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Government’s Oldest FOIA Request Even Older than Reported: FRINFORMSUM 3/28/2019

March 28, 2019

Archivist Bill Burr Wins Dubious Honor of Oldest Pending FOIA Request 

Oldest pending FOIA request govt-wide is even older than NARA reports.

The Archive’s latest FOIA Audit showed that the oldest pending FOIA request government-wide is 25-years-old, that’s old enough to rent a car! Curious to see who it belonged to (and with a strong suspicion it was ours), we filed a FOIA request with the National Archives and Records Administration to find out. NARA recently responded with a copy of the request – filed in September 1992 even though NARA reports its oldest request is from August 1993 – that was filed by our very own William Burr. The request is still alive and kicking; Bill reports he received a document from this request last fall.

Army Waves $300K Fee Threat for Water Test Results after Outrage

Public backlash has prompted the Army to wave its threat of a $300,000 FOIA fee to release the results of water tests at military installations for a dangerous contaminant that is linked to cancers and other illnesses. The Army stopped its fee bullying in this instance after Sen. Leahy publicly excoriated the department, calling the decision to charge for the records absurd and the fee “offensive.” (Prior to the public outcry, three Navy and Marine offices had already provided the documents without any charge.) It was also Senator Leahy who in 2012 released “more than 8,000 Department of Defense documents relating to the historic drinking water contamination that occurred over several decades at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base.” 

The FOIA request was filed by the Environmental Working Group in November and sought records of testing done at 154 specific installations. The Army justified the fee by saying the request was too broad and would take 6,400 hours of work to complete – in other words, 160 work weeks.

Declassification Diplomacy: The Argentina File

The Argentine government announced -on the 43rd anniversary of the military coup in that country- that the Trump administration will provide it with “the largest delivery of declassified documents” ever made available to another nation. The formerly secret U.S. intelligence records concern human rights abuses committed during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. The documents come from agencies including the CIA, FBI, NSC, and Defense Intelligence Agency, and their official transfer is planned for mid-April during a visit by Argentina’s minister of justice, Germán Garavano, to Washington D.C.

Argentine President Macri tweeted, “These documents will play a fundamental role in advancing justice for still unresolved issues of the past, one of the darkest periods of Argentine history.”

In support of the Argentina declassification project, the National Security Archive hailed the forthcoming document transfer. “We praise the Trump administration as well as President Macri for their concrete contribution to the cause of truth and human rights,” said Carlos Osorio, Director of the National Security Archive’s Southern Cone Documentation Project.

The Archive will analyze the documentation and post a selection of the most significant and revealing records after the U.S. transfers the documents to Argentina.

FCC has to pay over $40K in attorney’s fees after court rules against its bogus FOIA withholdings

The Federal Communications Commission – represented by the Justice Department’s Jessie K. Liu, Daniel F. Van Horn, and Johnny H. Walker –  must pay $43,000 in attorney’s fees after failing to comply with journalist Jason Prechtel’s FOIA request for “data that would identify who made bulk comment uploads in the proceeding that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules.” 

This is the latest development in the FCC’s ongoing effort to stonewall FOIA requests about its net neutrality rules. The saga began in 2017 when the FCC told a requester seeking information on an alleged DDoS attack the agency claimed disrupted its online public comment system for its net neutrality rule change proposal that there were no responsive documents to the FOIA request because the agency’s “initial analysis on the day of the attack ‘did not result in written documentation.’” The alleged attack came after FCC chair, Ajit Pai, proposed to “dismantle net neutrality rules” – rules that he’s previously said were a response to “‘hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom’ and that there was no real problem to solve.”

Gizmodo filed a FOIA request concerning the alleged attack on May 22, specifically requesting documents related to public comments made by FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray about the agency’s analysis. The agency released 16 pages and withheld 209 more in full – with cited exemptions running the gamut from trade secrets to personal privacy, including an exemption protecting medical files. (Even if there is personal information in responsive records, FOIA mandates that agencies release all segregable portions of documents.)

TBT Pick – Soviet Union Had First Real Taste of Democracy 30 Years Ago Today – and Politburo Document Shows How Committee Made Sense of It

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with the 30th anniversary of the first competitive Soviet elections in mind. It is a posting by Archive Russia Programs Director Svetlana Savranskaya analyzing a weekly Politburo meeting from March 28, 1989 in which the Committee attempted to make sense of the results, which saw “Some 20 percent of party candidates lost –even with no opposition—including the top party leaders in Moscow and Leningrad.  The Leningrad party chief drew only 110,000 votes while 130,000 of his constituents crossed out his name –a practice that would become epidemic in the June 1989 Polish elections.”

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