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Will Public Finally Gain Access to Congressional Research Service Reports? FRINFORMSUM 6/29/2017

June 29, 2017

Public Access to CRS Reports

Public access to Congressional Research Service reports is mandated in the House’s Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee bill for 2018, which passed out of committee this morning. The act, if enacted, directs the Library of Congress’ CRS to make all non-confidential reports public. The topic has been subject of debate for years, but the act’s authors found “the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people.”

Daniel Schuman, Policy Director at Demand Progress, has been fighting for public access to the reports for years and his written extensively on the issue. A good summary of his winning arguments can be found in his May 3, 2017, testimony before the House Subcommittee on Appropriations.

The bill must still pass the entire House, and there must be a companion bill in the Senate. Roll Call notes that the “Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to act on its version” of a 2018 appropriations bill.

Secrecy News Highlights

Two recent postings by Steve Aftergood at Secrecy News will be of special interest to document hounds. The first concerns the launch of “a new series of unclassified publications on foreign military threats to the United States with a report on the Russian military” at the Defense Intelligence Agency. The second examines a new Defense Department historical volume on “The role of Secretary of Defense Harold Brown in managing the Pentagon, boosting the military and confronting the Soviet Union during the Jimmy Carter Administration.”

Contractors Kept TRANSCOM in the Dark About Compromised Networks

Contractors for the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) only notified the command center of compromised networks that came into contact with TRANSCOM’s own networks in one out of 25 instances. The revelation comes from a previously secret 2014 Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry into cyber intrusions. The inquiry contains a wealth of information on cyber incident reporting from TRANSCOM contractors and insights into inter-governmental information sharing.

The inquiry is one of 11 new additions posted in the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault on Wednesday, June 28.

Privacy Watchdog Down to One Member, Can’t Launch New Investigations or Hold Public Forum

The Project on Government Oversight has a good, in-depth piece drawing attention to the precarious position the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board finds itself in. PCLOB, an independent agency charged with ensuring that the government’s terrorism efforts don’t infringe on privacy and civil liberties, is supposed to be staffed by one full-time chair and four part-time members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. But only one of the boards seats is currently filled and “the board can’t carry out many of its core functions without a quorum of at least three members. For example, it can’t launch any new oversight investigations or hold public meetings.” Members of Congress have complained that the vacancies hobble the debate over government surveillance.

PCLOB was not staffed at full-force by the end of the Obama administration either. The Board’s last chair was David Medine, who retired two years early in 2016 for a position in the private sector. His retirement came after The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reported that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee advanced a provision to the 2016 intelligence authorization bill that would block PCLOB access to information on covert programs. The move was allegedly made after Republicans on the committee were angered by an opinion piece written by Medine arguing that PCLOB is entitled by law to have “access to all relevant reports and material from any executive branch agency. It may also interview government personnel and ask the attorney general to subpoena the production of any relevant information from the private sector.”

President Trump has yet to nominate anyone to fill the vacant positions.

State to Close Independent Office on Pakistan and Afghanistan

Reports that the Trump administration appears likely to shutter the State Department’s “stand-alone” Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), which “coordinates across the government to meet U.S. strategic goals in the region,” comes on the heels of news that Trump has given the Pentagon the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan.

SRAP, created in 2009, has seen its office dwindle from almost 100 employees to a dozen and its mission narrowed from being “the main diplomatic player” with a wide range of responsibilities to specialists managing current programs.

The Obama administration also considered closing the office and folding it into the South and Central Asia Affairs bureau, but the timing is now more complicated. A former SRAP deputy, Vikram Singh, said, that closing the diplomatic office while adding troops “betrays a lack of strategy and is symptomatic of a vacuum in critical positions throughout the State Department.”

What Did the FBI Learn about Homegrown Violent Extremists from a 2012 Survey? FOIA Redactions Make it Hard to Tell

Survey results analyzed in a heavily-redacted Secret 2012 FBI Counterterrorism Division report shed some light on the Bureau’s insights about homegrown violent extremists. The report, released to the National Security Archive’s Dr. Jeffrey Richelson in response to a FOIA request, specifically focuses on radicalization. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to draw conclusions from the document given the amount of redacted material. The FBI redacted all information about who was polled and who conducted the survey, but a good guess is that they survey was carried out by the Directorate of Intelligence’s Analysis and Strategic Issues Branch.

Chief FOIA Officers Meeting

The next meeting of the Chief FOIA Officers Council is scheduled for July 27 at 10 AM at the U.S. National Archives, and you can register here. The Office of Government Information Services’ (OGIS) blog notes, “The Chief FOIA Officers’ Council is intended to develop recommendations to increase agency compliance and efficiency and to share agency best practices and innovative approaches… During this meeting of the Chief FOIA Officer Council, we will discuss strategies for improving customer service and improving coordination between agency FOIA Public Liaisons and OGIS.”

Sterling Convictions Upheld

A federal appeals court upheld all but one of former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling’s convictions last week. Sterling was found guilty in January 2015 of leaking classified information on Operation Merlin, a Clinton-era CIA effort to sabotage Iranian nuclear research, to New York Times reporter James Risen. The quick trial, long delayed by debates over whether or not the Justice Department would force Risen to testify, inevitably took less than two weeks (without Risen’s testimony). Prosecutors urged the judge in a federal filing “to make an example of Sterling in order to discourage other government employees with access to classified information from taking a similar course.”

TBT Pick – The Spy Satellite So Stealthy that the Senate Couldn’t Kill It

Today’s #TBT pick is a 2004 posting on a surveillance satellite program “that the Senate intelligence committee has voted to cancel but survives in the current intelligence budget due to strong support from the House and Senate appropriations committees and the House intelligence committee.” The existence of the program was first described in the National Security Archive’s Jeffrey Richelson’s 2002 book, “The Wizards of Langley.”

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Happy FOIA-ing!


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