Lyndon Johnson usually signed bills into law this way, with a crowd — but not the Freedom of Information Act, which he signed at the last minute, grudgingly, alone, at the ranch in Texas. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).
Happy 46th Birthday, Freedom of Information!
National Security Archive Compilation of 46 News Stories
Shows Impact of FOIA for Public Health and Government Accountability
LBJ signed FOIA into law July 4, 1966 “kicking and screaming”
For more information contact:
Nate Jones/Tom Blanton – 202/994-7000
Washington, DC, July 4, 2012 – Marking the 46th anniversary of President Johnson’s signing the Freedom of Information Act, the National Security Archive today posted a compilation of 46 news headlines from the past year made possible by active and creative use of the FOIA. This representative sample, drawn from hundreds of FOIA stories reported by newspapers, blogs, broadcasters, and researchers, describe FOIA requests that revealed the theft of Jack Daniels whiskey by airport security screeners, the keywords used by homeland security officials to monitor social networking sites, the soil contamination endangering Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune, pre-9/11 attempts to whack Osama bin Laden, and $1.2 trillion of secret Federal Reserve loans to banks, among dozens of other topics that the public has a right and a need to know.
“These freedom of information stories show the paradox of FOIA,” remarked Tom Blanton, director of the Archive, which has made tens of thousands of successful FOIA requests since its founding in 1985. “We requesters always complain about the constant delays, the bureaucratic obstacles, the processing fee harassment, and the excessive government secrecy; yet the FOIA actually produces front-page results every year that make a real difference to citizens and to better government.”
“Agencies are still dragging their heels on fulfilling President Obama’s transparency promises,” said Nate Jones, the Archive’s Freedom of Information Coordinator, citing the Archive’s government-wide audits of FOIA performance. “But persistence and focus and pressure pay off, as these headlines show; and the core principle of FOIA – that government information belongs to the people – is worth fighting for.”
The Archive’s detailed 122-page guide, “Effective FOIA Requesting for Everyone,” is available online at the Archive’s FOIA page, here.
The Archive’s previous postings of documentation from the Johnson, Nixon and Ford presidential libraries show that President Johnson grudgingly signed the FOIA into law 46 years ago today, at the last possible minute, only after pressure from newspaper editors and his own press secretary Bill Moyers, who later said LBJ was “dragged kicking and screaming” into signing the bill. Moyers credited the persistence of longtime California congressman John Moss, lead author of the FOIA bill, for making the law happen.
46 FOIA News Stories for FOIA’s 46th Birthday
“FBI admits noted Memphis civil rights photographer Ernest Withers was informant,” The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, July 3, 2012, By Marc Perrusquia.
Documents released under FOIA to the Commercial Appeal confirm that Ernest Withers, who photographed the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., worked as an FBI informant for 14 years. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the FBI must release portions of its file on Withers; the US government rarely releases the files of its informants.
“Army ‘investigating’ Bradley Manning Support Network; Admits to ‘Active Investigation,'” Antiwar.com, July 2, 2012, by Jason Ditz.
A U.S. Army response to a FOIA request confirms that The Bradley Manning Support Network is part of “an active investigation.” The group maintains the website of Bradley Manning, who is being charged under the Espionage Act for “aiding the enemy” by improperly disseminating classified information.
“Probe into soil contamination closes scrap metal lot at Camp Lejeune,” The Daily News, Jacksonville, North Carolina, June 29, 2012, By Lindell Kay.
A scrap metal yard at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base may be exposing workers to potentially carcinogenic chemicals. A Freedom of Information Act request shows that the Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators have been attempting to move the scrap yard for years, without avail.
“Group: Gas industry got inside information in N.Y.,” Associated Press, June 29, 2012, By Mary Esch.
Email exchanges obtained through New York’s Freedom of Information Law show that a natural gas industry lawyers repeatedly requested New York environmental regulators to weaken drilling and fracking regulations in their state.
“Declassified documents shed light on scramble to ‘hit’ bin Laden before 9/11,” CNN, June 21, 2012, By Tim Lister.
Documents released to the National Security Archive in response to a FOIA request show that the US government considered attacks on bin Laden several times before September 11, 2001. The documents also show that CIA and US Air Force drones “observed an individual most likely to be bin Laden” twice in the fall of 2000, but “had no way at the time to react to this information.”
“US Reveals Years of Accusations against Secret Service: Claims Include Involvement with Prostitutes, Leaks of Sensitive Information, Illegal Wiretaps,” MSNBC, June 15, 2012, By Alicia A. Caldwell.
Documents released by a Freedom of Information Act request reveal an extensive list of allegations filed against Secret Service agents and officers since 2004. The complaints include allegations of publishing pornography, illegal wiretaps, drunken behavior, and sexual assault.
