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Will ‘Still Interested’ Letters Surge as End of FY 2017 Approaches? FRINFORMSUM 8/31/2017

August 31, 2017

Will ‘Still Interested’ Letters Surge as End of FY 2017 Approaches?

The Office of Government Information Services has a timely blog on the use of “still interested” letters, reminding agencies of the most recent Department of Justice Office of Information Policy guidance on the use of these letters as the end of Fiscal Year 2017 approaches and agencies may be eager to close old FOIA requests. (“Still interested” letters are letters that agencies send FOIA requesters – often years after the request was made – to determine if the requester is still interested in the request being processed.) The blog emphasizes that the latest guidance requires agencies limit the instances in which they send such letters to when the agency “has a reasonable basis to believe that the requester’s interest in the records may have changed” and instructs agencies to provide requesters a reasonable amount of time to respond to the query (30 days at a minimum).

It remains worth noting that the overall premise behind these letters is fundamentally flawed. Nothing in the FOIA itself allows an agency to close a request if the agency does not receive a response from a “still interested” letter. According to the statute (5 USC § 552(a)(3)(A)), once a request is submitted that both “(i) reasonably describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees (if any), and procedures to be followed, [an agency] shall make the records promptly available to any person.” Aside from settling possible fee disagreements, FOIA does not require any further action on a requester’s part after a request has been submitted.

Trump’s Election Integrity Commission Runs Afoul of Judge for Failing to Disclose Public Info

U.S. District Judge Colleen ­Kollar-Kotelly recently admonished President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission during a federal court hearing concerning the commission’s compliance with open government laws for not releasing all public documents before its mid-July meeting. The commission released only an agenda and proposed bylaws before last month’s meeting, but provided commissioners with a 381-page “database” allegedly detailing 1,100 cases of voter fraud, as well as a list of possible discussion topics that should also have been published.

The DOJ Civil Division’s Elizabeth Shapiro explained the error by saying it was based on guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel and was an honest misunderstanding.

Judge ­Kollar-Kotelly said it was “incredible” that the DOJ didn’t believe it had to post “documents prepared by individual commissioners” for the meeting in advance, and ordered “the government to meet new transparency requirements” for its next meeting on September 12.

Recently-pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse

MuckRock recently published a collection of FOIA-released records from the Maricopa County Sherriff Office on former sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “cold case posse” – Arpaio’s “controversial non-profit whose chief claim to fame was investigating outgoing President Barack Obama’s birth certificate” and was disbanded by current sheriff Paul Penzone earlier this year.“Highlights” from the documents include: emails alleging that Mexican cartels were colluding with the US government to interfere with the posse’s investigation; setting up a 2013 meeting with Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) two years after Bachmann said the “birther” issue was settled; and Arpaio reassuring a fan in December 2016 that the investigation into Obama’s birth certificate was ongoing.

Remembering the Buenos Aires Herald

The Buenos Aires Herald, the storied English-language Argentinian newspaper, folded last month. The news hit many hard – in no small part because of the Herald’s role reporting on Argentina’s Dirty War. The paper distinguished itself early on in the decade of state-sponsored terrorism, by reporting on what others wouldn’t – like the assassination of two seminarians in a church “by raising doubts about the official account, which held that they had been murdered by an armed leftist group.” When news of the papers closing spread, the human rights group, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, thanked the editor for “making us feel less alone.”

The National Security Archive’s Southern Cone project has a number of postings on the Dirty War, a selection of which can be found below:

Mark Zuckerberg’s Ill-Fated Meeting with Government Climate Scientist

FOIA requests to the Department of Interior and the National Park Service won the release of documents that shed light on why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with DOI climate scientist Dan Fagre to discuss global warming was abruptly cancelled. Motherboard reports “that Trump administration appointees took issue with Fagre’s involvement in the event. The emails also show that NPS staff were left scrambling to explain Fagre’s exclusion to Facebook, which repeatedly requested a government scientist capable of speaking about the effects of climate change on melting glaciers at the park. The emails also show that, prior to Fagre’s exclusion, NPS Acting Director Michael Reynolds suggested that the administration could try to ‘manage the talking point’ of government scientists during the meeting.”

For Document Hounds: NSA History Collection Finding Aid

Steve Aftergood has published a declassified National Security Agency finding aid “for a collection of thousands of historically valuable NSA scientific and technical records” recently transferred to NARA. NARA’s David Langbart says that the records described “mostly consist of technical, analytical, historical, operational, and translation reports and related materials. Most of the records date from the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, but there are also documents from the 1920s and 1930s and even earlier.” Aftergood notes that more titles “deal with narrow, highly specialized aspects of cryptologic history prior to 1965. A few examples picked at random: German Signals Intelligence in World War II; A Compilation of Soviet VHF, UHF and SHG Activity by Area, Source and Service; Hungarian Army Communications; Description of Chinese Communist Communications Network; and so on.”

JFK and AEC Chairman Glenn Seaborg speaking with Edwin McMillan, director of Berkeley Radiation Laboratory (wearing badge), on 23 March 1962.

“Clean” Nukes and the Ecology of Nuclear War

The Atomic Energy Commission initiated studies to consider the ecological impact of nuclear war in the early 1960s, a time when the writings of natural scientist Rachel Carson were starting to inspire the modern environmental movement. The studies grew out of a belief that U.S. national security required a better understanding of the biological and environmental impacts of a nuclear conflict. Documents published this week for the first time by the National Security Archive detail the creation of the AEC’s Technical Analysis Branch (TAB), which conducted the studies, and its early efforts at exploring the long-term consequences of nuclear war.

Get the whole story, and read the documents, here.

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