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DEA Says FOIA Requests Can No Longer Be Submitted Via Email, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 7/21/2022

July 21, 2022

DEA No Longer Accepting Emailed FOIA Requests

The Drug Enforcement Administration (a component of the Department of Justice) recently told the National Security Archive that it will no longer accept FOIA requests submitted by email. This wholly unnecessary move adds unacceptable administrative barriers to filing a FOIA request. To add insult to injury, the DEA also stated that all requests must be submitted through the agency’s FOIA portal, which requires users to create a Public Access Link (PAL) account. Frustratingly, PAL accounts require requesters to change their password every 30 days – a nuisance that, if not followed to the letter, can make it extraordinarily difficult for requesters to regain access to their account and documents.

Given how clunky the Archive has found PAL accounts to be, I tried to verify that this policy change was reflected in the DEA’s FOIA regulations (all agencies are required to publish their FOIA regulations on their website), but the DEA does not currently link to its (or the DOJ’s) FOIA regulations.

The DEA’s decision raises concerns beyond the utility of PAL accounts, including: 

  • Why should members of the public be required to register anywhere to file a FOIA request?
  • When will we see a true national FOIA portal as mandated in the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act as opposed to the disparate FOIA portals currently used across the government? And,
  • How does this trend of account-only access for filing FOIA requests impact members of the public who either do not have reliable internet access, and/or who are not tech savvy enough to navigate the portals? 

For the time being, requesters would be better off filing FOIA requests to the DEA through rather than creating a PAL account, but the fact remains that requesters should be allowed to submit requests by any method that is the most convenient for them. Hopefully DEA’s parent agency will address this glaring problem – but we won’t hold our breath. 

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NARA Investigates Secret Service January 6 Text Destruction

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is investigating the Secret Service’s destruction of agency text messages surrounding the January 6 attack. The destruction of text messages from January 5 and January 6 took place shortly after the messages were requested by the January 6 Select Committee, and the destruction was revealed by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, in a recent letter to the committee (although the Washington Post reports the IG’s office learned of the destruction in February, but chose not to inform Congress). Cuffari also stated that DHS officials were delaying providing the IG’s office with the required documents by arguing the records first needed to be reviewed by DHS attorneys. For its part, the Secret Service claims the records were unintentionally deleted in mid-January during the course of an agency-wide phone reset and upgrade. 

NARA released a statement Tuesday saying that the Secret Service has 30 days to provide a report on how the materials were destroyed, and the January 6 Committee has issued a subpoena for answers in the matter. 

The Secret Service’s unauthorized destruction adds to a growing list of missing or destroyed information concerning the January 6 attack, including the infamous seven-and-a-half hour gap in Trump’s official call records. 

The egregious destruction inspired Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, to re-imagine the famous picture of Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary who famously testified that she had inadvertently erased 18 and ½ minutes of a crucial Watergate tape when she stretched to answer her White House phone with her foot still on the transcription pedal. (The Archive’s annual Rosemary award singles out the worst performance in open government, and the Secret Service is currently a heavy favorite for next year’s award.)  

Long-Classified U.S. Estimates of Nuclear War Casualties During the Cold War Regularly Underestimated Deaths and Destruction 

US government analyses dating from the 1940s onward have provided civilian and military leaders with staggering estimates of the likely casualties that would result from a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union, but the sheer scale of those projected fatalities kept the reports classified until after the end of the Cold War. 

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the decades-old question of potential casualties from a nuclear strike back to the forefront of public attention (even though averting a superpower conflict is a high White House priority), and calls for these estimates to be re-examined.

A recent posting from the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault contains almost two dozen of these high-level White House, State, Defense, CIA, and other estimates dating from the 1940s through the 1970s. Examples include the landmark Harman Report from 1949 which was the first to spell out (massive) casualty projections while also predicting that resorting to nuclear weapons would not force the Kremlin to capitulate. A 1964 report to JFK approximated 134 million American and 140 million Soviet deaths from a theoretical superpower nuclear exchange. Carter administration reports on the famous PRM-10 (assessing U.S. national strategies and capabilities) candidly admitted that a nuclear war could never have a “winner.” 

Read the documents for yourself on the Archive’s website.

In Brief

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