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Condor Verdict In, FOIA Requests to the FCC Just Got More Difficult, and More: FRINFORMSUM 1/19/2017

January 19, 2017
Former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Blanco (Photo:

Former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Blanco (Photo:

Operation Condor Verdict – Life Imprisonment

This week a tribunal in Rome sentenced two former heads of state and two ex-chiefs of security forces from Bolivia and Peru, as well as a former Uruguayan foreign minister, to life imprisonment for their  involvement in the coordinated, cross-border system of repression known as “Operation Condor.” The National Security Archive, which provided testimony and dozens of declassified documents as evidence to the tribunal, hailed the ruling.

One declassified Department of State document that the Archive provided to prosecutors stated that Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay “have established Operation Condor to find and kill terrorists … in their own countries and in Europe.” “… [T]hey are joining forces to eradicate ‘subversion’, a word which increasingly translates into non-violent dissent from the left and center left.” Their definition of subversion, according to the document, was so broad as to include “nearly anyone who opposes government policy.” The document notes that former Foreign Minister Blanco of Uruguay was one of those behind this vision.

In another document introduced in the trial, Peru’s former defense and prime Minister Richter Prada claims that three Argentine fugitives were “legally expelled and delivered to a Bolivian immigration official in accordance with long-standing practice.” The document goes on to say that the fugitives are probably “permanent disappearances.”

Get the whole story, and read the key documents, at the National Security Archive’s website.

FOIA Requests to the FCC Can’t be Submitted by Email or Fax

Michael Ravnitzky recently pointed out that the Federal Communications Commission recently posted a final rule – without providing for public comment – that will negatively impact requesters. Specifically, it no longer allows FOIA requesters to submit FOIA requests via email or fax – and contradicts the spirit of recent amendments to the FOIA. The rule states:

  1. We also amend subsection (d)(1) to remove the use of facsimile or email to file FOIA requests; instead, requesters are directed to submit their requests either via the postal mail or through the Commission’s FOIAonline portal. In section 0.461(d)(2), we clarify that the responsibility to sign FOIA response letters may be delegated to staff of the bureau or office that is the custodian of the records. We amend the provisions of section 0.461(e)(1) concerning date stamping of incoming initial requests to reflect the current procedure as implemented through FOIAonline. In section 0.461(e)(2)(i)(B)(1), we modify the situations in which the processing time may be tolled pending the outcome of a fee matter, explicitly providing that the time for processing a FOIA request will be tolled in cases where the amount of fees authorized is less than the estimated cost for completing the production. This is consistent with existing practice. We update section 0.461(e)(3) to reflect the new methods for FOIA requesters to check on the status of their requests. We also provide for consultation with other agencies regarding records in which other agencies have equities in the Commission’s decision concerning the disposition of a FOIA request for those records.

It’s a sad irony that a department geared towards communications is enacting this regressive rule change, which are decidedly not the kind of updated regulations that senators and representatives envisioned when they required agencies to update their FOIA regulations last year. Issuing the rule change without providing public comment is also likely illegal because the rule directly impacts the public.

CREST Database Now Online

The CIA has published the 13 million pages of declassified documents in its CREST database to its website, thanks in large part to a FOIA suit filed by MuckRock, handled pro bono by Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors, requesting the database. The agency’s move was likely also prompted by MuckRock user Michael Best, frustrated with the needless hurdles to access, launching a KickStarter campaign to buy the equipment necessary to scan and upload all the documents online.

The documents – which were already declassified – were previously only available onsite at the National Archive’s College Park location in Maryland.

Even though the documents have been available for years for those willing to travel, the CIA long-cited a fear of the Mosaic Principle – the piecing together of documents to discern information the agency wants hidden – as a reason for making researchers review the documents onsite.

The CIA initially told a federal judge in response to MuckRock’s 2014 FOIA lawsuit that it would take 28 years to release the set, 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.

Last October,  the CIA announced it would place CREST online, but didn’t provide a timeline for doing so.

