Skip to content

Why Does Sen. Rubio Want to Stop U.S. Funding for Crime-Fighting Commission in Guatemala?

June 5, 2018

Sen. Patrick Leahy voices support for U.S. funding of CICIG

Washington, DC—Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) took to the floor of Congress yesterday to voice his support for the international organized crime-fighting commission in Guatemala, CICIG. Leahy’s statement was a pointed rebuke of Florida Senator Marco Rubio for his recent decision to place a hold on U.S. funding for CICIG. Leahy was also pushing back against Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and other Republican senators for a hearing they held in April to air grievances about CICIG’s role in Guatemala.

Leahy said: “Today, CICIG is once again being attacked, including by some senior officials, who have sought to exploit factual misrepresentations, including those echoed in the Guatemalan and U.S. media, about a troubling case involving members of a Russian family who entered Guatemala with fraudulent passports. This has even resulted in a portion of the funds appropriated by Congress for CICIG to be temporarily blocked from disbursement.”

Why has Senator Rubio moved to block U.S. funding for CICIG? What motivated Rep. Smith to organize a hearing under the auspices of the “U.S. Helsinki Commission” to lob criticisms CICIG and its investigations in Guatemala? And how did a Russian family get in the middle of this story?

The National Security Archive’s Kate Doyle and Elizabeth Oglesby of the University of Arizona, Tucson, wrote an article together for the on-line news site, World Politics Review, answering those and many more questions about…

Why Guatemala’s Anti-Corruption Commission Faces a New Wave of Efforts to Derail It

by Kate DoyleElizabeth Oglesby
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A new attorney general took office in Guatemala last week amid sharp tensions over the role of a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission that has helped bring high-profile charges against some of the country’s most powerful politicians. Maria Consuelo Porras, a former substitute judge for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, will run the country’s Public Ministry and direct its criminal, human rights and anti-corruption investigations. The outgoing attorney general, Thelma Aldana, and her predecessor, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, showed impressive leadership and independence in investigating and prosecuting these sorts of cases. Now their enemies want those advances reversed.

Across Central America, public prosecutors are taking on a key role in investigating and dismantling deeply rooted organized criminal networks. But Guatemala’s widening corruption probe, which brought down a sitting president, Otto Perez Molina, in 2015 and threatens to implicate the current president, Jimmy Morales, as well as scores of others, has triggered a backlash from entrenched economic and political elites who want to protect themselves from future investigations.

Foes of the U.N. anti-impunity commission, known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish, seemed to score a hit in early May, when U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announced he would seek to freeze $6 million in U.S. funding for CICIG. The United States provides about 40 percent of the commission’s funding. Rubio’s announcement came days after the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a federal agency, held a hearing on CICIG’s alleged malfeasance in a case in Guatemala involving the wealthy Bitkov family.

The Bitkovs are self-proclaimed Russian exiles convicted in Guatemala in January 2018 of identity fraud as part of a broader probe against a criminal ring within the Guatemalan immigration office that is accused of selling false passports. In April, a higher court in Guatemala overturned the Bitkovs’ conviction. Despite accusations raised during the recent congressional hearing in Washington, there is no evidence of Russian government influence over CICIG in the Bitkov case or any other case in Guatemala. CICIG does not receive funding from Russia.

The Bitkov controversy is really just a sideshow, a piece of a much larger lobbying effort spearheaded by conservative political and economic sectors within Guatemala to discredit and weaken the anti-corruption commission. Why do these sectors oppose CICIG, and how have they won a U.S. senator’s support? Will Guatemala’s new attorney general cooperate with CICIG even when it means pursuing politically sensitive cases?

CICIG was created in 2006 at the request of the Guatemalan government and with the support of the United Nations. Its mandate is to help investigate and bring to justice cases of corruption and criminality, including drug-trafficking, graft, money-laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes. CICIG provides technical assistance to the Guatemalan Public Ministry and can serve as an “adjunct prosecutor” in select cases.

Iván Velásquez, CICIG’s commissioner

Many of CICIG’s early cases focused on Guatemala’s so-called “hidden powers,” shadowy criminal networks that gained influence during the decades of military dictatorship and counterinsurgency warfare in Guatemala. Active and retired military personnel, particularly those linked to army intelligence, used their government connections to expand their illicit activities, such as moving contraband and illegal drugs, facilitating illegal adoptions and human smuggling, issuing false government documents, and skimming hundreds of millions of dollars from public coffers. CICIG’s work accelerated after 2013 under the direction of Ivan Velasquez, a veteran prosecutor from Colombia who is now the target of attacks by those threatened by the commission.

The lobbying effort to discredit CICIG got serious in December 2016 after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, and CICIG’s foes within Guatemala thought they had an opening. A group of right-wing businesspeople went to Washington for meetings in Congress to call for the removal of then-U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson, whom they saw as overstepping his diplomatic role by vigorously defending CICIG. One of them was Betty Marroquin, a conservative columnist and political analyst, who has since played a leading role in the anti-CICIG campaign. The lobbying escalated during Trump’s first year in office, as four Guatemalan congressmen hired the law firm Barnes & Thornburg—already under contract to represent President Morales, who faces corruption charges of his own—for $80,000 a month to help them lobby U.S. lawmakers.

