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FOIA Shows Texas Border Wall Could Bisect Retirement Community, Wildlife Preserves: FRINFORMSUM 11/16/2017

November 16, 2017

Border Wall Plans in Texas would Disrupt Retirement Community, Wildlife Preserves

A FOIA request from the Sierra Club’s borderlands team won the release of documents, which were then shared with the Texas Observer, showing tentative border wall plans in the Rio Grande Valley. One of the releases – a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map – “shows where the administration expects to build 33 miles of wall in 15 different segments, including portions that would tear through three wildlife areas.”

Documents also show how the Trump administration ranks the legal and topographical difficulty levels of the segments where the wall might be built. One of the “most challenging” sections would cut off upward of 100 residents of a “Nice RV park, many retirees live there permanently.” It would also bisect a nearly 800-acre preserve that is one of the continent’s most popular birding destinations, as well as its neighboring butterfly sanctuary, and one of the country’s oldest protected wildlife habitats.

The documents also show that, at least near the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, wall and levee construction is projected to cost $45 million, or $15 million per mile. Government plans for Santa Ana also include a 150-foot “enforcement zone” that would include “an all-weather road bordered by underground fiber-optic motion sensors.”

The documents can be read here.

The border wall was the subject of a separate FOIA request from USA Today that was published two weeks ago and shed light on the “unusually confusing and haphazard process” of contractors bidding to build border wall prototypes. Nearly 200 pages of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) documents reveal communications with companies seeking clarity on a rushed, murky bidding process that initially only gave companies 12 days to submit proposals for 30-foot high prototypes that could lead to a $300-million five-year contract.

Torture Approver Gets Senate OK

The Senate approved Steven Bradbury, “the principal author of the legal justifications for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’” as the top lawyer for the Transportation Department this week by a vote of 50 to 47. “Mr. Bradbury’s memos were permission slips to torture,” said Arizona Senator John McCain of Bradbury’s confirmation, “This is a dark, dark chapter in the history of the United States Senate.”

The National Security Archive has a number of declassified documents featuring Bradbury, including an October 23, 2001 DOJ Office of Legal Counsel Opinion Addressing the Domestic Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities. This document and more can be found in our Torturing Democracy exhibit.

FOIA Lawsuit Seeks Info on Interior Department Staff Reassignments

A Department of Interior whistleblower, Joel Clement, is filing a FOIA lawsuit against his former agency for documents on controversial staff reassignments after the agency failed to release any documents in response to his request. Clement filed a FOIA request in September seeking information on his own July reassignment and the reassignment of dozens of senior agency staff “as part of a sweeping reorganization.” Clement argues he was reassigned to a position he was unqualified for because he spoke about the dangers of climate change; his FOIA request also sought all communications discussing his work on climate change.

Books by Dr. Richelson.

In Memoriam: Jeffrey T. Richelson, 1949-2017: Author of Essential Reference Works on Top Secrets, Indefatigable User of the FOIA, Provider of Primary Sources to Students and the World

The National Security Archive mourns the passing of our most senior fellow, Dr. Jeffrey T. Richelson, prolific Freedom of Information Act requester and critically-praised author of extraordinary reference works on intelligence, nuclear weapons, China, terrorism, military uses of space, and espionage.

Dr. Richelson passed away on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles after a months-long battle against cancer, according to his brother, Charles. He was 67.

Jeff ranks among the founders of the National Security Archive vision – that systematic Freedom of Information Act requests could force the government to open files that otherwise would remain secret indefinitely, and once open, these files could enrich scholarship and journalism and the public debate on issues like nuclear weapons and spying that very much needed public attention and skepticism.

Jeff never sought the spotlight for open government achievements that would have been impossible without him. But his work lives on, not just in his marvelously useful books but in the cornucopia of sources he made possible for generations of students and experts to come.

Unearthing Soviet Secrets in Ukraine’s Archives

The National Security Archive’s Nate Jones has some valuable advice for anyone interested in conducting archival research in Ukraine gleaned from his experience as the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project’s fellow at Odessa State University’s Center for Nonproliferation earlier this year. Read the whole article for the nuts and bolts advice of what to do when you arrive in Ukraine, and for those waffling on whether or not the visit might bear fruit, Jones notes: “There are countless gems now available to researchers in the Ukrainian Archives and waiting to be discovered. While the Ukrainian geopolitical situation remains fraught, its historical archives have never been more accessible. Another window into the history of the Soviet Union has been opened.”

Inside the 2018 NDAA – Part 1

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act contains a number of sections relevant to cyber security, and our Cyber Vault project has culled the voluminous document to find the most important cyber information – including sections on “Pilot programs on data integration strategies for the Department of Defense” and “Repeal of domestic source restriction related to wearable electronics.”

These documents are among the 14 NDAA highlights posted in the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault on Wednesday, November 15. Next week we will continue our focus on the most interesting cyber sections from the NDAA with an additional 13 highlights.

TBT Pick – An Incomplete Collection of Jeff Richelson’s Greatest Hits

This week’s #TBT picks highlight Jeff Richelson’s enduring contribution around unveiling the activities of the nation’s super-secret intelligence agencies – notably the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the National Reconnaissance Office. These works include:

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