In its posting, the CIA cites provisions of Executive Order 13256, requiring “the declassification of non-exempt historically valuable records 25 years or older.” And while this week’s posting is a big step in the right direction, a good number of the most interesting items have been shielded by a notice, “CREST temporarily unavailable” – a notice that we will be watching to ensure it does not become permanent.

DOJ Doesn’t Want to Give Federal Judge Copy of Torture Report

The Justice Department is arguing that delivering a copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth – per his order – would “unduly interfere … with the larger oversight relationship between the Senate Committee and the CIA.” The DOJ further argues that, “there’s no risk of the 6,963-page Senate Intelligence Committee report disappearing forever because President Barack Obama recently added his classified copy to his presidential archives.” Lamberth’s order was issued in a case concerning Guantánamo captive, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who was tortured during his 2002-2006 detention.

The Justice Department also called Lamberth’s order to “preserve and maintain all evidence, documents and information, without limitation, now or ever in the [U.S. government’s] possession, control or custody, relating to the torture, mistreatment, and/or abuse of detainees held in the custody of the Executive Branch” since Sept. 11, 2001 “overreaching.”

Judge Orders DOJ to Preserve Personal Email

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan this week ordered the Justice Department to preserve emails in the Gmail account of Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, Peter Kadzik, before he leaves his post with the change of presidential administrations. The order concerns Gmail emails that may be responsive to FOIA requests filed by Judicial Watch. Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes, “Another federal judge in Washington is considering a Judicial Watch request to preserve emails in private accounts belonging to four top Department of Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Jeh Johnson. In December, yet another federal judge issued an order requiring the top White House science official to preserve all his emails in a private account as litigation over the messages continues.”

nytLast Superpower Summits at the Wilson Center

The National Security Archive’s Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton will be giving the audience an inside look at the “Last Superpower Summits” next Monday at the Wilson Center. Their latest book, “The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations that Ended the Cold War,” publishes declassified accounts (obtained through FOIA requests as well as from the Gorbachev Foundation and the State Archive of the Russian Federation in Moscow, and from the personal donation of Anatoly Chernyaev) that include almost every word that Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush actually said to each other.

RSVP to this event – co-sponsored by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program – here.

The National Security Archive Nunn-Lugar Conference on C-SPAN 3

American History TV on C-SPAN 3 will be airing three panel discussions from the National Security Archive’s December 2016 Nunn-Lugar conference, which brought together Nunn-Lugar veterans including Russians, Kazakhs, and Americans – and Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar – in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room of the U.S. Senate to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the threat reduction legislation. This coming weekend the panels will air at the following times:

Panel 1 airs Sunday at 6:30pm & 10:30pm ET

Panel 2 airs Saturday at 10:30pm ET and Sunday at 4:30pm ET

Panel 3 airs Sunday at 9pm and 1am Monday ET

On Saturday January 28, starting at 10 am ET, the three panels will run in chronological order back-to-back (until about 1:35pm ET).

Able Archer 83 at the US National Archives

Save your seat today for Nate Jones’s talk on Able Archer 83, the secret history of the NATO exercise that almost triggered nuclear war. The talk takes place next Wednesday (1/25) at noon in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s gorgeous McGowan Theater. RSVP here.

And for those of you lucky enough to be in New York City today – Jones will be signing copies of his new book on the 1983 War Scare at 7PM at Spritzenhaus33 – check it out if you’re in the area!

Advancing Israeli National Cyberspace Capabilities 

A 2011 translation of the Israeli government’s resolution concerning cyberspace capabilities sheds light on, among other things, its establishment of a National Cyber Bureau. The document contains two intriguing addendums; the first highlights the Bureau’s mission, organizational structure, and goals, which include advancing research and development in both cyberspace and supercomputing. The second addendum regulates responsibilities for dealing with the cyber field.

TBT Pick – Operation Desert Storm


This week’s #TBT pick is a 2001 posting on Operation Desert Storm, which primarily focuses on the intelligence, space operations, and Scud-hunting aspects of the war. It also includes a report describing how Desert Storm affected China’s view of future warfare, a document that raises questions as to what lessons other nations have drawn from U.S. military engagements in the Middle East and the Balkans.

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Happy FOIA-ing!

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