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How the Feds Responded to the Hawaii Missile False Alert, is Kushner’s Office subject to FOIA, and More: FRINFORMSUM 2/22/2018

February 22, 2018

Federal Response to Hawaii Missile False Alert 

Emails released through the FOIA give a detailed look at how the military responded to the false alert – sent by a Hawaii state official unaware that a drill was being conducted – that warned Hawaiians that a ballistic missile attack was imminent. The emails show the false alarm caused “confusion at U.S. military facilities, frustrating senior officers and causing them to question procedures for communicating with state officials.”

U.S. Pacific Command’s Andrew Singer characterized the mood after the alert was issued as follows: “Happened to be in Yoga class when one of the ladies blurted out missile attack and ran out followed by most others. Looking about town most just kept pursing [sic] getting their coffee or Malasadas.”

False missile alarms are not unprecedented. In 2012 the Archive published 20 documents on the “3 A.M. Phone Call” that warned Zbigniew Brzezinski of an incoming nuclear attack that turned out to be a false alarm and other false warnings of Soviet missile attacks delivered to the Pentagon and military commands by computers at NORAD in 1979 and 1980.

Is Kushner Office of American Innovation subject to FOIA?

A FOIA lawsuit filed by Democracy Forward and Food & Water Watch argues that the White House Office of American Innovation – set up by the Trump administration last March to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy and directed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner – should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. OAI has made the news recently for a “fact-finding mission undertaken by the office in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria” that has produced no known findings and approving Elon Musk’s efforts to build a precursor to Musk’s proposed Hyperloop that would transport people between DC and New York in less than half an hour. The complaint argues that “The wide-ranging powers exercised by OAI require it adhere to the Freedom of Information Act requirement that agencies comply with public requests for information. To date, OAI has refused to acknowledge such requests, let alone produce documents in response.”

There are currently six Executive Offices of the President subject to FOIA: the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the US Trade Representative, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The White House Office of Administration was subject to FOIA until a 2015 Obama-era rule exempted the office from FOIA.; while the rule was issued during the Obama administration, the office stopped complying with FOIA requests during the Bush administration.

Other EOPs, like the National Security Council, have been found by courts not to be subject to the FOIA.

Democracy Forward also recently filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Justice Department for its failure to respond to FOIA requests for records related to, among other things, the DOJ’s decision to rescind an Obama-era memo to reduce federal reliance on private prisons and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ memo rescinding the Obama policy in which Sessions claimed that such a move would impair “the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system” and “direct[ed] the Bureau to return to its previous approach.”

Nixon, Thieu, and the Bomb: CIA Report Sheds Light on Richard Nixon’s Madman Diplomacy

The Archive’s Nuclear Project director William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball, an emeritus professor of history at Miami University, recently co-authored an article on the significance of the release of a July 25, 1969, CIA report to Henry Kissinger on remarks made by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. The CIA informant reported that Thieu told members of his political alliance that Nixon was receiving two “extremes of advice” on how to end the Vietnam War – a peace plan and the setting up of a coalition government, or “the dropping of a nuclear bomb on North Vietnam.” The second suggestion raises a number of questions – including from who and when Thieu received this information.

The CIA denied releasing the report in its entirety in response to the Archive’s first request and appeal. It was ultimately released – nearly entirely in full – by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel in response to the Archive’s final appeal – a move that “demonstrates ISCAP’s continuing value for declassifying historically significant information.” Kudos to ISCAP.

Devin Nunes, current HPSCI chair.

The State of Congressional Oversight of the Intelligence Community

The charged partisan debate over the February 2 release by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee of the “Nunes memo” alleging FBI misconduct to obtain a FISA warrant of former Trump adviser Carter Page – and the subsequent vote to release the Democrats’ rebuttal memo that was declined by President Trump – is drawing questions about the effectiveness of the committee’s oversight work.

The National Security Archive’s senior fellow John Prados recently joined NPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the state of the congressional intelligence oversight committees, noting that  “It has been a constant kind of pendulum swing in terms of enforcing oversight.” At times, Prados says, both the Senate and House committees, which were established after the Church and Pike committees respectively, exercised significant influence – including overturning “three successive Clinton nominations to become the head of the CIA” because of objections of the Senate Intelligence Community.

Loch Johnson, an assistant to Sen. Church, told Morning Edition that “there was quite a spirit of bipartisanship” in the both committees in the beginning – a spirit that appears ongoing in the Senate’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Pike Committee, on the other hand – was more contentious and partisan. A recent Politico article from Mieke Eoyang takes a look at how the two committees “were born different,” how these differences have compounded over time, and how this impacts their current effectiveness.

WaPo and the Watergate Story it Missed

In a recent article, Gerrick Alder argues that the Washington Post, despite the laurels it received for its reporting on Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, fumbled Henry Kissinger’s leak that Nixon sabotaged the 1968 Paris peace talks. Alder writes, “Woodward and Bernstein had been handed the skeleton key that would have unlocked the entire Watergate affair. The reporters had been told – by no less a figure than Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger – about the real motive behind Nixon’s plan to burgle the Brookings Institute. It was to destroy the evidence that Nixon had conspired to prolong a war with an official enemy of the United States in order to win the presidency in 1968; after which he deliberately prolonged – even escalated – the Vietnam War. And – for reasons that might never be known – Woodward and Bernstein stayed silent.”

Nixon and Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China Zhou Enlai.

TBT Pick – No Support for Taiwan Independence

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2003 posting from the Archive’s China project on how newly declassified documents showed that resident Nixon assured the People’s Republic of China during his historic 1972 trip to Beijing that the U.S. would not support, but could not suppress, the Taiwan independence movement. The documents include:

  • Premier Zhou Enlai’s claim that Washington had let pro-independence politician Peng Meng-min escape from Taiwan, to which Nixon and Kissinger denied that Washington had given any help and assured Zhou that they opposed Taiwanese independence.
  • Nixon’s repeated assurances to Zhou that Washington would discourage any Japanese “military intervention” in South Korea or a Japanese role in Taiwan.
  • Kissinger’s detailed run-down of Soviet forces along China’s borders, including ground forces, tactical aircraft and missiles, strategic air defenses, and strategic missiles, with special attention to nuclear weapons.

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