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FOIA and Academia, Brass Parachutes, and More: FRINFORMSUM

November 8, 2018

FOIA and Public Universities

A recent New York Times article chronicling several instances of big businesses and lobbyist groups weaponizing FOIA to target researchers at public universities has inspired debate about both the role of corporate FOIA requesters and how to apply FOI laws to public educational institutions. To address the problem, some have proposed a FOIA exemption that could protect pre-publication academec documents similar to the way FOIA’s Exemption 4 protects trade secrets and commercial/financial information. Applying a hypothetical new FOIA exemption to universities raises a slew of questions – not least of which being how to craft an exemption that balances the needs of the public and the needs of academic research, professors, deans, administrators, athletic programs, and coaches.

It also begs the wisdom of crafting a systemic exemption to respond to an issue that has been, to date, anecdotal, and that could theoretically provide the kind of secrecy that was exploited by the CIA during its MKULTRA project. (In 1985 the Supreme Court found in CIA v. Sims that MKULTRA, the illegal mind control experiments that led to the deaths of two Americans, “consisted of some 149 subprojects which the Agency contracted out to various universities, research foundations, and similar institutions. At least 80 institutions and 185 private researchers participated. Because the Agency funded MKULTRA indirectly, many of the participating individuals were unaware that they were dealing with the Agency.”)

Brass Parachutes: The Pentagon’s Revolving Door

Ninety percent of Pentagon officials who go to work for defense contractors after leaving the Department become lobbyists, this according to a recently released a report from Project on Government Oversight (POGO). The research shows that, since 2008, “over 380 high-ranking Department of Defense officials and military officers became lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defense contractors within two years of leaving the Department.” Twenty-five percent of the officials went to work for the Pentagon’s top 5 contractors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. Collectively the data underscores how the revolving door between the Defense Department and the sprawling network of defense contractors creates opportunities for conflict of interest and, at a minimum, the appearance of favoritism.

POGO’s methodology included filing FOIA requests and culling publicly available information in an attempt to recreate what the After Government Employment Advice Repository (AGEAR) might look like if it were made public. Despite the interest in the data, AGEAR, which was mandated in the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act to track potential conflicts of interest, remains secret, despite a 2008 Government Accountability Office audit that found “significant under-reporting of the contractors’ employment of former [Department of Defense] officials.”

Read the entire POGO report here.

Oversight Summit

POGO is hosting its first annual Oversight Summit on Friday, November 16 “to convene practitioners of oversight, from across sectors and from every point on the political spectrum” to discuss current challenges to oversight. Speakers include former Michigan Senator Carl Levin and the chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Adam Rappaport, and is hosted with the help of groups including R Street, Sunlight Foundation, and Demand Progress.

Able Archer 35th Anniversary – The Soviet Side of the 1983 War Scare

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1983 War Scare, the Archive’s Able Archer 83 expert Nate Jones published previously secret documents that shed light on the Soviet side of the War Scare. The posting includes a 1981 speech by then-KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov found in the Ukrainian KGB archives announcing that the KGB’s “main objective” had become to not miss “the military preparations of the enemy, its preparations for a nuclear strike, and not to miss the real risk of the outbreak of war.” Other newly published documents include Politburo-level warnings about the war risks from NATO exercises in the fall of 1983 that, combined with other previously secret Soviet documents and declassified U.S. sources, confirm that ranking members of Soviet intelligence, military, and the Politburo, to varying degrees, were fearful of a Western first strike in 1983 under the cover of the NATO exercises Autumn Forge 83 and Able Archer 83.

Apply to the Nuclear History Boot Camp

The application process is now open for the ninth-annual Nuclear History Boot Camp, an initiative of the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP) “Aimed at building a new generation of experts on the international history of nuclear weapons.” The course is a “ten-day immersion in the history of nuclear matters ranging from the evolution of nuclear technology to the origins and development of deterrence theory and nuclear strategy through the historical roots of today’s global nuclear landscape,” and our own Nate Jones is an alumnus.

FOIA Aides Funeral Home Oversight in Michigan 

A state FOI request in Michigan has won the release of a letter detailing deplorable conditions at a closed Detroit funeral home. The letter, which prompted a police investigation, alerted officials at the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs that “they could find ‘a bunch of infant corpses’ hidden in a crawl space” and that the owner was seeking a way to retrieve them. Police raided the facility the same day they received the letter – October 12 – and found the remains of 10 corpses. Thew news comes shortly after Michigan governor formed a team to address funeral home problems around the state.

Presidential Orders – A Research Aid for Executive Branch Cyber Policy

The National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault’s most recent posting is a growing selection of presidential orders that relate to communication and cyber policy. The documents, dating from the Truman administration through the Trump administration, complement the Cyber Vault’s growing library of cyber-related legislation and court orders. Many presidential directives remain classified, but the Cyber Vault is systematically filing FOIA requests for them and will add them as they become available.

TBT Pick – U.S. Intelligence Eyes Chinese Research into Space-Age Weapons

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2011 posting from our China Documentation Project focusing on the US intelligence community’s monitoring of Chinese research into electromagnetic and microwave radiation with the goal of incapacitating Taiwanese electricity. The posting includes a declassified 2005 report from the US National Ground Intelligence Center describing Chinese experiments on animals concluded that the real objective was to determine the effects of that radiation on humans. Another document highlighted in the posting is a 2010 Defense Department report that discusses Chinese military modernization, Taiwan, and bilateral contact between China and the US.

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