“Steve Jobs’s Pentagon File: Blackmail Fears, Youthful Arrest and LSD Cubes,” Wired, June 11, 2012, By Kim Zetter.
Documents obtained through FOIA by Wired Magazine provide insight into Steve Jobs’s personal life after he founded Apple. In a 1988 security clearance interview with the Department of Defense, Jobs revealed that he was concerned about his daughter’s safety, disclosed his past altercations with the law, and chronicled his drug use.
“NOAA Cuts May Weaken Tsunami Mitigation Programs,” Oregon Public Broadcasting News, June 11, 2012, By Kristian Foden-Vencil.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that proposed federal cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program in 2013 would leave hundreds of coastal communities vulnerable to tsunamis.
“The Department of Energy is Under Attack. Cyber Attack,” CNBC, June 8, 2012, By Eamon Javers.
Documents obtained by CNBC through FOIA show that the DOE is frequently under what it believes to be an aggressive attack by private sector firms to access its website at times when it releases “market-moving” economic data to the public.
“DHS social media monitoring practices revealed under FOIA,” Government Security News, May 29, 2012, By Mark Rockwell.
Documents attained through FOIA reveal a long, sometimes bizarre, list of trigger words that the Department of Homeland Security monitors social networking sites for, including: “Amtrak,” “swine,” “BART,” and “cops.” The document also advises analysts which news organizations it deems the most credible, including Fox News.
“Secret Service Releases Identity of ‘Spy’ Printer Manufacturers,” The FOIA blog, May 24, 2012, By Scott Hodes.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal the names of 10 printer manufacturers that released their machine identification codes to the Secret Service, thereby allowing the Secret Service to trace printed materials back to their origin.
“ACLU raises issue with single-sex education programs,” Augusta Free Press, May 21, 2012.
Documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU show an alarming trend of unlawful sex-segregation through single-sex programs in Virginia’s public schools.
“DHS Considers Collecting DNA From Kids; DEA and US Marshals Already Do,” The Electronic Freedom Foundation, May 14, 2012, By Jennifer Lynch.
Documents obtained through FOIA by the EFF show that the Department of Homeland Security is contemplating collecting DNA from children over the age of 14, and is exploring how to collect DNA from children even younger than that. ICE is the first component of DHS to collect DNA in such cases; the DEA and U.S. Marshals already do.
“National Security Letter Gag Order FOIA,” ACLU, May 9, 2012.
A FOIA lawsuit by the ACLU has led to the release of the National Security Letter template used by the FBI. National Security Letters force internet service providers, credit card companies, cell phone providers, and others, to hand over information about their customers. It is illegal to inform customers that their information has been turned over to the government.
“TSA Reveals Passenger Complaints … Four Years Later,” ProPublica, May 4, 2012, Friday, by Michael Grabell.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal – albeit after a four year wait – the litany of complaints travelers filed with the Transportation Security Administration in 2008. Grievances ranged from a complaint of wheelchair-bound passenger being forced to walk through security, to an allegation that a passenger’s bottle of Jack Daniels was surreptitiously emptied by TSA screeners.
“Govt Appeals Court-Ordered Release of Classified Document,” Secrecy News, April 27, 2012, By Steven Aftergood.
A U.S. District Court ruled that the U.S. Trade Representative must release documents concerning the U.S. negotiating position in free trade negotiations that were the subject of a Freedom of Information Act Request. Judge Roberts concluded that the continued classification of the document was not “logical;” the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to appeal the decision.
“Stonington attorney a no-show at Freedom of Information training,” The Day, New London, Conn, April 25, 2012, by Joe Wojtas.
After the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ruled that the town of New London had violated state FOIA law in 2011, it ordered town officials to undergo FOI training. A dozen town officials took the two hour training. However, attorney Michael Satti -who mishandled the FOIA cases- did not attend despite the Commission encouraging him, “in the strongest possible terms” to do so.
“City admits to violating Freedom of Information Act,” The Stamford Advocate, Conn, April 22, 2012, By Kate King.
The Stamford Office of Legal Affairs was forced to pay a $300 fine because it improperly withheld public documents requested under the act. The city wrongly denied a request by state Rep. Sal Gabriele, for documents about theft of scrap metal by city workers and a credit account opened by public workers to fund an annual golf tournament. “Substantially all” of the documents were eventually released to Rep. Gabriele.
“ICE confirms inquiry into freedom of information denial in Dallas case,” The Dallas Morning News, April 17, 2012, By Dianne Solis.
According to a reply to a FOIA request, the Dallas branch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that it was investigating its office’s improper “pawning of personal property of immigration detainees.” Several individuals within the senor leadership of the office have been reassigned and an investigation is ongoing.
