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Air Force FOIA Shop Says Request Denied for “Reasons”: FRINFORMSUM 11/29/2018

November 29, 2018

The Air Force Couldn’t Have Sent a More Unprofessional, Unlawful FOIA Response Letter to a Worse Place

The Air Force has sent a shockingly informal, candid, unprofessional, and unlawful FOIA response letter to the National Security Archive. The letter blasély stated in its denial that, “There are more reasons listed for not releasing any of the information you are requesting. This is a heads up to let you know that if you wish to continue this request it will be transferred to Higher Headquarters with about the same results. The 19th AF does not believe this information should be released to the public at all. You may continue your request just let me know or you can withdraw your request.”

There are a number of problems with this response. Chief among them being that the FOIA statute, as all FOIA processors should know, requires agencies to clearly articulate what FOIA exemptions they are invoking to redact information. The added insult of this Air Force FOIA officer (or poorly-trained contractor) trying to talk the requester out of appealing the decision by suggesting it won’t be successful is unacceptable. CC@OGIS.

FOIA FACA Meeting

The FOIA Federal Advisory Council held the most recent meeting of its 2018-2020 term today, with a very interesting panel discussion with the Inspectors General from the State Department, the Intelligence Community, the National Credit Union, and the National Science Foundation. There are intriguing opportunities for oversight/enforcement collaboration between FOIA shops, the FOIA ombuds office OGIS, and the Council of the Inspectors General, and hopefully the seeds are being laid for such an end.

Chief Records Officer of the US Laurence Brewer also gave an update on records management and agency records retention schedules, and the subcommittees on records management, time/volume, and vision all presented reports on their progress. All of the materials from today’s meeting, which was live-streamed, will be posted here.

FOIA Helps Show Police Departments Inflating Rape Case Statistics

An alarming number of police departments appear to be inflating rape case statistics, implying they have solved cases when they’ve simply closed them, according to a ProPublica, Center for Investigative Reporting, and Newsy investigation. Police departments do this by abusing the “exceptional clearance” classification – a classification that is supposed to be used sparingly and only in cases when police have enough evidence to make an arrest and know who and where the suspect is but, for reasons outside their control, cannot make an arrest.

Filing over 100 public records requests with 60 police departments across the country, in conjunction with analyzing data from more than 70,000 rape cases, revealed that “many departments rely heavily on exceptional clearance, which can make it appear that they are better at solving rape cases than they actually are.”

As an example, the Baltimore County Police Department only made arrests in about 30 percent of its rape cases, but by overusing the exceptional clearance classification, touted the figure as being a 70 percent clearance rate. Baltimore isn’t alone – “About a dozen departments that provided data had twice as many exceptional clearances as arrests in 2016. To the public, this effectively made it seem as though they had solved three times the number of rapes that they actually had.”

Read the full investigation here.

Rick Perry and “The Jerky Boys of Russia”

A FOIA request has won the release of documents showing the Department of Energy’s internal reaction to realizing that Energy Secretary Rick Perry had been pranked by a Russian duo that had previously targeted U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Elton John, and others. The incident occurred last July when Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov sent an email to Perry’s aide, Stan Gerdes, posing as a staffer for Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman by the name of Sergey Stolyarenko and requesting an interview. The email came from “someone named Dmitro Krasnenko with an email address ending in ‘ukr.net.’”

The pair talked with Secretary Perry for 20 minutes about energy issues, focusing in particular on coal; the call was released on the Russian website Pravda soon after.

The FOIA-released documents show the Energy Department’s concern at a number of procedural breakdowns even before the conversation was leaked, chief among them being: “A political appointee who received the initial request doesn’t appear to have properly vetted or flagged the call. Perry didn’t have a translator. And DOE doesn’t appear to have looped in the White House, State Department or embassies beforehand.”

Not smart.

Video of Wildfire Started By Gender Reveal Stunt Released via FOIA

A FOIA request filed by my hometown paper, the Arizona Daily Star, to the U.S. Forest Service has won the release of a video confirming the genesis of the Sawmill Fire blaze – a gunshot that sparked a blue explosion intended to be part of a Border Patrol agents gender reveal party. Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey of Tucson fired a gun at a black box labeled “boy” filled with the explosive substance Tannerite, an explosion ensued, and the 49-second video records a male voice ordering witnesses to “start packing up!” after the fire begins to spread. The fire burned 47,000 acres and cost $8.2 million to extinguish; Dickey pleaded to a sentence of five years’ probation and was ordered “to pay restitution totaling more than $8.1 million. He agreed to make an initial $100,000 payment and monthly payments thereafter.”

Census Bureau Releases 2020 Census Question Records

The U.S. Census Bureau has posted frequently requested records pertaining to the 2020 census – thanks to Michael Ravnitzky for drawing attention to the release. The page contains information on both the citizenship question as well as information on questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

In July of this year redacted  Commerce Department emails released as part of an ongoing lawsuit show that the Trump administration discussed adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census within months of Trump taking office. The 600-plus emails, which NPR has filed FOIA requests for to help peel back the redactions, contradict the administration’s earlier claims that the question was being added at the request of the Justice Department to better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The emails instead show that in May 2017 Steve Bannon, then President Trump’s strategist, tasked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross with talking “to someone about the census.” A month later, Secretary Ross’ aid “pledged to press Justice Department officials to say they needed better citizenship data for law enforcement.”

The Palace of Justice burned to the ground during military efforts to retake the building from M-19 guerrillas. Eleven Supreme Court justices died in the blaze, along with dozens of others. [Photo: Revista Semana]

TBT Pick – Palace of Justice Burning

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with the start of the Colombia Truth Commission today in mind, and is a 2009 posting analyzing the accuracy of a declassified State Department cable blaming the Colombian Army for the deaths and disappearances that resulted from the operations to retake the Palace of Justice building in November 1985. Read more from our Colombia project here.

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