discovered, the NNSA opted not to fine the company $240,000 in penalties, believing it “had suffered enough” as a result of having additional bonus money withheld.

Energy Department investigators found “some of the [tossed] documents had never been reviewed by the staff responsible for making classification decisions. Those that had been reviewed were erratically categorized, according to NNSA’s notice of violation to Babcock & Wilcox. Some were marked at higher or lower classification levels than the information warranted. Others were designated classified when they held no sensitive information, according to the notice of violation.”

Petraeus won't be demoted and Broadwell not under active investigation. Photo: International Security Assistance Force.

Petraeus won’t be demoted and Broadwell not under active investigation. Photo: International Security Assistance Force.

The Pentagon told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it will not demote former CIA director General David Petraeus for giving his biographer, Paula Broadwell, eight binders of highly classified information and then lying to FBI investigators about his actions. While Petraeus avoided jail time, reports surfaced that the DOD was considering “downgrading Petraeus to a three-star general” after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information. The Pentagon told Senators, however, that “The Army completed its review of his case and recommended no additional action.” An Army spokeswoman also recently announced that Broadwell, who is still an active Army Reserve officer, is not under any active investigation.

The State Department, which was initially ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras to release all of Hillary Clinton’s emails in connection with a FOIA lawsuit brought by Vice News’s Jason Leopold by January 29,  “overlooked more than 7,000 pages of messages in need of interagency review and now needs until the end of February to get those messages properly reviewed for release.” Contreras has ordered government lawyers to appear on February 9, the same day as the New Hampshire primary, to discuss the status of the department’s efforts. Leopold’s lawyers have argued “that State hasn’t adequately explained the foul-up and has failed to establish why the monthlong delay is needed.”

Hillary Clinton emails recently released to Judicial Watch in a separate FOIA lawsuit reveal the lengths to which the agency went to accommodate Clinton’s email arrangement – and how common the knowledge was at the State Department that Clinton had both a personal email and server. The Hill reports that “The State Department proposed creating a ‘stand-alone’ computer operating on a separate network for Hillary Clinton”, ostensibly –according to the emails– because Clinton didn’t know how to check a computer for email, only her BlackBerry.  Days after Clinton’s tenure began, “department official Lewis Lukens offered to give her a computer that would be ‘connected to the internet (but not through our system) to enable her to check emails from her desk.’” State never set up a “stand-alone” computer for Clinton, but it further begs the question of whether she was given express permission to solely use a personal email and server. As Diplopundit notes, “What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more tha[n] that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers?”

Aaron Swartz declined a plea bargain in his JSTOR case.

Aaron Swartz declined a plea bargain in his JSTOR case.

The Department of Justice told Jason Leopold that it has no documents on Aaron Swartz, the computer programmer and internet activist who committed suicide in 2013 shortly after declining a plea bargain after being charged with wire fraud and violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for downloading several million JSTOR articles. The DOJ is taking the bizarre stance that it has no documents in spite of the fact that its US Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts prosecuted the Swartz case and the Department of Homeland Security has previously released emails exchanged with the DOJ on the Swartz’s case in response to a FOIA lawsuit. Swartz also developed Secure Drop, which accepts encrypted documents and facilitates communication between sources and journalists while maintaining the source’s anonymity, to protect government whistleblowers.

The Washington Post recently reported on the CIA practice of deceiving its own workforce by planting memos that contain false information – known as “eyewash” – as a way to protect secrets. According to The Post, “In one instance, leaders at CIA headquarters sent a cable to the agency’s station in Pakistan saying operators there were not authorized to pursue a potentially lethal operation against the alleged al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaida. But a second set of instructions sent to a smaller circle of recipients told them to disregard the other message and that the mission could proceed.” Troublingly, “Beyond the internal distrust implied by the practice, officials said there is no clear mechanism for labeling eyewash cables or distinguishing them from legitimate records being examined by the CIA’s inspector general, turned over to Congress or declassified for historians.” While officials say separate channels are used to convey accurate information, at least two “eyewash” cables are cited in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s Torture Program.

A new Harvard study, “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate,” finds that the FBI’s warnings that encryption severely hampers its ability to track suspects are “wildly overblown”. Current and former intelligence officials participated in the study, which concludes that “going dark” is a misleading threat that ignores a “flood of new technologies ‘being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity’ that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and are already the target of the National Security Agency as it places ‘implants’ into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad.”

Political Science Quarterly says of National Security Archive Deputy Director Malcolm Byrne’s latest book, Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power, “[I]f Byrne sought to write an account of Iran-Contra that was as thorough as it was readable, he has succeeded. Of the books on this topic, this stands among the best and will likely remain in that group for the foreseeable future.” Utilizing tens of thousands of pages of previously classified documents, Iran-Contra is the first full-length account of the affair to study and assess the various official investigations that were convened — the Tower Commission, the joint congressional hearings, and the independent counsel’s inquiry. Iran-Contra concludes that the affair could not have occurred without awareness and approval at the very top of the U.S. government. Byrne reveals an unmistakable pattern of dubious behavior — including potentially illegal conduct by the president, vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the CIA director and others — that formed the true core of the scandal.

National Security Archive Senior Analyst Kate Doyle recently gave the keynote address for the “La Tortura en Mexico: Practica sin Freno” conference hosted by Mexico National University’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Doyle — who led the Archive’s publishing of the Mexican government’s unprecedented draft report on the nation’s “dirty war” in 2006 — said that torture in Mexico has become “routine and bureaucratic institutionalized process…a bad habit.” The 2006 report accuses three Mexican presidents of a sustained policy of violence targeting armed guerrillas and student protesters alike, including the use of “massacres, forced disappearance, systematic torture, and genocide.” The report makes clear that the abuses were not the work of individual military units or renegade officers, but official practice under Presidents Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970), Echeverría (1970-1976) and López Portillo (1976-1982).

Did you catch Stephen Colbert’s Donald Rumsfeld interview? The star of the segment was a declassified document that shows that before the Iraq invasion, US “knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program [was] based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.” Read more about the document, and how it bolsters previous National Security Archive Iraq War analysis, here.

Government Censors Aviation Warnings Leading up to 9/11

Government Censors Aviation Warnings Leading up to 9/11

This week’s #tbt pick is a 2004 posting on the government censoring aviation warnings in the lead-up to 9/11. The posting notes how the Transportation Security Administration refused to release the texts or even the titles of five aviation warnings given to airlines just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, even though the titles and substance of the warnings have been published in the best-selling 9/11 Commission report. The TSA cited five different FOIA exemptions to conceal its dubious secrets, and blacked out even the unclassified information – such as the document titles and numbers – claiming that this information fits in the “Sensitive Security Information” category.

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Happy FOIA-ing!


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