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FOIA Reporting Shows Spike in Death Rates, Scabies Outbreak, and Lax Records-Keeping in Michigan Prison System: FRINFORMSUM 5/02/2019

May 2, 2019

FOIA Reporting Shows Serious Problems in Michigan Prisons  

Indefatigable FOIA reporting from the Detroit Free Press reveals several alarming trends in Michigan’s state-run prisons – a spike in death rates, reporting misleading statistics to the state legislature, and shoddy records-keeping.

The ratio of deaths in Michigan prison’s is now 348 deaths per 100,000 prisoners, a ratio that has climbed while the state’s overall prison population has shrunk. The rates were highest (and the records shoddiest) at Michigan’s sole women’s prison – which documents show also suffered a scabies outbreak. In one instance, officials at the Women’s Huron Valley facility only created a death record for Toni Cato Riggs after receiving a FOIA request for information on all deaths at the facility; Riggs died in May 2018, but the record was not created until March 2019 – three days after the prison received the FOIA request. The belatedly-created record listed her as “discharged” and gave no information on the cause of death, although a prison spokesperson later said she died from cancer.

Perhaps most alarming is the Michigan Department of Corrections’ 2016 decision to change the definition of a “critical incident,” which includes deaths and assaults and escape attempts, and must be reported on in detail to the state legislature. By changing the definition, the department only felt compelled to report 44 statewide deaths in 2018 – nowhere near the total. “The department, which has been under scrutiny for the quality of both its food and its medical care, had no explanation for the spike in deaths, other than the fact the prison population is getting older.”

Police Misconduct Database

USA Today investigators analyzing FOIA-released records have found that, nationwide, at least 85,000 police officers have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct in the last decade. Some of the infractions include beating citizens, planting evidence, harassing women, dealing drugs, and drunk driving. USA Today affiliates filed public records requests with state agencies, police departments, sheriff offices, and prosecutors’ offices to obtain the records and together they “detail at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct, much of it previously unreported. The records obtained include more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies.”

The records’ release – which USA Today has turned into a searchable database – is remarkable considering the lengths to which police unions have typically gone to keep these kinds of records secret.

Washington Records Center – Shuttered by Mold Outbreak – Hopes to Re-Open in June

The Washington Records Center at Suitland, MD (a gold-mine for researchers – our Nate Jones explains why here) has been closed for months because of an ongoing mold outbreak related to the HVAC system – with no details about when it may re-open. The National Security Archive has learned that the facility, which is occupied by NARA, owned by the General Services Administration, and has gone through several rounds of testing and clean-up but faces ongoing work, hopes to re-open in June.

When Federal Agencies Pay the President

A FOIA lawsuit brought by the nonprofit transparency group, Property of the People, has won the release of records that sheds light on how the Trump Organization interacts with – and benefits from – government officials visiting Mar-a-Lago. An analysis by ProPublica (including this exceptional graphic entitled “Paying the President” that tracks government-spending at Trump-owned properties) argues that “Mar-a-Lago wanted to have the government money without the government rules.” The documents include hundreds of receipts and emails between the Trump Organization and State Department staffers, who sometimes refused to pay the tab and forwarded the bill to the White House. “The emails show that the president’s company refused to agree to what was essentially a bulk-purchase agreement with the federal government, and that it charged the maximum allowable federal rate for hotel rooms. The Trump Organization could be obstinate when it came to rates for, say, function rooms at Mar-a-Lago, a problem that was eased when the president signed a law lifting the maximum ‘micro-purchase’ the government can make.”

Archivist Jeff Richelson’s Final Book is a Must-Have

Michigan’s War Studies Review recently reviewed Jeff Richelson’s, the National Security Archive’s Intelligence Analyst who passed away in 2017, final bookThe U.S. Intelligence Community, Seventh Edition, and concludes that “Jeffrey Richelson’s final book belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the study of intelligence gathering and government surveillance.”

Of the content Jan D. Galla says “Richelson explains in meticulous detail the functions of the multitude of US intelligence agencies, including, besides the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the little-known National Underwater Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the intelligence branches of the various armed services and civilian departments of the federal government as well as the organization of various Unified Commands within the armed services.”

The book can be found here.

“The candle is not worth the flame”: NSA Recommends Terminating Contentious Bulk Surveillance Program

The National Security Agency (NSA) has formally recommended terminating its controversial phone and text surveillance program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The program has been frequently criticized for violating Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure. The program has also been criticized for its lack of transparency, including most infamously Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s later-recanted statement in Congressional testimony before Senator Ron Wyden that the NSA did not collect any type of data on Americans. Beyond these criticisms, legal and logistical hurdles in recent years have reportedly encumbered the program. “The candle is not worth the flame,” a senior intelligence official told the Journal.

Section 215, “Access to Records and Other Items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” has been one of the most contentious pieces of legislation to come out of the 9/11 era. As the telephone metadata collection program approaches its final days, the Cyber Vault has pulled together a range of materials that chart its legislative origins and evaluate it from the perspective of effectiveness, legal and privacy concerns, and other considerations.

President John F. Kennedy and Israel Foreign Minister Golda Meir shown here on 27 December 1962.

JFK vs. Israel’s Bomb 1963

Declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive illuminate President John F. Kennedy’s secret preoccupation with the Israeli nuclear program during 1963. Possibly more determined to check nuclear proliferation than any other U.S. president, Kennedy wanted U.S. experts to inspect Israel’s nuclear reactor site at Dimona to ensure that it was not being used for a weapons program. Through secret correspondence with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his successor Levi Eshkol Kennedy applied unprecedented pressure, informing both prime ministers that the U.S.’s “commitment to and support of Israel “could be “seriously jeopardized” if it could not obtain “reliable information” about the Dimona reactor and Israel’s nuclear intentions.

Today’s posting of declassified documents from the U.S. National Archives system, including presidential libraries, provides a behind-the-scene look at the decision-making and intelligence review process that informed Kennedy’s pressure on Israeli prime ministers during 1963. Among the documents are:

  • National Intelligence Estimate 30-63, “The Arab-Israeli Problem,” from January 1963, which estimated that if the Dimona reactor “operated at its maximum capacity … [it] could produce sufficient plutonium for one or two weapons a year.” This NIE was declassified in 2017.
  • A letter from a U.S. diplomat in Tel Aviv who concluded that the detection of an Israeli decision to initiate a “crash” emergency nuclear program would require “a fairly careful watch on the activities of the dozen or so top scientists.” This document was declassified in 2018.
  • A State Department memorandum supporting bi-annual inspections of the Dimona reactor to monitor the use of nuclear fuel. Without U.S. inspections, Israel could discharge spent fuel at six-month intervals “to produce a maximum of irradiated fuel for separation into weapons grade plutonium.”

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