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FOIAonline Still Broken Six Months After Disastrous Redesign: FRINFORMSUM 12/6/2018

December 6, 2018

FOIAonline Still Broken Six Months After Disastrous Redesign

Six months ago the would-be government-wide FOIA portal, FOIAonline, was redesigned and the site lost much of its functionality as a result. (The Reporters Committee’s Adam Marshall has a good run-down of all the things wrong with the site here.) In July FOIAonline posted a notice on its homepage saying the setback would only be short-term, claiming that “Much of the information from the previous version of FOIAonline is not yet in 3.0. This process is expected to take several weeks to complete. We appreciate your patience as we continue to work through the most recent cases to the oldest.”

Several weeks turned into six months and there are still no updates about when we can expect the website, which the Environmental Protection Agency provides the IT for, to return to its previous usability.

Security Oversight Office Celebrates 40th Anniversary and Asks How to Fix Declassification

The Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the government-wide security classification system, celebrated its 40th anniversary today and asked how to fix declassification at an event in DC. The National Security Archive’s Director Tom Blanton gave the keynote address, which was followed by a panel discussion with four former ISOO directors as they shared their perspective on how the agency should evolve as the government’s work becomes increasingly digital. An idea embraced by Blanton and several others is to empower the National Declassification Center to take control of historic documents that are 25-years-old or older, rather than letting agencies drag their feet and conducting costly reviews of the documents.

Metro Was Willing to Give Special Treatment to “Unite the Right” Rally Organizer

A public records request revealed that the Washington D.C. area- transit authority, Metro, “was willing to work with the organizer of a white supremacist rally in Washington this summer to provide special accommodations for his group.” The emails contradict Metro’s earlier position that it did not try to facilitate travel for the hate group.

This summer Jason Kessler, who helped organize the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, asked for special treatment to travel from Virginia to the capital for a “Unite the Right 2” event.  Kessler said he “would like to coordinate with your department for the safety of my demonstrators and the general public. We are anticipating a potential for violence from left-wing Antifa groups and are concerned about the public transit process being vulnerable points for an ambush.” A Metro employee said “Absolutely…please feel free to call me at your convenience.”

News leaked that Metro could provide a special train for Kessler and his group, and Metro faced outrage from elected officials, the public, and Metro’s labor union. Metro then shifted its posture and said that the idea of special accommodations for rally-goers was “a joint law enforcement operation with a unified command” and that the D.C. metropolitan police were the lead agency – an account the police denied.

Metro initially denied the records request, citing the security of Metro operations and the safety of customers and employees, but an appeal won the release of the information.

Political Aide at VA Shut Down Top Diversity Officer After Charlottesville

Department of Veterans Affairs’ emails obtained through FOIA by American Oversight and shared with the Washington Post show that a top White House appointee “sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response.” The White House appointee, John Ullyot, initially told the diversity specialist, Georgia Coffey, to drop the idea of sending a statement to agency employees and the public strongly condemning the white supremacist rally. (Unconfirmed reports allege Ullyot was following a White House directive not to draw attention to the events or President Trump’s “all sides” comment.) Ullyot said an email was unnecessary because the VA secretary had already made a similar statement earlier in the week – although he also said “we should all feel free to share our own personal views on the recent events.” Coffey eventually decided to post the comments, signed in her own name, to the diversity office website. VA officials removed the post and reprimanded her, and she retired shortly after.

Cyber Brief: Cryptolog

Five years ago, the National Security Agency released 136 issues of its internal Cryptolog periodical spanning 1974 through 1997. The collection offers a look into the some of the discussions being held within one of America’s most secretive intelligence agencies and also serves as a vehicle for organizational reflection. Conflict between linguists and cryptanalysts over promotions and pay scales rages in the pages of Cryptolog for two years, and a four-part series on the agency’s intern program was published in 1974. The National Security Archive is now providing a complete index of all 1,504 items in the declassified collection, including but not limited to articles, interviews, and puzzles.

TBT Pick – A Quarter Century of U.S. Support for East Timor Occupation

This week’s #TBT pick from 2005 highlight’s the East Timor Truth Commission report’s use of declassified US documents to call for reparations resulting from the US’s support of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor from 1975 until 1999. The Archive provided the commission over 1,000 declassified documents to aid the effort in absence of any help from the US governments. The documents show, among other things, that nearly ten months prior to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, the US Embassy in Jakarta and the State Department were paying close attention to the Indonesian military buildup and propaganda campaign. By March, 1975 the National Security Council was recommending “a policy of silence” regarding Indonesia’s intention to “incorporate Portuguese Timor by force.”

In 2001 the Archive posted newly declassified documents showing that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford gave the green light to Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor, the beginning of a 24-year occupation in which more than 100,000 Timorese died.

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