Last August, Morales tried to expel Velasquez, after CICIG and the Public Ministry linked him to illicit campaign financing and sought impeachment proceedings. The president’s maneuver was blocked by the Constitutional Court and condemned internationally, including by bipartisan congressional leaders in the United States. In February, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel tried—and failed—to convince U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to issue a statement condemning Velasquez’s leadership of CICIG. Velasquez has been widely praised by Guatemalan civil society and by the international community.

Although some news outlets reported, erroneously, that Rubio had succeeded in suspending U.S. funding for CICIG this month, in fact, American support for the commission remains intact. Rubio’s “hold” on funding is just a request that is not likely to go anywhere in Congress. The anti-graft commission continues to be praised by U.S. lawmakers, the State Department and the new U.S. ambassador in Guatemala City. Guterres offered his continued support for Velasquez shortly after last month’s misguided and sparsely attended hearing in Congress.

CICIG is seen as a model for anti-corruption efforts elsewhere in Central America and even Mexico. A bipartisan bloc of U.S. lawmakers consider these anti-corruption measures key to addressing perceived American security threats in Central America, such as transnational crime and migration. Public opinion in Guatemala is also strongly in favor of CICIG; a recent survey by the respected pollster Latinobarometro found that CICIG is the most trusted institution in Guatemala.

Rubio’s intervention is not likely to make a dent in U.S. support for CICIG. But it may further destabilize the political situation in Guatemala. Less than a week after Rubio’s announcement, the Guatemalan government demanded that Sweden withdraw its ambassador to Guatemala, Anders Kompass, after Kompass announced a new round of Swedish financial support for CICIG and praised the anti-corruption efforts.

Guatemala’s new attorney general is entering a volatile political scene. Just days before Porras took office, prosecutors in Guatemala presented new evidence against Morales.

Porras’ prior career, during which she held several positions within the Public Ministry before becoming an appellate judge, does not mark her as a crusader. She was named to her post by Morales from a slate of other candidates. Certainly, she will face intense pressure from entrenched elites to slow or even reverse the gains made in prosecuting organized crime in Guatemala. Then again, human rights groups had the same doubts about Porras’ predecessor, Thelma Aldana, who nonetheless unleashed a wave of high-level cases.

The reactionary forces of the status quo in Guatemala are well-heeled and accustomed to winning. But Guatemala’s citizens are increasingly emboldened to demand justice and an end to impunity for crimes and corruption. They deserve the support of Americans, and their elected representatives.

Kate Doyle is a senior analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive. 

Elizabeth Oglesby is associate professor of Latin American studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project.

Colombian Senators Say Medellín Cartel “Financed” Uribe’s Senate Campaign, State Ends Controversial FOIA Surge, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 5/31/2018

May 31, 2018

Uribe ca. 1992 when he was a member of the Colombian Senate representing the Department of Antioquia.

Nacropolis: Medellín Cartel “Financed” Senate Campaign of Former President Álvaro Uribe, Colombian Senators Told U.S. Embassy

State Department cables released to the National Security Archive shed new light on the U.S.’s awareness of, and concerns about, then-senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s relationship with the Medellin drug cartel. One cable shows a Colombian senator telling the U.S. Embassy in 1993 that the founders of the Medellín drug cartel “financed” Uribe’s election campaign, another relays a Liberal Party senator saying “Uribe fears for his life because he was unable to deliver for his Medellin cartel mentors.” Uribe would go on to serve as president of Colombia from 2002-2010 and remains an important player in Colombian politics.

Taken together, the newly-declassified cables describe nearly a decade of U.S. Embassy interactions with Uribe and show that U.S. diplomats had persistent concerns about Uribe’s ties to drug trafficking even as Embassy officials developed a working relationship the rapidly rising political leader.

This isn’t the first time the U.S. government released documents tying Uribe to drug cartels. In 2004 the Archive’s Colombia project also won the release of a 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency report listing Uribe among Colombia’s top narcotrafficking figures, alongside Pablo Escobar, narco-paramilitary chief Fidel Castaño, and more than 100 other organized crime figures.

Confidential DIA Report Had Uribe Alongside Pablo Escobar, Narco-Assassins

 State Ends Controversial FOIA Surge

 The State Department has reportedly ended its controversial “FOIA Surge,” launched in October 2017 by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the stated goal of clearing the agency’s monumental backlog of more than 13,000 requests. The surge came under fire for pulling in career diplomats and senior civil servants from other departments in a move that some believed was designed to make them quit.

Mark Zaid, an attorney for a State Department employee reassigned to the FOIA office, notes “One of the good things about the State Department is that they traditionally have had incredibly senior people, like ambassadors who wanted to come back, work in the FOIA office, and that office enjoyed a level of expertise that was unparalleled with other agencies,” he said. “But that’s not what Tillerson did, which was to take people who were [the rank of] GS-14 and 15 and pull them into positions that were GS-3 and 4, doing basic data entry, in a manner that in many cases was viewed as retaliatory.”

 The program appeared to amplify pre-existing attitudes about the FOIA office at the Department.

