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‘Homeland’ Sounds Too German and Other Takeaways from the First Tranche of Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes Release: FRINFORMSUM 1/25/2018

January 25, 2018

Rumsfeld Snowflakes Come in From the Cold

On February 27, 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Deputy Secretary Rudy de Leon that “The word ‘homeland’ is a strange word. ‘Homeland’ Defense sounds more German than American. Also it smacks of isolationism.”

In July of that year he wrote to Doug Feith of his thoughts on oil, noting, “We ought to have on our radar screen the subject of oil- Venezuela, the Caucuses, Indonesia-anywhere we think it may exist and how it fits into our strategies.”

In December he instructed Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to “get a team together” to “make our next case on anything we do after Afghanistan.”

These brief memos, often described as ‘snowflakes’ – the term used to describe Rumsfeld’s usually one-page, often one-sentence, memos that he sent to his underlings to ask a question or issue an instruction – are just a few of  an estimated 59,000 pages that the Pentagon has begun to provide in segments to the Archive in response to our multi-year FOIA lawsuit. In court filings the Department of Defense attorney confessed, “As far as the delay in the initial response to the request, all I can do is fall on our sword; that was too long.”  Judge Tanya S. Chutkan agreed, calling the DOD six-year delay in response to the Archive’s FOIA request “unconscionably long.”


The full archive of snowflakes is a critical historical resource and will serve as a sort of ultimate Pentagon chronology, touching on such diverse DOD issues as staffing, Rumsfeld’s personal requests, advice from such notables as Frank Gaffney and Newt Gingrich, communications from Rumsfeld to President George W. Bush, relations with Russia, China, and other nations, and the DOD’s strategy and conduct in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Archive will publish new installments of snowflakes as they are released to us. Special thanks to the Archive’s pro bono lawyers Melissa Smith, Cliff Sloan, and Greg Craig at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.

ICE Posts Personal Information from Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office Callers, Briefly Takes Down FOIA Library

Immigration and Customs Enforcement temporarily removed and reviewed the entire contents of its FOIA library late last year after releasing the private information of hundreds of people who had called into the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office – publishing the potentially personally identifiable information in both its public call logs and in FOIA releases. VOICE was established in April 2017 by the Trump administration “to support victims of crimes by immigrants” and is not meant to be a crime hotline – although logs released the Arizona’s The Republic in response to a FOIA request show it is largely used “to accuse people of being in the country illegally or of violating immigration laws.” ICE offered two years of identity-theft protection and credit monitoring to those affected by the release and asked the paper to confirm that it had destroyed the records that were sent in error.

E-Discovery Program Slows HUD’s FOIA Work

An Inspector General evaluation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s FOIA program comes to a blunt conclusion: the agency is too slow to respond to FOIA requests. The report faulted the agency’s E-Discovery Management System, saying it “does not fulfill its job.”

FedScoop describes the e-discovery system as follows:

“HUD has a contract with Leidos Innovation Corporation for such e-discovery services, the evaluation paper states. As set forth in the contract, the process works like this: A HUD customer (the FOIA office, for example) submits a request for ESI. That request is approved by the general counsel e-discovery team and then passed on to the Leidos contractors for actual collection of the materials.”

The IG found that, among other problems, incoming FOIA requests are more than Leidos’ contract was estimated to cover.  The IG suggests one possible solution would be “moving ESI data to the cloud — away from localized storage — will make it easier to find.”

 “FOIA Surge” Extended at State

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has extended the “FOIA surge” at the State Department for another 90 days in an attempt to clear the agency’s backlog. The surge is pulling in career diplomats and senior civil servants from other departments in a move that some believe is designed to make them quit (see here for more). The surge was first announced in October 2017 and was intended to clear the department’s backlog of more than 13,000 requests. Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports that, despite the genuine need for the department to reduce its backlog, some officials “see the initiative as a make-work exercise designed to induce them to quit as Tillerson tries to cut State’s budget and streamline its staff.”

NSA Deleted Surveillance Data After Telling Court It Would Be Preserved

News that the National Security Agency deleted surveillance data pertinent to multiple pending lawsuits is breaking shortly after Congress authorized, and the President signed into law, the extension of the legal authority that authorizes the agency’s surveillance work. The NSA, in addition to deleting the data, “apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed” – information it has been required to maintain since 2007.  Court filings first reported by Politico’s Josh Gerstein show that the agency “did not preserve the content of internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the program Bush ordered. To make matters worse, backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016.”

The government admitted the deletion and non-compliance in a court filing on January 18, 2018, one day before President Trump signed the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 into law; the authorization will expire in December 2023.

Sunlight Foundation’s audit of agency opengov responses.

Sunlight Foundation Reports on Openness under Trump

The Sunlight Foundation has released its report on transparency under President Trump, “Under Trump, U.S. government moves from /open to /closed.” As part of its survey, Sunlight contacted the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act and asked them a series of questions – including for basic FOIA statistics agencies are required by the Justice Department to disclose every quarter (the State Department does this). Sunlight found, “When we called public FOIA officers/liaisons for the first time, we reached voice mail 91 percent of the time, and then received a callback 26 percent of the time. Of those callbacks, just 20 percent our answered questions regarding 2017 FOIA statistics.” The remaining agencies, including the Department of the Interior, told Sunlight to file a FOIA request for the data – displaying a troubling lack of awareness of their obligations under the FOIA.

Cyber Brief: United States Department of Defense Cyber Operations

The Archive’s Cyber Vault recently posted a new document received in response to an Archive FOIA request on DOD’s cyber operations – STRATCOM’s February 2008 CDRUSSTRATCOM CONPLAN 8039-0. The document, which is posted alongside 11 relevant documents from our Cyber Library to help researchers contextualize the new release, provides cyberspace strategy for Strategic Command and a framework for the execution of tasks to generate effects in cyberspace in support of DoD objectives.

TBT Pick – The Diem Coup: JFK an South Vietnam

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2013 posting commemorating the 50th anniversary of the coup overthrowing South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. The posting “further strengthens the view that the origins of U.S. support for the coup which overthrew South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem 50 years ago today traces directly to President Kennedy, not to a ‘cabal’ of top officials in his administration.” Get the whole story here.

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