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Colombian Senators Say Medellín Cartel “Financed” Uribe’s Senate Campaign, State Ends Controversial FOIA Surge, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 5/31/2018

May 31, 2018

Uribe ca. 1992 when he was a member of the Colombian Senate representing the Department of Antioquia.

Nacropolis: Medellín Cartel “Financed” Senate Campaign of Former President Álvaro Uribe, Colombian Senators Told U.S. Embassy

State Department cables released to the National Security Archive shed new light on the U.S.’s awareness of, and concerns about, then-senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s relationship with the Medellin drug cartel. One cable shows a Colombian senator telling the U.S. Embassy in 1993 that the founders of the Medellín drug cartel “financed” Uribe’s election campaign, another relays a Liberal Party senator saying “Uribe fears for his life because he was unable to deliver for his Medellin cartel mentors.” Uribe would go on to serve as president of Colombia from 2002-2010 and remains an important player in Colombian politics.

Taken together, the newly-declassified cables describe nearly a decade of U.S. Embassy interactions with Uribe and show that U.S. diplomats had persistent concerns about Uribe’s ties to drug trafficking even as Embassy officials developed a working relationship the rapidly rising political leader.

This isn’t the first time the U.S. government released documents tying Uribe to drug cartels. In 2004 the Archive’s Colombia project also won the release of a 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency report listing Uribe among Colombia’s top narcotrafficking figures, alongside Pablo Escobar, narco-paramilitary chief Fidel Castaño, and more than 100 other organized crime figures.

Confidential DIA Report Had Uribe Alongside Pablo Escobar, Narco-Assassins

 State Ends Controversial FOIA Surge

 The State Department has reportedly ended its controversial “FOIA Surge,” launched in October 2017 by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the stated goal of clearing the agency’s monumental backlog of more than 13,000 requests. The surge came under fire for pulling in career diplomats and senior civil servants from other departments in a move that some believed was designed to make them quit.

Mark Zaid, an attorney for a State Department employee reassigned to the FOIA office, notes “One of the good things about the State Department is that they traditionally have had incredibly senior people, like ambassadors who wanted to come back, work in the FOIA office, and that office enjoyed a level of expertise that was unparalleled with other agencies,” he said. “But that’s not what Tillerson did, which was to take people who were [the rank of] GS-14 and 15 and pull them into positions that were GS-3 and 4, doing basic data entry, in a manner that in many cases was viewed as retaliatory.”

 The program appeared to amplify pre-existing attitudes about the FOIA office at the Department.

The Hill reported in January that some State Department officials derided the FOIA shop and the idea of being sent there. “The FOIA office was always the punch line of a joke around here, as in: ‘They’ll send me to the FOIA office,’” likening the assignment as being “reassigned to Siberia.”

While some have dialed-back the Siberia rhetoric, troubling attitudes about the integral work of the FOIA office appear to remain despite the end of the surge. One State official called the surge, “a misguided policy that FOIA was one of the most important things that needed to be addressed, as opposed to our foreign policy with Iran or North Korea or anything else.” This sentiment overlooks the department’s legal obligation under the FOIA and misses the deeper truth of the relationship between FOIA and the State Department in particular. Rich public debate and expert historical analysis of declassified foreign policy documents dealing with North Korea, Iran, and others, improves contemporary policy-makers’ decision-making abilities.

It is not yet clear if the FOIA surge had any impact on the State Department’s backlog.

Conversion Therapy Legislation

MuckRock recently posted more than 100 FOIA-released documents from the Federal Trade Commission as part of its project on Protecting LGBTQ+ Youth from Conversion Therapy. The documents primarily deal with the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act and “reveal the unique challenges regarding the linguistics of writing a conversion therapy ban. Without a broad definition of conversion therapy, the FTC is concerned that they won’t be able to enforce the bill – however, they worry that if they do broaden it, it will threaten the first amendment rights of conversion therapy supporters.”

More information on MuckRock’s conversion therapy project, and how to participate, can be found here.

FOIA Release Raises Question’s About EPA’s No-Bid Contract for Media Monitoring

FOIA documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) raise questions about Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s media strategy, and what the EPA expected from Definers Corp., a Republican opposition research firm, when it awarded the company a $120,000 no-bid contract. Pruitt’s office put particular emphasis on tracking media coverage in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, where he might consider a Senate run in 2020 when Sen. James Inhofe is up for re-election, and right-wing media outlets that Pruitt has been responsive to press coverage from.

POGO’s Nick Schwellenbach, who FOIA’d the documents, says its troubling that “The EPA relied solely on information provided by Definers to determine whether the cost was ‘fair and reasonable.’ They should have engaged in market research, i.e., learning what others are charging for comparable services, at a minimum.”

Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1978

The National Security Archive recently marked what would have been Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev’s 97th birthday with the publication for the first time in English of his extraordinary Diary for 1978, written from inside the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where he was then a Deputy Director of the International Department responsible for International Communist Movement (ICM) and fraternal parties.

TBT Pick – Iraq: The Media War Plan

A January 2003 Pentagon White Paper recommended the creation of a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” for Iraq.

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2007 posting from our Iraq analyst Joyce Battle highlighting a January 2003 White Paper and PowerPoint briefing on “a critical interim rapid response component of the USG’s strategic information campaign for Iraq – in the even hostilities are required to liberate Iraq.” The document, obtained through FOIA, depicts the Pentagon planning for a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” that would act as a “bridge” after the overthrow of the Iraqi government and before the establishment of a free media. As Battle notes, “The White Paper was prepared in January 2003 by two Defense Department offices – Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, and Near East and South Asian Affairs (Special Plans). The first is in charge of psychological warfare; the second was set up to covertly plan for the invasion of Iraq.”

Visit our Iraq project page for more information on the US in Iraq.

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