The Hill reported in January that some State Department officials derided the FOIA shop and the idea of being sent there. “The FOIA office was always the punch line of a joke around here, as in: ‘They’ll send me to the FOIA office,’” likening the assignment as being “reassigned to Siberia.”

While some have dialed-back the Siberia rhetoric, troubling attitudes about the integral work of the FOIA office appear to remain despite the end of the surge. One State official called the surge, “a misguided policy that FOIA was one of the most important things that needed to be addressed, as opposed to our foreign policy with Iran or North Korea or anything else.” This sentiment overlooks the department’s legal obligation under the FOIA and misses the deeper truth of the relationship between FOIA and the State Department in particular. Rich public debate and expert historical analysis of declassified foreign policy documents dealing with North Korea, Iran, and others, improves contemporary policy-makers’ decision-making abilities.

It is not yet clear if the FOIA surge had any impact on the State Department’s backlog.

Conversion Therapy Legislation

MuckRock recently posted more than 100 FOIA-released documents from the Federal Trade Commission as part of its project on Protecting LGBTQ+ Youth from Conversion Therapy. The documents primarily deal with the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act and “reveal the unique challenges regarding the linguistics of writing a conversion therapy ban. Without a broad definition of conversion therapy, the FTC is concerned that they won’t be able to enforce the bill – however, they worry that if they do broaden it, it will threaten the first amendment rights of conversion therapy supporters.”

More information on MuckRock’s conversion therapy project, and how to participate, can be found here.

FOIA Release Raises Question’s About EPA’s No-Bid Contract for Media Monitoring

FOIA documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) raise questions about Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s media strategy, and what the EPA expected from Definers Corp., a Republican opposition research firm, when it awarded the company a $120,000 no-bid contract. Pruitt’s office put particular emphasis on tracking media coverage in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, where he might consider a Senate run in 2020 when Sen. James Inhofe is up for re-election, and right-wing media outlets that Pruitt has been responsive to press coverage from.

POGO’s Nick Schwellenbach, who FOIA’d the documents, says its troubling that “The EPA relied solely on information provided by Definers to determine whether the cost was ‘fair and reasonable.’ They should have engaged in market research, i.e., learning what others are charging for comparable services, at a minimum.”

Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1978

The National Security Archive recently marked what would have been Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev’s 97th birthday with the publication for the first time in English of his extraordinary Diary for 1978, written from inside the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where he was then a Deputy Director of the International Department responsible for International Communist Movement (ICM) and fraternal parties.

TBT Pick – Iraq: The Media War Plan

A January 2003 Pentagon White Paper recommended the creation of a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” for Iraq.

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2007 posting from our Iraq analyst Joyce Battle highlighting a January 2003 White Paper and PowerPoint briefing on “a critical interim rapid response component of the USG’s strategic information campaign for Iraq – in the even hostilities are required to liberate Iraq.” The document, obtained through FOIA, depicts the Pentagon planning for a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” that would act as a “bridge” after the overthrow of the Iraqi government and before the establishment of a free media. As Battle notes, “The White Paper was prepared in January 2003 by two Defense Department offices – Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, and Near East and South Asian Affairs (Special Plans). The first is in charge of psychological warfare; the second was set up to covertly plan for the invasion of Iraq.”

Visit our Iraq project page for more information on the US in Iraq.

 Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our weekly FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.

Luis Posada Carriles, CIA-Created “Frankenstein”, Dies at 90, Obama Presidential Library Departure from NARA System, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 5/24/2018

May 24, 2018

Carriles’s original Cuban passport and a State Dept. INR report to Kissinger on Carriles’s involvement in Cuban jet crash.

Luis Posada Carriles, CIA-Created “Frankenstein”, Dies at 90

CIA-trained Cuban exile and suspect in the 1976 Cuban jetliner bombing that killed all 73 people on board, Luis Posada Carriles, has died at the age of 90.

The National Security Archive’s Cuba Project Director Peter Kornbluh, who has fought for the release of U.S. documents to shed light on Carriles’s activities and provide historical evidence for his victims for over a decade, said of Carriles, “The CIA created and unleashed a Frankenstein.”

Below is a selection of the declassified record on Carriles and his crimes:

Visit the Archive’s Cuba Project page for more information.

Concerns and Opportunities Over Obama Presidential Library Model

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s recent announcement that the Obama presidential center will be “opting out” of NARA’s presidential library system drew questions and concerns. While NARA spokespeople say the move is “mutually beneficial” and will better adapt to people seeking information in a digital age, MuckRock points out that many historians and members of the open government community see the move as “a blow to a functioning democracy.”

The Archive’s Nate Jones notes that, while the move raises questions about access to Obama’s records and the nature of NARA’s relationship to future presidential libraries and museums, that the current process for accessing historical records at NARA-run presidential libraries is “ludicrous and grossly inefficient.” Historians typically must file a FOIA request, then an MDR or two to receive the documents, and the entire NARA-run process can take a decade or more. There is an opportunity for the Obama museum to create a more efficient model for accessing historical records.

