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FBI Consults Public Affairs Office, Not Advisory Board, for Removing Public Info from Website: FRINFORMSUM 11/9/2017

November 9, 2017

Anemic FBI Crime Report Published in Consultation with Public Affairs, not Advisory Board

FiveThirtyEight has an excellent article on the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the United States report – “a collection of crime statistics gathered from over 18,000 law-enforcement agencies” that contains 70 percent fewer data tables than previous iterations. The missing data from the 2016 report concerns homicides, arrests, and valuable statistical information on the relationship between victims and offenders, weapons used, and “the only national estimate of annual gang murders.”

The report – at least traditionally – “is an invaluable resource for researchers who track national crime trends and is a rich reference database for journalists and members of the general public who are interested in official crime statistics.”

The changes were made without consulting the traditional review body – the Advisory Policy Board.  The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program said that, instead, the decision had been made after consulting the Office of Public Affairs and was based on the “number of times a user actually viewed the tables on the internet.”

Disappearing War Data

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has redacted previously-reported metrics on Afghan security forces – the main recipients of $120 billion in US aid to the country – from its latest quarterly report at the request of the Afghan government. John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan, faulted the decision, saying: “The government usually doesn’t classify good news. I don’t want any nameless, faceless Afghan bureaucrat telling the American taxpayer what they ought to know.” Mr. Sopko went on to call the seemingly arbitrary classification a “slippery slope.”

The withheld information was previously classified once in 2015; reporting from The New York Times notes that “While the quarterly reports have had a classified annex since 2015, most of the data categories redacted in the latest release have been available to the public since the inspector general started putting out the reports in 2008.” These data categories include the number of personnel employed by the security forces and the number of combat casualties.

The disappearing data comes at a particularly bad time for researchers interested in metrics the US keeps on its presence in Afghanistan. The Army’s historical field staff, which maintained more than 20 historians in Saigon during Vietnam, hasn’t place a historian in the field in Afghanistan since 2014, believing average soldiers could be trained to save document and hand them off, along with sources of information. The Center for Military History’s Jerry Brooks says this theory overlooked the fact that “that people are lazy.” Historians dealing with Iraq have avoided some of these lapses, but still suffer from fewer personnel in the field than in past wars.

Briefing Book, Deputies Committee Meeting, ca. 12/13/1991 (Secret)
1991-12-13

Engaging North Korea

The George H.W. Bush administration understood North Korea might be negotiating in bad faith in the early 1990s, yet concluded that negotiations were the best way to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, according to FOIA-released documents posted by the National Security Archive.

The documents provide valuable historical context for U.S. policymakers as President Donald J. Trump travels to Asia to engage with allies over the North Korean nuclear threat.  Many of the issues being confronted today echo those U.S. strategists faced two decades ago.

For example, one of the questions the Bush I administration debated was the advisability of military force. But even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney rejected the option, telling South Korean and Japanese leaders they should not consider “military measures” since “such discussion could jeopardize our initial diplomatic strategy,” according to a high-level internal briefing book.

On the matter of China’s motives, American policymakers were candid enough to acknowledge their uncertainty but did conclude that Beijing was unlikely to do anything that might threaten the regime in Pyongyang.

U.S. negotiating strategy included developing “nooses” to tighten around North Korea if it continued to delay, while understanding the importance of preparing the ground for multilateral coercive measures even as talks went ahead.

25 Years Not Enough Notice for Agencies to Release JFK Files on Time

Even with 25-years notice mandating that every agency’s remaining records on the JFK assassination be released by October 26, 2017, the CIA and FBI were, bafflingly, unable to meet the deadline – continuing to release records weeks after the due date.

The Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act) requires that all agency assassination records be publicly disclosed in full by October 26, 2017 – unless the President upheld an agency appeal and “certifies” that releasing a record would cause specific harm. This did not happen.

On October 26, 2,891 documents were released – but President Trump “bowed to pressure from the C.I.A. and F.B.I. by withholding thousands of additional papers pending six more months of review.”

On November 3, 676 records were released.

On November 9, today, 13,213 additional records were released.

Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh told the Washington Post, “most of the papers that were released didn’t warrant the long-held secrecy. He pointed to a never-before-seen memo by Hoover, dated two days after the assassination. Hoover says in the memo that he wanted to have ‘something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,’ and that he thought the investigation should be kept secret because of Oswald’s contacts with the Cuban embassy in Mexico City and the Soviet Embassy in Washington.” What, Kornbluh asks, “is the secrecy around that document really about?”

The Ghosts of Langley

The National Security Archive’s John Prados will be discussing his new book, The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of Darkness, at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. today, November 9, at 6:30. The book release coincides with the agency’s 70th anniversary and “takes a provocative and panoramic look at the Agency through the eyes of key figures in CIA history and in light of its covert actions around the world. Drawing on a wealth of newly declassified documents, join Prados as he throws fresh light on classic agency operations such as the Bay of Pigs, and discerns a disturbing continuum from the practice of covert actions from Iran in the 1950s, Chile and Vietnam in the 1970s, and Central America in the 1980s to the current secret wars in the Muslim world.”

Ticket information available here.

FOIA Food For Thought: The FOIA Ecosystem

Are you interested in a today’s current FOIA landscape and will be in the D.C. area November 16? If so, please join us for an American Society of Access Professionals “Food For Thought Training Seminar” featuring National Security Archive director Tom Blanton. Blanton will discuss the FOIA ecosystem, lessons learned from his decades in the FOIA trenches, the symbiotic relationship between requesters and processors, and how both sides can work together to improve the FOIA process and release more information to the public. RSVP information can be found here.

TBT Pick – How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

This week’s TBT pick is chosen with the newly declassified North Korea documents in mind and is a 2010 posting on Nixon’s search for military options towards North Korea. The posting details how, “Four decades ago, in response to North Korean military provocations, the U.S. developed contingency plans that included selected use of tactical nuclear weapons against Pyongyang’s military facilities and the possibility of full-scale war.”

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