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All Five Volumes of Bay of Pigs History Released and Together at Last: FRINFORMSUM 11/3/2016

November 3, 2016

bopCIA Forced to Release Bay of Pigs History Agency Once Said Would “Confuse the Public” if Declassified

After more than twenty years, it appears that fear of exposing the Agency’s dirty linen, rather than any significant security information, is what prompts continued denial of requests for release of these records. Although this volume may do nothing to modify that position, hopefully it does put one of the nastiest internal power struggles into proper perspective for the Agency’s own record.” This is according to Agency historian Jack Pfeiffer, author of the CIA’s long-contested Volume V of its official history of the Bay of Pigs invasion that was released after years of work by the National Security Archive to win the volume’s release. Chief CIA Historian David Robarge states in the cover letter announcing the document’s release that the agency is “releasing this draft volume today because recent 2016 changes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires us to release some drafts that are responsive to FOIA requests if they are more than 25 years old.” This improvement – codified by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 – came directly from the National Security Archive’s years of litigation.

The CIA argued in court for years – backed by Department of Justice lawyers – that the release of this volume would “confuse the public.” National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton says, “Now the public gets to decide for itself how confusing the CIA can be.  How many thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted trying to hide a CIA historian’s opinion that the Bay of Pigs aftermath degenerated into a nasty internal power struggle?”

To read all five volumes of the CIA’s Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation – together at last – visit the National Security Archive’s website.

CIA Says CREST Database Will be Published Online, Doesn’t Say When

The CIA recently announced that it would place its CREST database of nearly 13 million declassified documents online – but is not providing a timeline for doing so (the collection grew significantly earlier this year when the CIA and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency added “nearly 100,000 pages of analytic intelligence publication files, and about 20,000 pages of research and development files from CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, among others” to the database). The database is currently only available onsite at the National Archive’s College Park location in Maryland, and only about 250,000 pages are presently available on the CIA’s website.

The announcement comes after several lawsuits, a KickStarter campaign, and FOIA requests from the National Security Archive, among others. Recent lawsuits for the database’s release have been filed by MuckRock and Jeffrey Scudder. The CIA initially told MuckRock that it would take 28 years to release the set, prompting MuckRock to file suit, but later announced it could release the documents in six years with only a “spot check” for classified information even though the documents are already declassified. MuckRock user Michael Best, frustrated with the needless hurdles to access, launched a KickStarter campaign to buy the equipment necessary to scan and upload all the documents online. The National Security Archive also filed a FOIA request for the database’s release. The CIA denied our request, we appealed (always appeal), and were informed by the CIA that it hadn’t extended us appeal rights and therefore our appeal was not processed. The Archive contacted OGIS for assistance in this matter, but were told “In such cases as this where an agency is firm in its position, there is little for OGIS to do beyond providing more information about the agency’s actions.”

The FBI’s Big FOIA Problem isn’t Twitter, it’s the Bureau’s Grossly Outdated, Inefficient Search Software

Hillary Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon recently tweeted that the FBI FOIA Office’s release of heavily-redacted documents on the Clinton Foundation a week before the election was “odd.” Fallon, likely playing off criticism of FBI director James Comey’s recent letter to Congress regarding newly-discovered Clinton emails in connection to a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner, said that the FBI’s posting of the documents and subsequent promotion on Twitter was odd “absent FOIA litigation.”

Agencies, however, are supposed to both proactively post documents of likely public interest and publish documents that have been the subject of three or more FOIA requests online. The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy reminds agencies that, in addition to following the “rule of three,” they are obligated to proactively disclose FOIA-processed documents where there is an “expectation of future interest” or there is an “anticipated receipt” of at least two other similar requests.

Part of Fallon’s claim that the timing of the tweet was odd was based on the fact that prior to late October 2016, the Twitter account the FBI used to automatically post FOIA releases was inactive for nearly a year. The FBI claims the feed was inactive because the automated system was broken – something frequent FOIA filers with the FBI likely have no trouble believing, but is a small problem compared with the real issues at the FBI’s FOIA shop.

The larger problem with the FBI’s FOIA Office is the bureau’s grossly outdated FOIA software that is built not to locate responsive records. Ryan Shapiro is currently suing the agency over its intentionally cumbersome FOIA search software, and a good summary of the suit can be found here.

It’s worth mentioning that accusations of politicizing FOIA requests is something Clinton’s State Department was not immune to. In May 2015 The Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, “insisted on reviewing all Keystone-related documents being prepared for release, and flagged as problematic a few that the department’s records-law specialists felt obligated to release.” Mills reportedly informed a FOIA specialist that if records were released that Mills wanted withheld, “Mrs. Clinton’s office wouldn’t comply with any future document requests on any topic.”

What State Department’s FOIA office does do well, however, is posting FOIA-processed documents quarterly in its FOIA reading room – a virtual library that currently houses 146,618 documents. If the FBI had a similar posting schedule for its FOIA processed records, it would not be the subject of such scrutiny for posting FOIA releases.


One of almost 150,000 documents available on the State Department’s FOIA reading room.

 “Able Archer 83: The Secret History” On Shelves Now!

Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War,” Nate Jones’s new book on how the United States “may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger” during the 1983 NATO nuclear release exercise, is now on shelves. Jones hosted a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on the event (some great questions and answers here), and was recently interviewed by the Wilson Center’s John Milewski in a segment entitled, “The War Game that Almost Became Real.”

Jones will also be hosting a November 15 book talk at Walls of Books – Washington, DC at 7:00, and an International Spy Museum Podcast that will be released November 15.

TBT Pick: Nuclear Terrorism

This week’s #tbt pick is a 2012 posting from Dr. Jeffrey Richelson on “Nuclear Terrorism: How Big a Threat?” Some items of note in the posting are:

Some items of particular interest in today’s posting are:

  • A Defense Science Board report (Document 8) which discusses Project SCREWDRIVER (1950-52) and the resulting Project DOORSTOP (1953-70), whose objective was to detect any attempts by Soviet Bloc diplomats to smuggle nuclear material into the United States.
  • Creation of the ‘SIGMA 20’ nuclear weapons data category – to protect information about data on improvised nuclear devices (Document 12).
  • The report (Document 17) of a radiological survey of Washington, D.C. in preparation for the nuclear detection efforts conducted before and during the 2009 presidential inauguration.

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Happy FOIA-ing!


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