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NSArchive’s “Outstanding Academic Title 2017”, FOIA Lawsuit Seeks Info on Travel Ban Enforcement, and More: FRINFORMSUM 1/4/2018

January 4, 2018

Summits Book Wins Choice Award “Outstanding Academic Title 2017”

The journal of the Association of College and Research Libraries, Choice magazine, has picked the National Security Archive’s most recent book, by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton, as an “Outstanding Academic Title 2017.”

The book, The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations that Ended the Cold War, was published by Central European University Press in 2017, and excerpted by The New York Times on December 25, 2016.

The Choice citation reads:  “Awarding outstanding works for their excellence in presentation and scholarship, the significance of their contribution to the field, their originality and value as an essential treatment of their subject, and significance in building undergraduate collections.”

The book is the latest in the series of National Security Archive Cold War Readers published by the Central European University Press and edited by Malcolm Byrne.  They include:

FOIA Shows DHS Deemed Travel Ban Implementation a “Crisis”

FOIA-released records documenting the Department of Homeland Security’s response to, and implementation of, the Trump administration’s January 2017 travel ban contradicts the administration’s assertion that the implementation was “a massive success story.” Rather, the DHS records “reflect confusion on the front lines about how to implement the order and show that DHS officials deemed the situation a ‘crisis’ requiring a high-level response.”

The records, released in the course of a FOIA lawsuit, show the department activated its crisis action team (CAT) to deal with confusion at airports and questions and complaints from lawmakers and airlines. Strained DHS officials complained of receiving contradictory guidance from the Trump administration, and “DHS emails show that officials dealing with airlines and airports were told to direct all questions to a single phone number in Washington, D.C., but at least one airline executive said the hotline was unresponsive.”

A DHS Inspector General report on the ban is still being blocked from release, although IG John Roth “told lawmakers that he wanted to release the report to Congress and the public, but DHS officials cited concerns that the review contains information that could invade privileged attorney-client conversations and intrude on executive branch policy deliberations.”

FOIA Seeks Info on DOJ’s Decision to Release Strzok Texts

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is filing a FOIA lawsuit against the Justice Department for information on its “decision to share with the press text messages exchanged between two FBI employees, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, during the 2016 election” without consultation with DOJ’s inspector general. The texts, sent between a Strzok, former investigator on Robert Mueller’s special counsel, and Page, an FBI colleague, disparage Trump (as well as Bernie Sanders and former Attorney General Eric Holder) and became a lightning rod for Mueller critics after the DOJ released them one day before Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein’s December 13 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

CREW’s FOIA request seeks DOJ senior leadership communications concerning “how it chose which texts, of the more than 10,000 the department obtained over the summer, to unveil publicly” and “about whether, when, and how to share the text messages with reporters, communications with any member of Congress and/or their staff regarding this matter.”

How Will FOIA Fare in 2018?

The Washington Times has a good article on the ongoing problems with FOIA – and how FOIA requesters should not expect them to reverse course under the Trump administration without a genuine culture change. Focusing particular attention on agencies’ ongoing struggles to deal effectively with their FOIA backlogs (Nate Jones, our FOIA project director says, “It is about the same, which is to say terrible”), growing appeals backlogs, the ongoing enforcement of the Craig memo – which instructs agencies to consult with the White House “before releasing any documents that might involve ‘White House equities’” – without defining what those equities might be in the FOIA realm, and logistical problems faced by even the most well-meaning FOIA offices, the Times argues FOIA in 2018 will not look much different than in 2017.

Trump’s Misunderstanding of Iranian History, Public Discontent

The National Security Archive’s Iran project director, Malcolm Byrne, recently spoke to Think Progress on President Trump’s recent tweets expressing support for Iranian protestors. Byrne, arguing that hopes for an Iranian Spring are “very probably premature,” notes:

“There’s been a long-festering sense of discontent among a lot of Iranians, at least in the capital, about the government — inefficiencies, corruption, and so on.  This latest outburst is obviously significant and part of the reason is the fact that it’s taking place in other cities and towns, away from Tehran.

When it comes to countries where the West disapproves of the regime, outside observers have a tendency to assume the population must be feeling the same way. But that’s usually more a function of projection than detailed analysis — which is hard to get when access is so limited.”

More from Byrne and the Archive’s Iran project can be found here.

California Private Immigrant Detention Centers

California is the first state to apply its open records law to private prisons detaining immigrants. Prior to the January 1, 2018, change private prisons had been exempt from the law, but the Dignity Not Detention Act now requires the CPRA to be applied to private immigrant detention facilities and “also effectively freezes the expansion of for-profit immigration detention facilities in the state.” It is important to note, however, that while the law applies to the California Public Records Act, private immigration detention facilities remain exempt from the FOIA and other state records laws.

President George H.W. Bush announces his Presidential Nuclear Initiatives in a prime-time speech from the Oval Office, September 27, 1991. Credit: National Defense University Press.

TBT Pick – Unilateral U.S. nuclear pullback in 1991 matched by rapid Soviet cuts

This week’s TBT pick, inspired by President Trump’s renewed antagonism of Kim Jong Un and his nuclear button, is a 2016 posting on how a unilateral U.S. nuclear pullback in 1991 was matched by rapid soviet cuts and the “most spontaneous and dramatic reversal” of the arms race. The documents in this posting include the verbatim transcripts of Bush’s September 27, 1991 phone call to Gorbachev giving the Soviet leader a heads-up on the imminent White House announcement, and Gorbachev’s phone call with Bush on October 5 spelling out the dramatic Soviet nuclear pullbacks that matched and in some cases exceeded the American moves.

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