Yemen Strike Data Improvement but Not Enough

United States Central Command recently published its first public update on American airstrikes in Yemen since February. CENTCOM has conducted 27 counterterrorism strikes in the country this year, and while the update provides information on previously unacknowledged strikes, it only offers complete information on two strikes. Long War Journal notes that “Although the release of these details is an improvement, much more is required for adequate transparency. CENTCOM has not yet released the location, target, or even the exact dates of 24 of the 27 strikes conducted in 2018.”

FOIA shows Service Members Guarding Nuclear Sites Took, Sold LSD

The Associated Press obtained documents through the FOIA showing that service members guarding nuclear missiles at an Air Force base in Wyoming bought and distributed LSD and other drugs for months before being discovered. The documents “tell a sordid tale of off-duty use of LSD, cocaine and other drugs in 2015 and 2016 by airmen who were supposed to be held to strict behavioral standards because of their role in securing the weapons.” Fourteen airmen were disciplined in the scandal, six were convicted in court martials.


Oliver North’s Theatrics May Offer Lessons for Trump and Michael Cohen

A Marine uniform weighted down by medals and stacks of telegrams from loyal supporters were just some examples of political theater Oliver North employed when questioned by Congress for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. The Archive’s Iran project director, Malcolm Byrne, notes in a recent Newsweek article, that such tactics “could be far more effective than truth.”

Byrne also notes, however, that “North’s later experiences may be instructive for the current president, as well as his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, now under investigation.” Byrne argues that the threat of prosecution can turn the loyalties of even the most devoted aides, and that an enthusiastic base of loyal supporters may not protect you from party retribution years down the road.

Want to know more about North’s role in Iran-Contra and criminal prosecution? Read the next president of the NRA’s Iran-Contra diaries, showing knowledge of Contra drug operations and readiness to collaborate with likes of Manuel Noriega.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Mexican Amendments: The Negotiating Record

The controversial Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, requiring “good faith” disarmament measures, arose from the “fear” by non-nuclear weapons states “of being frozen indefinitely into second class status,” according to newly declassified U.S. documents about the NPT negotiations posted recently by the National Security Archive to mark the Treaty’s 50th anniversary.

Article VI has been controversial partly because of conflicting interpretations over what it requires and perceptions that the nuclear weapons states have not taken positive action to live up to that commitment.

The documents illuminate the “second class status” concern that led the Mexican government, in September 1967, to propose a separate treaty article obliging disarmament action by the nuclear weapons states, along with other Mexican proposals that were critically important to building an international consensus for the NPT.

Cyber Brief: Israeli Cybersecurity

This week the National Security Archive’s Cyber Brief highlights documents on Israel’s cybersecurity proficiency. The document selections relate to Israel’s cybersecurity organization, policy, cooperation with the United States, and an FBI notice on a coordinated attack on Israeli and Jewish websites known as #OpIsrael.

TBT Pick – Things You Don’t Want to Find in Your Food

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with recent reports (made possible thanks to Food and Drug Administration emails released through FOIA) that weedkiller linked to cancer was found in common foods, including but not limited to granola and cornmeal, in mind. This week’s #TBT pick is a 2016 posting highlighting a wide variety of news stories broken that year thanks to FOIA requests – including another FDA FOIA release, this time showing a cheese manufacturer was putting no parmesan in items labeled “100% parmesan,” but was occasionally including wood chips.

Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our weekly FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.


Fact-Checking Haspel’s Nomination Hearing Against the Declassified Record: FRINFORMSUM 5/10/2018

May 10, 2018

The 1963 Kubark manual.

Fact-Checking Haspel’s Nomination Hearing Against the Declassified Record

PolitiFact reached out to the National Security Archive’s CIA expert John Prados to help fact-check key claims Gina Haspel made during her contentious nomination hearing to lead the agency.

Among the claims Prados debunked was Haspel’s assertion that the “CIA has historically not done interrogations.”

The executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program contradicts this when it specifically cites a 1963 CIA manual called the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual. Kubark “included the ‘principal coercive techniques of interrogation: arrest, detention, deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, narcosis and induced regression.'” Prados argues “It is poor history to say that the CIA never did interrogations. The manual cited in the Senate report was created for that purpose.”

Prados also highlights the case of “Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, who was interrogated for several years at the hands of the CIA. Nosenko was handled ‘abusively enough’ that the agency would later give him a cash payment.”

PolitiFact also cites the Archive regarding Haspel’s exceedingly dubious claim that the 92 video recordings showing CIA personnel waterboarding detainees were destroyed to avoid a “security risk” to agents’ safety. But safety was not mentioned by the CIA at the time of the destruction. A declassified 2005 CIA email released to the National Security Archive shows the CIA thought “The heat from destoying [sic] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into the public domain.” There is no mention of security risks.

“the heat from destoying [sic] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into the public domain.”

Classification and redactions still cover key questions of Gina Haspel’s torture story. Among them are: whether she was still the chief of base when the Green site closed on December 4, 2002; did she supervise the November 27, 2002, waterboarding sessions of Al Nashiri; and did she ever object to the torture, or express any qualms?

An excellent collection and analysis of what is available can be found in a recent Archive posting.

More resources from the National Security Archive on the history of the CIA’s torture program and other activities can be found here:

CIA Email Accounts Designated for Permanent Preservation 

The U.S. National Archives recently approved the CIA’s Capstone email preservation schedule that will capture and preserve more than 426 CIA email accounts as permanent. The plan is a welcome change of pace from the agency’s more recent attempt to only preserve the emails of 22 senior agency officials. Public outcry eventually forced the CIA to withdraw the plan in 2016.

