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New (B)(3)s Find Way Into Farm Bill, College-Sponsored Bank Accounts Charging “Legally Dubious Fees”, and More: FRINFORMSUM 12/13/2018

December 13, 2018
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(B)(3) Exemptions Find Way Into Farm Bill 

Two proposed (B)(3) exemptions that will prevent the public from knowing information it should have access to are included in the Farm Bill. The carve-outs concern rural broadband information (which appears to benefit large telecom corporations at the cost of local smaller companies – text page 257) and an agricultural research pilot program (page 317).

FOIA’s (B)(3) exemption is an expansive and pernicious one that captures “the various nondisclosure provisions that are contained in other federal statutes.” The nondisclosure provisions are so numerous that they are a large part of the reason why the FOIA doesn’t effectively have just its nine statutory exemptions – it has closer to 250 – including one about watermelon production data.

Even if the Farm Bill exemptions are merited, which is unclear, any proposed FOIA exemption should go through the normal, established process and be thoroughly vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

College-Sponsored Bank Accounts Charging “Legally Dubious Fees”

College students that take advantage of school-sponsored bank accounts pay over three times as much in fees, this according to a 2018 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report released through the FOIA. The report, which was initially prepared by the CFPB and shared with the Department of Education, surveyed nearly 600 schools and found that students at universities that enter into marketing agreements with financial institutions and who take part in the paid promotion accounts are charged “legally dubious fees.” The schools that take part in the financial marketing receive payments from banks based on the number of students that enroll in the accounts, raising concerns about conflict of interest.

The 2018 report echoes finding of an earlier 2016 CFBP report, which found “many schools are more focused on their bottom line than their students’ well-being when they agree to sponsor financial accounts,” and comes at a time when the student loan ombudsman office at the CFBP has been vacant for four months. The most recent ombudsman, Seth Frotman, blamed the CFPB for burying the 2016 findings in his resignation letter, stating that “when new evidence came to light showing that the nation’s largest banks were ripping off students on campuses across the country by saddling them with legally dubious fees, Bureau leadership suppressed the publication of a report prepared by Bureau staff.”

Zinke Loyalist and Political Appointee to Oversee Interior FOIA Shop

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently deviated from norms and installed a political appointee to head the agency’s FOIA office, a position that is normally lead by career staff to avoid the appearance of politicization of the release of information. The new chief FOIA officer is Daniel Jorjani, who has previously acted as an adviser to Charles and David Koch. The move comes on the heels of the Justice Department launching an investigation into Zinke and at a time when the FOIA office is receiving an influx of requests.

Zinke’s order appointing Jorjani implied he believes Jorjani will streamline the office, stating, “It is clear that some aspects of the FOIA program’s decentralized structure hinder efficient and effective management of operations in the current environment.”

A document released through FOIA earlier this year painted Jorjani as a Zinke loyalist, telling a staffer that “At the end of the day, our job is to protect the Secretary.”

New Pre-Publication Review Policy on the Way

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told Steve Aftergood in response to his FOIA request that a new, IC-wide pre-publication review policy is on the way. Two years ago the House Intelligence Committee directed the ODNI “ to improve the government’s controversial policy on reviewing books, articles and speeches by current and former intelligence employees prior to their publication, so as to make the process more uniform, timely and fair.” Until the ODNI launches the new policy, current and former employees must comply with the existing policy dating from 2014.

CIA Vowed To “Continue to Fight to Abolish FOIA”

Muckrock recently highlighted a jarring discussion among CIA employees during a 1984 team building exercise that included a frank assessment of the agency’s stance on FOIA – that their position should be to “continue to fight to abolish” the transparency law. As JPat Brown notes, “While the CIA’s opposition to FOIA has been extensively documented throughout this project, it’s rare to see the matter discussed in such explicit terms. The fact that it was a single line in a document that had only been declassified in 2010, and even then only made public last year as a result of our three year lawsuit, is a testament to the Agency’s commitment to keeping its history hidden.”

Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson. Photo taken at Acheson’s office in 1950, from collection of Harry S. Truman Library, accession number 85-63.

NATO’s Original Purpose: Double Containment of the Soviet Union and “Resurgent” Germany

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara sent an illuminating memo to President Lyndon B. Johnson in Fall 1966 that explained the political reasons for keeping U.S. troops in Europe: to maintain NATO’s “cohesion,” to prevent Soviet “political blackmail,” to deter “any bilateral Soviet-FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] security agreement,” and to discourage “the revival of German militarism,” according to a collection of previously classified documents recently published by the Archive.

Against the current backdrop of discussions at the top levels of the U.S. government over security guarantees in Europe, McNamara’s memo and a selection of other declassified U.S. documentation provide historical context for decades of U.S. policy toward Europe and more specifically the functions of NATO and the relationship between Germany and European security.

Reagan, Gorbachev and Bush at Governors Island

The U.S. and NATO allies worried about losing control of the public narrative of the Cold War in December 1988 after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s offer of an arms race in reverse in his famous United Nations speech, according to declassified documents published this week by the National Security Archive. The documents were published in time to mark the 30th anniversary of Gorbachev’s groundbreaking U.N. speech and describe a number of interesting items, including the U.S. debrief to allies about the Soviet leader’s subsequent short summit with President Ronald Reagan and President-elect George H.W. Bush at Governors Island in New York harbor, and a discussion with the Pakistani ambassador that shows deep suspicion on the part of a senior State Department official about Soviet intentions and reveals that the U.S. had no strategy for Afghanistan beyond lubricating the Soviet withdrawal.

The new documents add to the extensive body of evidence previously published by the Archive, both on the Web in 2008 and in the award-winning book, The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations that Ended the Cold War (CEU Press, 2016).

For Fun – Can You Outsmart the NSA?

Try to solve puzzles from the spy agency’s in-house magazine CRYPTOLOG, a large collection of which we recently posted and indexed in our Cyber Vault. Search keyword “Puzzle” to try 100+ brainteasers, then “Solution” or “Answer.”

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