“Memo shows US official disagreed with Bush administration’s view on torture; Previously-unreleased document shows state department official thought techniques were ‘cruel’ and ‘degrading’ punishment,” Associated Press, April 2, 2012, By Pete Yost.
In response to a FOIA request by the National Security Archive, the Department of State released a 2006 internal memo written by the State Department’s legal counselor Philip Zelikow that warned that he believed the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” practices were in fact illegal. Zelikow recounted that the White House “attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.”
“US feared Falklands war would be ‘close-run thing,’ documents reveal; Declassified cables show US felt Thatcher had not considered diplomatic options, and feared Soviet Union could be drawn in,” The Guardian, April 1, 2012, By Julian Borger.
U.S. diplomatic cables, released to the National Security Archive under FOIA, show that during the Falklands War, the United States provided the United Kingdom with substantial covert support. As U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig explained to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “We are not impartial.”
“Documents show NYPD infiltrated liberal groups,” The Associated Press, March 23, 2012, By Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman.
Documents attained by a FOIA request show that from at least 2004-2008, undercover NYPD officers infiltrated liberal political organizations’ meetings and kept files on activists planning protests around the country. The use of these counterterrorism tactics likely violated the First Amendment.
“The State Department Tells Us How They Really Felt,” Huffington Post, February 17, 2012, By David Isenberg.
Documents obtained through a FOIA request shed light on how the Department of State rates, grades, and oversees the work assigned to its contractors. One assessment reported that Blackwater’s poor performance in Iraq caused the Department of State, “to lose confidence in their credibility and management ability.”
“Justices: Release Little Rock police officer’s use-of-force reports,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 17, 2012, By Alison Sider.
The Arkansas State Supreme Court ruled that a police officer’s “use of force reports” were not exempt under the state FOI law’s protection of employee privacy. The” use of force report” at issue recounts an incident where an officer struck a man “several times in the facial area” for refusing to leave a bar.
“Pentagon Discloses Military Intelligence Budget Request,” Secrecy News, February 14, 2012, By Steven Aftergood.
After refusing to disclose its Military Intelligence Program budget proposal request in response to a 2011 Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Defense disclosed the amount of its FY2013 budget proposal request for its Military Intelligence Program in 2012. It requested 19.2 billion dollars.
“Congress Left in Dark on DOJ Wiretaps,” Wired Magazine, February 13, 2012, By David Kravetz.
Documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act prove that the Department of Justice was illegally withholding material from Congress between 2004 and 2008. Specifically, the DOJ was refusing to turn over documentation on the number of times they used surveillance tools called “pen register” and “trap-and-trace capturing,” which are covert mobile telephone surveillance methods.
“No Conviction, No Freedom: Immigration Authorities Locked 13,000 In Limbo,” Huffington Post, January 27, 2012, By Elise Foley.
Documents obtained through the FOIA by the Huffington Post reveal that an alarming 40% of people in immigration detentions are held without being convicted of a crime.
“Federal Immigration Enforcement is Mandatory, Memo Says,” Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2012, By Paloma Esquivel.
Documents released through a FOIA request reveals that Secure Communities, the DHS’ controversial immigration enforcement program, will become mandatory by 2012, though states and some counties had initially been told they could opt out.
“FOIA Documents Show FBI Illegally Collecting Intelligence Under Guise of ‘Community Outreach,'” ACLU, December 1, 2011.
Documents obtained through FOIA reveal that the FBI has been using community outreach programs to spy on religious and community organizations. These actions have raised concerns that the Bureau may be violating various constitutional protections.
“Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress,” Bloomberg, November 27, 2011, By Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz.
29,000 pages of documents acquired by Bloomberg News FOIA requests reveal that the Federal Reserve loaned major banking institutions more than 1.2 trillion dollars on December 5, 2008, at the crux of the financial crisis. By taking advantage of the Fed’s below market rates, banks were able to make an estimated combined $13 billion in profits, according to Bloomberg’s calculation of data released to it under FOIA.
“Obama Intelligence Panel Identified after Suit,” Security Law Brief, November 12, 2011.
Documents obtained through a FOIA request provide the names of the members of the panel that oversees reports of illegal and improper spying by the intelligence community, the Intelligence Oversight Board.
“An FBI director with a grudge,” Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2011, By Richard A. Serrano.
Documents obtained by a FOIA request to the FBI reveal that long-time Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover had L.A. Times journalist Jack Nelson kept under close surveillance, as Hoover was concerned that Nelson could out Hoover as a homosexual.
“FBI releases Russian spy trove,” CNN, October 31, 2011, By Suzanne Kelly.