Of note for curious researchers: the agency’s NARA-approved plan states, “Traditional records management with a print-and-file policy was in place prior to the Capstone adoption. The Central Intelligence Agency has legacy classified and unclassified email for Capstone and Non-Capstone officials that will be dispositioned with this schedule. The Agency has classified email dating back to approximately 1995. The archive for email sent and received on the Agency’s unclassified network was deployed in December 2014. Searches of the unclassified archive have returned emails dating as far back as 2007.” (emphasis added)

EPA Political Aides take Aggressive Role in FOIA Reviews

A FOIA release from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Natural Resources Defense Council reveals an agency whose political aides are interceding in the FOIA review process for requests concerning EPA head Scott Pruitt beyond the norm. The released emails show “Pruitt’s aides chastising career employees who released documents about the administrator without letting them screen the records first. Meanwhile, several environmental groups say the agency has told them that political staffers’ document reviews have delayed releases past legal deadlines.” The Archive’s Nate Jones says the EPA’s current process “does look like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented.”

The documents also show Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, created a pilot program that was nominally intended to “centralize” FOIA requests that are processed by the Office of the Administrator’s sub-offices, but is practically intended to alert the political staff “about any requests anywhere at EPA that involved Pruitt.”

NRDC obtained the emails after filing a FOIA lawsuit.

Other EPA/Scott Pruitt FOIA news from the past few months that is worth highlighting:

The Guatemala Genocide Ruling, Five Years Later

Five years ago today, one of the most celebrated human rights trials in Latin America came to a stunning conclusion when Guatemalan dictator, retired army general, and self-proclaimed “president” Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity by a panel of three Guatemalan judges.

To commemorate that milestone, the National Security Archive is posting the groundbreaking ruling by the court that found Ríos Montt guilty. The Archive is also making a collection of declassified documents available that chronicle Washington’s unabashed support for the dictator at the height of his powers.

Get the story and read the documents here.

Cyber Brief: ODNI Statistical Transparency Reports

The National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault is highlighting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s report on the use of FISA orders and national security letters during CY 2017 this week. The posting includes the 2017 report as well as all previous reports back to statistics on calendar year 2013. These statistics are valuable in understanding the scope of and trends in government surveillance under national security authorities.

From United States v. Oliver L. North, Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC) Papers, National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

TBT Pick – The Oliver North File

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with Oliver North’s recent ascension to the presidency of the NRA in mind. This week’s pick is a 2004 posting, which contains North’s Iran-Contra diaries, showing knowledge of Contra drug operations and readiness to collaborate with likes of Manuel Noriega. Documents include:

  • Mr. North’s diary entries, from the reporter’s notebooks he kept in those years, noting multiple reports of drug smuggling among the contras. A Washington Post investigation published on 22 October 1994 found no evidence he had relayed these reports to the DEA or other law enforcement authorities.
  • Memos from North aide Robert Owen to Mr. North recounting drug-running “indiscretions” among the contras, warning that a known drug-smuggling airplane was delivering taxpayer-funded “humanitarian aid” overseen by Mr. North.
  • Mr. North’s White House e-mails recounting his efforts to spring from prison a Honduran general who could “spill the beans” on the secret contra war, even though the Justice Department termed the Honduran a “narcoterrorist” for his involvement in cocaine smuggling and an assassination plot.

Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our weekly FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.


Mulvaney Moves to Hide Important Consumer Complaint Database, DOD Again Tries for New FOIA Exemption, and More: FRINFORMSUM 5/3/2018

May 3, 2018

Mulvaney Moves to Hide Important Consumer Complaint Database

Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is trying to take a database intended to hold financial institutions accountable offline, ending the public’s ability to file and view complaints. The database (tagline: “How one complaint can help millions”) is currently available here. Americans have filed more than one million complaints through the database, helping regulators decide which firms need to be investigated.

Mulvaney, who sponsored legislation to abolish the CFPB during his time in Congress, justifies the move by citing unproven potential harm to businesses. He also recently told a room of bankers and lobbyists at the American Bankers Association that he thought he could successfully make the case “that having a database that is publicly facing, but is not completely vetted, is probably not consistent with our overall mission.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission maintain similar public complaint databases.

The National Security Archive joined a coalition of consumer, civil rights, and open government groups in calling on Acting Director Mulvaney to “direct the CFPB to maintain the database with no change.”

CBP Tries to “Unmask” @ALT­­­_uscis

A Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit brought by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is compelling Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to release hundreds of pages of documents on its unsuccessful attempt to “unmask” the identity of Twitter users maintaining an account critical of the agency and the Trump administration’s immigration policy. In March 2017 CBP sent Twitter a summons “ordering the company to provide certain records relating to the @ALT_uscis account, including user names, account login, phone numbers, and mailing and IP addresses.” Twitter filed suit, arguing the summons violated its First Amendment rights, prompting CBP to withdraw its summons and Twitter to voluntarily dismiss its claims.

