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FOIA Requests Shed Light on Who is Being Deported, Police Abuse of Law Enforcement Databases, and More: FRINFORMSUM 9/29/2016

September 29, 2016
Source: ICE data from 11/2014-04//2016, Human Rights Watch.

Source: ICE data from 11/2014-04/2016, Human Rights Watch.

A FOIA request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement has won the release of documents that shed light on who is being deported – and the figures seem to contradict President Obama’s November 2014 pledge that deportation efforts would focus on dangerous criminals. The data, from November 2014 through April 2016 and analyzed by the Marshall Project, shows that of the more than 300,000 deportations that took place over that time period, “The majority — roughly 60 percent — were of immigrants with no criminal conviction or whose only crime was immigration-related, such as illegal entry or re-entry. Twenty-one percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes other than immigration. Fewer than 20 percent had potentially violent convictions, such as assault, DUI or weapons offenses.”

A series of FOIA requests sent by the Associated Press to state and local police departments, as well as the FBI’s National Crime and Information Center, shows that “Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work.” There is no national agency that tracks how often abuses of this nature occur, and responses to AP FOIA requests were spotty at best.

A Motherboard FOIA request has revealed that many of England’s National Health Service hospitals are running thousands of computers – storing patient data that hospitals are obligated to take reasonable measures to keep safe – using outdated and unsupported Windows XP software. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP in April 2014, “meaning that the company would no longer release security patches for the aging operating system. Any vulnerabilities discovered after that date would therefore be left for hackers to exploit.” Three of the NHS hospital trusts Motherboard submitted FOIA requests to issued Glomar responses – refusing to either confirm or deny they had any responsive records, “claiming it would jeopardise the health and safety of their patients.”

The State Department has agreed to process nearly 3,000 pages of Clinton emails for release, with releasable portions posted to the State Department’s website, by November 3. The new number more than doubles the original court-ordered page release of 1,050 in relation to a FOIA lawsuit filed by Vice News’ Jason Leopold. Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes that the agreement “also allows State to count toward its processed pages messages that are referred to other government agencies for review” – meaning that if documents are referred, the total posted to State’s website will be shy of 3,000.

Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer recently ruled that the government may withhold information in response to a FOIA request from the James Madison Project that “would show why the government opposed the release of the book by Matt Bissonnette that chronicled the mission that killed bin Laden.” The complaint argued that the CIA, the Department of Justice (Civil Division), the Department of Defense, the Executive Office for the U.S Attorneys, the Navy, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, all inappropriately ignored or withheld documents under FOIA. In her ruling, however, the judge upheld: the Justice Department’s Civil Division Glomar invocation – despite the very public nature of the documents; the CIA’s argument that releasing the records would shed light on its investigative techniques; and found the Navy’s arguments that it never received the request – and therefore had done nothing wrong – credible.

The CIA recently denied the release of records on fictional United States Information Agency journalist Guy Sims Fitch – whose editorials promoting private American foreign investment overseas as a bulwark against Communism appeared in countries from Australia to Brazil during the 1950s and 1960s. The CIA denied the documents citing personal privacy – presumably not for Fitch, but for the journalists and editors who wrote under Fitch’s name for the propaganda agency. The CIA told FOIA requester Matt Novak that in order to respond to his request, he must submit either proof of death of those who wrote under Fitch’s name, or verify the identities of those still living and provide documents proving they consent to having their information made public.

An article from 1965, written by editors at the USIA for consumption by the German public under the name Guy Sims Fitch. Source: PaleoFuture

An article from 1965, written by editors at the USIA for consumption by the German public under the name Guy Sims Fitch. Source: PaleoFuture

The City Council in Calgary, Alberta voted to examine a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy policy that would post FOIA processed documents online for all – not just to the person who requested the documents. The proposal – which, very troublingly, was introduced by City Councilwoman Diane Colley-Urquhart to “discourage reporters from filing so many requests” – has drawn backlash from journalists who argue that such a policy is a disincentive for filing FOIAs because they could lose their scoop. The arguments are similar to those made by some journalists in the US. The National Security Archive maintains that “the fundamental principle guiding open government is that a document release to one requester constitutes a release to the public as a whole.” The Archive has long been open to compromise, however, allowing for the possibility of a “release to one, release to all” method which provides for the online posting of FOIA-processed records with a short, built-in delay. Earlier this month Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press released the results of its survey on journalists’ opinions about a “Release to One, Release to All” FOIA policy. Adam Marshall summarizes that, “While a quarter of respondents supported the policy unconditionally, almost 60% support it only with conditions, such as a delay period. Only 13 out of more than 100 respondents who self-identified as journalists do not support the policy at all.”