Documents attained by a FOIA request shed light on “Operation Ghost Stories,” an investigation into the “Anna Chapman” Russian spy ring. The documents reveal information about Russian Foreign Intelligence operatives in the U.S. who were thought to be attempting to access classified documents from undercover FBI agents; they include videos of Russian operatives conducting “brush passes” and other operational espionage.
“What If We Paid Off The Debt? The Secret Government Report,” NPR, October 20, 2011, By David Kestenbaum.
A document obtained through a FOIA request by NPR provides insight on how the government viewed a potential crisis in the year 2000. What was the crisis? How the global financial would suffer if the U.S. government entirely paid off its debt.
“FOIA request elicits declassification processing for NGA budget documents,” Progressive Technology Federal Systems, October 19, 2011.
Documents acquired by a Freedom of Information Act request by the Federation of American Scientists expose the budget considerations of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). The documents reveal the NGA’s concern about an upcoming wave of retirements, and the possible loss of valuable institutional knowledge and critical skills that could follow.
“Enviros: TransCanada, State emails ‘cozy,'” PoliticoPro, October 3, 2011, By Bob King.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act illuminate a startling familiarity between State Department employees and lobbyists for the Canadian oil giant TransCanada, regarding approval for a North American oil pipeline.
“Don’t call us, we’ll call you: Tales of a DHS FOIA,” Federal Times, September 30, 2011, by Andy Medici.
Documents attained through FOIA a reporter for Federal Times show that the Department of Homeland Security redacts the contact information of their public relations employees – in order to prevent “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
“Even Those Cleared of Crimes Can Stay on F.B.I.’s Watch List,” The New York Times, September 27, 2011, By Charlie Savage.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is allowed to keep people on the government’s terrorist watch list – even if they have been acquitted of terrorism-related offenses, or if the charges have been dropped. This revelation brings the FBI’s practices under greater scrutiny.
“Declassified US spy satellites reveal rare look at Cold War space program,” MSNBC, September 18, 2011, by Roger Guillemette.
For its 50th anniversary, the National Reconnaissance Office declassified and released thousands of pages of documents about its GAMBIT and HEXAGON satellite programs which were active from 1963 until 1986.
“FOIA Victory Will Shed More Light on Warrantless Tracking of Cell Phones,” The Electronic Frontier Foundation, September 10, 2011.
A U.S. District Court ruled in favor of FOIA requesters seeking information on the warrantless tracking of cell phones. The Court case forces the government to turn over information about the cases that federal law enforcement agencies obtained information by tracking cell phones without a warrant.
“Details released on probe of Manchin administration; Subpoena included request for records relating to private airplane, campaign finance, email accounts,” Daily Mail Capitol Reporter, August 25, 2011, By Ry Rivard.
Subpoenas released in response to a Freedom of Information request show that federal investigators sought flight records, emails, and bids for roads contracts from the administration of former West Virginia governor Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator. No one was charged as a result of the probe.
“History Held Hostage; A group’s legal effort to dislodge the CIA’s official history of the Bay of Pigs fiasco shows that prying secrets from the spy agency remains far too difficult,” The Daily Beast, August 13, 2011, By Peter Kornbluh.
In response to a FOIA lawsuit by the National Security Archive, the Central Intelligence Agency released over 1200 pages of its internal history of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The history includes accounts of CIA personnel shooting at their own aircraft, and new revelations about assassination plots and the use of Americans in combat.
“Energy Friendships Spur Conflicts of Interest,” Associated Press, July 27, 2011, By Dina Cappiello.
Documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that relations between offshore oil and gas companies and the federal agency in charge of regulating them – the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulation – were so intertwined that, a year after new ethics rules were enforced, nearly a third of inspectors located in the Gulf of Mexico region have been disqualified.
“Defense Contractors Block Auditor Access to Records, Insiders Say,” TIME Magazine, July 22, 2011, By Nick Schwellenbach.
Documents obtained through the FOIA reveal that the Pentagon frequently disregards requests for access to contractor records. Specifically, documents acquired by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) show that the Pentagon ignored proposals from the Defense Contracting Audit Agency for greater access to contractor information.
“Court Rules TSA Adopted Body Scanners Improperly: Agency did not Solicit Public Comment before Installing Whole-Body Scanners,” Consumer Affairs, July 16, 2011, By James R. Hood.
Documents obtained via a FOIA request prove that DHS required body scanners used by TSA to be capable of recording and storing “images of unclothed passengers.”
“Final Space Shuttle Launch Threatened by Bad Weather,” Techland, July 6, 2011, By Matt Peckham.
Documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act show that NASA’s space shuttle launches are “100 times more dangerous” to launch-site spectators than other types of U.S. rockets, though odds of a spectator actually being killed are “extremely remote.”