RCFP filed a FOIA request after CBP withdrew its summons. “The request also includes all records, including guidelines and directives, that discuss any laws CBP could use to compel the production of records to unmask the identity of people using databases, social media, and other software, as well as any records discussing laws that would allow someone who receives a summons to object to compliance with such summons.” RCFP filed suit after CBP failed to respond in the statutory time-frame and withheld records without listing the exemptions used to justify the withholdings.

The first release of responsive documents can be read here, here, here, and here. CBP is required to process 500 pages in response to the suit every 30 days.

George Mason University Investigates Koch Brothers “problematic gift agreements”

A FOIA request sent to George Mason University (a public university in Northern Virginia) has won the release of documents that raise questions about the nature of donor contributions to the university’s economics and law schools. The documents show the Charles Koch Foundation “had been given a voice in hiring and firing professors.” GMU president Angel Cabrera announced shortly after the documents’ release – and the ensuing media coverage – that she was ordering an inquiry into the “problematic gift agreements.”

The Koch Foundation released a statement in defense of their gift practice saying, among other things, that the foundation hadn’t been allowed to make final appointments – only to recommend candidates.

(Curious about whether you can file a FOIA request with a university? MuckRock has a good primer here.)

National Security Archive Sues CIA for Gina Haspel Torture Cables

The Archive has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the CIA in federal district court seeking 12 specific cables from November and December 2002 that were authored or authorized by Gina Haspel, the acting director of the CIA as of last week. The cables describe the torture of a CIA detainee under her supervision.

The Archive filed a FOIA request with the CIA for the 12 cables on April 16, 2018 and sought expedited processing, which must be granted to requests with a “compelling need…made by a person primarily engaged in dissemination information [with] urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity.”

The CIA denied the Archive’s request for expedited processing, arguing that the request was not “made by a person primarily engaged in dissemination information.” In the same letter, the CIA granted the National Security Archive “news media fee status.”


The Defense Department is seeking – for the fourth time – a new FOIA exemption that would withhold unclassified military, tactics, and techniques.  The proposed language is vague and raises concerns that the exemption could potentially be abused to justify withholding much of the information created by the DOD. The proposal also raises the questions: 1) why the unclassified material that the DOD is attempting to withhold cannot be classified and withheld under FOIA’s exemption 1 that already shields “properly classified” national security information; and 2) why the DOD continues to propose the exemption without input from the congressional committees that oversee FOIA?

Chicago PD’s Gang Members Database Needs an Overhaul

The Chicago Tribune won the release of the Chicago Police Department’s gang members database through a FOIA request. The database, which is shared with other law enforcement agencies, contains 128,000 names and, according to criticisms, is replete with inaccuracies, outdated information, and is racially skewed. After a series of public meetings held by the Chicago Inspector General and complaints that people aren’t notified when they are added to the list or able to appeal to be removed, the Chicago Police Department announced that it would make changes to the database.

Cyber Brief: North Korean Cyber Operations

This week the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault’s Cyber Brief entry highlights North Korean cyber-operations. This brief includes remarks by James Clapper on cyber-deterrence and North Korea given while he was Director of National Intelligence, a significant report by Kaspersky Lab on North Korea-linked advanced persistent threat (APT) group Lazarus, a letter from Congress to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressing concern over Lazarus cyber-operations targeting banks in 18 countries, an alert by the US Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) on North Korean botnet activity, and a Congressional Research Service brief on North Korean capabilities in cyberspace.

TBT Pick – US Nuclear Weapons on Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima

This week’s #TBT pick is a posting from 1999 highlighting new information about U.S. nukes in “non-nuclear” Japan during the 1950s and 1960s. The authors – including the Archive’s Nuclear Vault director William Burr – “conclude that though the United States technically abided by Japan’s ‘non-nuclear’ principles, the non-nuclear status of the country was fundamentally undermined.”

Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our weekly FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.


Gina Haspel’s CIA Torture File, Potential Changes to DOD’s MDR Process, and More: FRINFORMSUM 4/26/2018

April 26, 2018

Gina Haspel’s CIA Torture File

The Trump administration’s nominee to be CIA director, Gina Haspel, personally supervised the torture of a CIA detainee in 2002 leading to at least three waterboard sessions, subsequently drafted the cable that ordered destruction of the videotape evidence of torture, and served as a senior CIA official while the Agency was lying to itself, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Congress, and the public about the effectiveness of torture in eliciting useful intelligence, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive.

The documents include a new and less-redacted version of the CIA Inspector General’s report from 2004, repeated references in the declassified Senate Intelligence Committee torture report to Ms. Haspel’s tenure as chief of base of the CIA black site (“Detention Site Green” in Thailand) in 2002, and other CIA documents on the shyster shrinks, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, whose torture program Ms. Haspel supervised in November 2002 and supported through multiple senior CIA positions until President Obama ended the torture program in 2009.

Read the full story and the documents here.

DOD’s Latest “Homeland Defense” Guidance Critical of Use of Classified Information Systems

The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued new guidance “on cyberspace operations, unmanned aerial systems, defense support of civil authorities, and even a bit of national security classification policy” last week. Steve Aftergood points out an “odd editorial remark” in the guidance that faults the DOD itself for over-relying on classified information systems, on which it stores both classified and unclassified information. The guidance correctly argues that the practice inhibits transparency and information sharing.

