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Secretary Carson on Alleged Ethics Violations: “They can FOIA everything, and they have been,” and “There’s nothing to find. It’s ridiculous.” FRINFORMSUM 2/1/2018

February 1, 2018

FOIA Shows Concern at HUD that Carson was Flouting Ethics Rules

A FOIA request by the Washington Post won the release of a two-page memo voicing concerns from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s general counsel that Secretary Ben Carson was inappropriately allowing his “son to help organize an agency ‘listening tour’ in Baltimore last summer.” The event was intended to “give the secretary a chance to see federally supported housing projects firsthand and to convey his policy vision to the public,” but the involvement of Ben Carson Jr., a prominent businessman who lives near Baltimore, begged concerns that he was using the event to court potential deals.  The Washington Post reports, “Jereon Brown, a HUD spokesman, confirmed that Carson Jr.’s role was not limited to the community event but declined to be more specific. He said no one was dropped from the list of invitees after the ethics warning. He did not respond to questions about what steps, if any, the secretary took to address the issues raised by the department lawyers.” Of the allegations of impropriety Carson said, “They can FOIA everything, and they have been,” he said. “There’s nothing to find. It’s ridiculous.”

Scott Pruitt’s Role in EPA Document Scrub

FOIA releases from the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that agency head Scott Pruitt was personally involved in decisions to remove climate science data from the agency’s website and that staff were instructed to manipulate search results to promote the Trump Administration’s executive order on energy independence. The documents, released to the Environmental Defense Fund, show Pruitt’s former public affairs associate director, J.P. Freire, requesting the webpages “Climate Change Science,” “Climate Change Impacts,” and “Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change” be removed and archived, calling the request to do so time-sensitive. Emails released through FOIA also detail how EPA staffers were told to redirect website users searching for information on the Clean Power Plan to a page promoting President Trump’s EO on energy independence by making information on the EO a “‘Best Bet’ and thus the first result for Clean Power Plan for our EPA Search engine if you request it.”

Infamous House Memo Alleging FISA Abuses Authored While House Overwhelmingly Voted to Reauthorize FISA  

House Republicans, led by House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, are trying to release a classified memo that purportedly cites serious abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The move comes less than three weeks after the House overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the FISA and less than two weeks after President Trump signed it into law. The reauthorization, supported by Nunes and Trump, codifies changes to the FISA, including “warrantless FBI queries for Americans’ communications.”

Politico reports that Nunes began investigating the subject of the memo in December 2017 – well before the FISA reauthorization vote, which begs the question: why was the Act was reauthorized at all if the abuses alleged in the memo are legitimate?

The Committee majority is pushing for the memo’s release with the support of the White House but in the face of concerns from the Justice Department and the FBI.

Archive “Snowflakes” FOIA Win Featured on NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’

The Archive’s FOIA Project Director Nate Jones recently stopped by NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ to discuss the thousands of Donald Rumsfeld “snowflakes” that are being released in response to the Archive’s FOIA lawsuit (more on the documents and lawsuit here). When asked how the memos change after 9/11, Jones notes: “They show initially the secretary of defense coming into the Pentagon and trying to get his – to grasp what’s going on. He actually on September 10 gives a big speech saying that up until this point, he wanted to do battle against entrenched Pentagon bureaucracy, comparing the Pentagon bureaucracy to Red China and the Soviet Union. Then 9/11 happens. On September 12, we have a snowflake that says, we have to figure out some kind of ceremony for all the people that died here. And then that battle on bureaucracy ended, and the war on terror began.”

The Defense Department has released roughly 1,000 pages of documents to the Archive so far as part of our suit, and we expect to receive tens of thousands more. Jones says, “You can’t help but look forward to see and wonder who is going to be mentioned, obviously looking forward to key players today like Secretary Mattis and General Flynn to see how they interacted with Secretary Rumsfeld.”

Scavenging for Intelligence: The U.S. Government’s Secret Search for Foreign Objects during the Cold War

The Archive’s latest posting, compiled by James E. David, curator of national security space programs at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, examines an underreported aspect of U.S. intelligence – “Foreign Military Exploitation” (FME). FME refers to U.S. military and intelligence efforts to discover foreign military equipment to learn adversaries’ abilities and develop defenses against them. The posting draws on records dating from the Cold War “from the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, State Department, National Security Council, and the U.S. Air Force, that describe the priorities, methods, and results of some of the U.S. government’s wide-ranging exploitation efforts, from analyzing Moscow-supplied military equipment captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, to finding a gas bottle dropped from a Soviet satellite over Wisconsin.” The fascinating posting can be read in its entirety here.

Cyber Brief – Emerging Technologies

This week’s new Cyber Brief item – The President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee 2017 Report on Emerging Technologies Strategic Vision – is chosen with the recent spate of stories on the Strava heat map in mind. Strava data unwittingly publicized highly precise location information on Western military bases and personnel around the world, including in some politically sensitive spots like the Middle East, and raised questions not just for the governments concerned but for private subscribers worried about protecting their own activities. This week’s featured document, as well as a curated selection of relevant documents from our Cyber library, offers background on similar topics – namely security issues surrounding mobile devices and the Internet of Things.

TBT Pick – Tokyo, Washington and the Case of the Missing Nuclear Agreements

This week’s TBT pick is a 2009 posting from the Archive’s U.S.-Japan project concerning the status of secret agreements on nuclear weapons that Tokyo and Washington negotiated in 1960 and 1969. The existence of these agreements was confirmed by declassified U.S. government documents, interviews with former U.S. Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer, and memoirs by Japanese diplomats. Read the posting here.

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