Steve Aftergood reported that the Intelligence Community will be giving out a new award “for certain kinds of dissidents and whistleblowers.” The news comes a week after the DOD Inspector General report on whistleblower reprisal cases as Fort Meade. Aftergood posits that “Whether or not the IC intends to celebrate its own internal critics, it seems to want to encourage and now incentivize them, providing improved channels for dissent and whistleblowing that will not inevitably be career-enders or needlessly disruptive in other ways.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation also reported this week that FOIA requests showed that “even when Congress allowed agencies to offer cash rewards to government employees to be less secretive, nobody has been collecting the money.”

A CIA special intelligence assessment in 1987 concluded that Chilean General Augusto Pinochet ordered an “act of state terrorism” on the streets of Washington, D.C., that took the lives of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier, and his 25-year-old colleague, Ronni Moffitt, forty years ago this week. The CIA report, along with other documents, were handed over to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet by Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom during a somber 40th anniversary commemoration today at Sheridan Circle – site of the car bomb assassinations in 1976 – last week and were posted online by the Archive. “This CIA evaluation has come to be considered the Holy Grail of the Letelier-Moffitt case,” according to Peter Kornbluh who directs the Archive’s Chile Documentation Project. “With this gesture of declassification diplomacy, the Obama administration has finally provided the missing link in the paper trail of evidence that leads to Pinochet’s doorstep.”


The Archive’s FOIA Project Director and Able Archer 83 expert Nate Jones will be giving a special presentation at the Wilson Center on October 20 for his new book, Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War. Jones has spent well over a decade fighting for the release of records on “this close scrape with Armageddon,” achieving front-page news last October when the US government released a ninety-four-page presidential analysis of Able Archer that Jones and the Archive had working to get declassified. The presentation will also feature commentary from Archive Director, Tom Blanton.

This week’s Cyber Vault update includes a document of special significance. The document is a 2001 US Space Command (USCINCSPACE) report, entitled “Implementation Plan for Computer Network Operations,” that was produced to implement a key milestone in the evolution of US military cyber operations – the merger of cyber defense and computer network attacks activities under a single commander. Of particular note in this document is the policy guidance section (pp. 1-4 to 1-5), which provides information on additional key documents – that the National Security Archive is filing follow-up FOIA requests for, and the intelligence section (pp. 2-1 to 2-5), which provides a good description of the assorted intelligence tasks related to CND and CNA operations.


This week we celebrated the 14th annual International Right to Know Day by highlighting a sampling of stories – selected from a much longer list curated by Toby McIntosh at – that made news this year thanks to people capitalizing on RTK laws in 113 different countries. These stories include:

  • India’s public records law revealed that thousands had contracted HIV through hospital blood transfusions, and attention from the story forced the government to pledge to improve blood safety screenings and introduce technology to ensure zero HIV transmission,
  • A Pakistani newspaper used RTK laws to show a dangerous lack of doctors in the Punjab, compelling the government to publicly promise to fill the vacancies, and
  • The Jamaican FOI law helped citizens hold the government accountable after a building collapse.

Visit for more.

If you are a recent college or graduate school alumnus – or are soon to be one – who is looking to work on international peace and security issues in DC, check out the Scoville Peace Fellowship. The deadline to apply is October 7, 2016.

This week’s #tbt pick is a 2008 posting on the Soviet plan to destroy Guantanamo. The posting documents – which were also featured in Michael Dobbs’ One Minute to Midnight – show that US intelligence identified the Soviet nuclear-tipped cruise missiles geared to destroy the naval base as “unidentified artillery” pieces, when they were actually armed with Hiroshima-sized nuclear devices.

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Happy FOIA-ing!


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