Change to MDR Process at Pentagon Coming?

A bill introduced by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, should be monitored carefully by open government advocates and historians. The bill proposes eliminating the Defense Department’s Washington Headquarters Service Agency, the entry point for Mandatory Declassification Review requests for many DOD agencies including the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The bill aims to drastically cut spending at the agency, as much as 25 percent, and does not address how WHS functions – like MDR and FOIA processing – would be relocated.

Corruption at Customs and Border Protection

Thirteen Customs and Border Protection officers have been arrested on corruption-related charges since the beginning of the Trump administration, according to FOIA-released records obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). The charges range from “drug smuggling to bribery to theft to sharing top-secret government data” and add to the growing list of over 200 CBP employees who have been arrested since 2004. Drug smuggling is the most common charge levied against CBP employees under the Trump administration. Of the more than 200 CBP employees arrested, 52 were removed or fired, with two being later reinstated, and 124 resigned.

EPA Removes FOIA-Released Documents from Online Portal after Critical News Coverage

The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that FOIA-released records show that a new Environmental Protection Agency policy “would restrict the agency’s ability to use the best available science in decision-making is driven by politics.” The FOIA release also demonstrates that EPA officials were more concerned about releasing industry trade secrets than personal information when responding to FOIA.

The documents – 124 of them – were released in response the UCS’s FOIA requests were and posted by the EPA on FOIAonline. But the EPA removed the documents three days later after extensive reporting on the policy, claiming concern about personal privacy and attorney-client communications. In his coverage of the story Scott Hodes reminds that, “whenever there is a controversy about publicly released documents, it’s always a standby position for agency officials to say the word privacy in their reason to block public dissemination of documents.”

UCS posts more than 100 of the 124 documents here.

My Dear Fidel

The Archive’s Peter Kornbluh’s remarkable telling of the love affair between Fidel Castro and ABC’s Lisa Howard, and its impact on US-Cuba relations, is this month’s Politico Magazine cover story. After the CIA obtained “disturbing” intelligence reports that Fidel Castro had threatened to shoot down US reconnaissance planes in retaliation for the Coast Guard seizure of four Cuban fishing boats, Howard secretly traveled to Cuba to convey a US government warning to Castro, and returned with his assurances that “nothing will happen to our planes, and that we do not need to send him any warnings” – a message passed through UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson directly to President Johnson.

The documents behind the Politico piece, including Howard’s personal papers, show how “intimate diplomacy” helped resolve a potential crisis with Cuba in mid-1964, are published on the Archive’s website.

Cyber Briefing: NIST Framework for Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity

This week the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault highlights the newest iteration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s critical infrastructure cybersecurity framework. The “Cyber brief” includes this document (Version 1.1), two developmental drafts with comments, a summary of a workshop held on the framework, and the first edition (Version 1.0) accompanied by two presentations on the framework. This collection of documents highlights the work of a key contributor to cybersecurity policy that is not considered to be part of the national security apparatus by most of the public.

TBT Pick – Is Kanye/Trump the New Elvis/Nixon?

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with Kanye West’s recent Twitter proclamation that “the mob can’t make me” not love President Trump In mind (Trump tweeted back: Very cool!). Kanye isn’t the first music star to gush about a president – the most famous is probably Elvis’ fondness for President Nixon. The bizarre photo of the two men together on December 21, 1970 was at one point the most requested photo reproduction from the US National Archives. According to a National Security Archive posting:

The meeting was initiated by Presley, who wrote Nixon a six-page letter requesting a visit with the President and suggesting that he be made a “Federal Agent-at-Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The events leading up to and after the meeting are detailed in the documentation and photographs included here, which include Presley’s handwritten letter, memoranda from Nixon staff and aides, and the thank-you note from Nixon for the gifts (including a Colt 45 pistol and family photos) that Presley brought with him to the Oval Office.

Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our weekly FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.

FOIA Federal Advisory Committee Recs Will Help Agency FOIA Shops Pass “Common-Sense Test”: FRINFORMSUM 4/19/2018

April 19, 2018

Senator Leahy expresses disbelief at OIP’s insistence that 508 should hold up posting documents online.

FOIA Federal Advisory Committee Recs Will Help Agency FOIA Shops Pass “Common-Sense Test”

An incredulous Senator Chuck Grassley told the Justice Department Office of Information Policy’s Melanie Pustay this Sunshine Week that her defenses of lackluster government-wide FOIA performance didn’t pass “the common-sense test.” OIP’s support of agencies who claimed 508 compliance concerns were a valid reason for agencies to hesitate posting documents online – or, worse yet, an excuse to remove documents currently published on government websites – was one such “common-sense test” failure for Grassley and Senator Patrick Leahy.

At their most recent meeting the FOIA Advisory Committee took the first tangible step to help agencies navigate 508 compliance concerns. The committee approved 37 recommendation, including encouraging agencies on 508 to, instead of either not posting documents or even removing previously posted documents, “remediate documents that are not currently 508 compliant” and “ensure that their FOIA reading rooms include contact information that individuals with disabilities can use if they encounter inaccessible documents.”  The Committee also recommended that agencies familiarize themselves with the Rehabilitation Act’s “undue burden provision” that allows agencies to post electronic documents that are not Section 508 compliant if rendering them compliant would “impose an undue burden” on the agency.

The committee’s other recommendations include “expanding the use of tracking records, allocating resources for agency IT experts to work with FOIA officials for electronic searches, creating rotational career programs to get younger employees into FOIA, plus using interns or temporary staff for time-consuming tasks such as data entry.”

Border Wall Contractors Under Scrutiny thanks to FOIA Work

A Project on Government Oversight investigation, informed in part by FOIA-released records, show that half of the contractors that built border wall prototypes had shaky track records, including one that the Army Corps of Engineers felt in 2014 “was too risky to do future business with.” The contractor, Caddell Construction, was investigated by the Army for defrauding the government across multiple contracts. The Corps recommended that the Army’s Procurement Fraud division debar Caddell.

The border wall contracting process was also the subject of a separate USA Today FOIA investigation, which in 2017 shed light on the “unusually confusing and haphazard process” of contractors bidding to build border wall prototypes. Nearly 200 pages of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) documents revealed communications with companies seeking clarity on a rushed, murky bidding process that initially only gave companies 12 days to submit proposals for 30-foot high prototypes that could lead to a $300-million five-year contract.

Scott Pruitt has 4 EPA Emails – 3 Don’t Follow the EPA’s Conventional Format

The chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Barrasso, is looking into Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s use of four government email addresses. The multiple emails – “three of which do not follow EPA’s conventional format” – raise concerns that the emails are not being properly searched in response to FOIA requests. A spokesperson for Pruitt insists that all emails are searched in response to FOIA.

Read about Pruitt’s other FOIA woes here.

DOD Secrecy Goes Beyond Limiting Access to the Media

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) recently noted at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that while transparency is “needed now more than ever,” there have been multiple instances in the last few months “where the [military] services have sought to be more guarded in their transparency and accessibility to the media.” DOD Secretary Jim Mattis hedged on the issue, saying that while he wants continued engagement with the media, he doesn’t want officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, further saying “What I don’t want is pre-decisional information, or classified information or any information about upcoming military movements or operations, which is the normal lose lips sink ships kind of restriction.”

The secrecy, however, goes beyond withholding pre-decisional information and speaking less frequently with the media. Steve Aftergood highlights that “Last week, for example, DoD published its regular quarterly report for December 2017 on the number of US troops deployed abroad — but now with the number of troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan deleted.”

US Yet to Release Docs on Ayotzinapa Forced Disappearances

A new report sheds light on the forced disappearance of a group of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in 2014. The report, published in the Mexican newspaper Reforma and by Kate Doyle in a recent blog post, “describes a series of text messages sent in the hours and days following the students’ disappearance between Mexican drug traffickers based in Chicago and their criminal partners operating inside Mexico. US drug enforcement agents obtained the messages through electronic intercepts during a 15-month narcotics investigation in northern Illinois and subsequently provided them to the Mexican government.”

The National Security Archive and Doyle have filed dozens of FOIA requests for records relating to the forced disappearance, but the U.S. government has yet to declassify any relevant records.

John Moss

John Moss’s Transparency Legacy

The Archive’s FOIA Project director Nate Jones and Michael R. Lemov, former Commerce Committee counsel for Congressman John Moss, recently joined forces to pen an excellent retrospective on FOIA’s founding father, John Moss, and the worldwide implications of the US’s landmark transparency law. The article originally appeared in the Southwestern Journal of International Law, Volume 24.

Cyber Brief: FBI and the San Bernardino iPhone, Cyber News

This week’s Cyber Brief highlights the March 2018 report from the DOJ Inspector General on the FBI’s statements on its ability to break into the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. This report was issued in response to allegations that the Operational Technology Division in fact had acquired the capability to unlock the iPhone but did not use it in order to support planned Congressional testimony on the encryption debate. The OIG report found, however, that the Operational Technology Division did not have the capability at the time of the Congressional testimony in question.

Steve Aftergood has an interesting article on the National Security Agency’s declassification of a redacted version of the table of contents of the first three volumes of the classified journal on cybersecurity, the Journal of Sensitive Cyber Research and Engineering (JSCoRE). Aftergood notes, “one title that NSA withheld from release under FOIA was publicly cited in a Government Accountability Office report last year:  ‘The Darkness of Things: Anticipating Obstacles to Intelligence Community Realization of the Internet of Things Opportunity,’ JSCoRE, vol. 3, no. 1 (2015)(TS//SI//NF).”

Talking points written by Libby for White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

TBT Pick – The Scooter Libby File

This week’s #TBT pick is chosen with Donald Trump’s recent pardoning of former Vice President’s Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, who was convicted on four counts for his involvement in the leaking of the covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson, in mind. This week’s pick is a 2007 posting of The Scooter Libby File, which examines the declassified documents introduced as evidence during the Libby trial provide an almost unprecedented window into Mr. Cheney’s own role as the most powerful vice president in history. The Archive’s director Tom Blanton discussed the documents and their historical context with NPR’s Morning Edition.

Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our weekly FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.