An Excellent Look at the Closed World of Prisons…

Nowhere do we spend more money with less accountability than the prison system…

Supermax prisons and solitary confinement units are our domestic black sites—hidden places where human beings endure unspeakable punishments, without benefit of due process in any court of law. On the say-so of corrections officials, American prisoners can be placed in conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for months, years, or even decades.

At least 80,000 men, women, and children live in such conditions on any given day in the United States. And they are not merely separated from others for safety reasons. They are effectively buried alive. Most live in concrete cells the size of an average parking space, often windowless, cut off from all communication by solid steel doors. If they are lucky, they will be allowed out for an hour a day to shower or to exercise alone in cages resembling dog runs.

Most have never committed a violent act in prison. They are locked down because they’ve been classified as “high risk,” or because of nonviolent misbehavior—anything from mouthing off or testing positive for marijuana to exhibiting the symptoms of untreated mental illness.

Don’t miss this excellent, troubling report.

Someone in Topeka got a wee bit happy with the redaction Sharpie…

This is just a hoot…and it underscores a point I make all the time: when you are denied access to information, it is a story in and of itself! Look how much mischief these reporters are making:

Topeka city manager Jim Colson’s emphasized commitment to transparency isn’t evident in the city’s response to information requests.

Colson repeatedly has expressed the importance of government transparency since taking office in August. A recent test of that transparency resulted in the city releasing dozens of pages of redacted emails.

The results have been similar in multiple other Kansas Open Records Act requests made by The Topeka Capital-Journal in the past few months, as access to police reports and other information was denied.

The Capital-Journal requested — and paid $260 toward — access to emails from Colson’s first 15 weeks in office. Instead, the newspaper was charged $182 for one week of emails, nearly all of which had the text completely blacked out.

Topeka staff members, including Colson, said the request was too broad and called it a “waste” of city resources.

The response has solicited criticism from open government advocates and city council members.

“This kind of reaction to an open records request is the kind of response you would expect from a totalitarian regime, not the city of Topeka,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. “We understand there are some reasons for e-mails to be redacted, such as protected discussions of legal matters and some personnel information, but more than 75 percent of the pages were blacked out. That is incredible.”

Other requests made within the past three months that have been denied by the Topeka city attorney’s office include:

■ Access to videotapes seized by the Topeka Police Department relating to the Dec. 24, 2011, fatal shooting of a Hudson Liquor store clerk. The request was denied despite the case having been concluded with the killer’s sentencing in November.

■ Documents the Topeka city attorney’s office has produced since May 2004 addressing whether Topeka’s city council-manager form of government was approved in an illegal vote. The request was denied because the only documents responsive to the request were internal drafts.

■ Three requests made within the past month of defensive action reports from the Topeka Police Department. Two were denied, and one was returned with the officers’ names redacted. A court ruling in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal lawsuit indicated the department couldn’t strike out the officers’ names, but the decision only applied to that case.

Much, much more redaction here. And if you want a peek look at these blacked-out records!

Ohio Grapples With A Secrecy Epidemic….

Nice overview piece on Ohio’s penchant for keeping secrets:

Ohio legislators created an arson offender registry much like the state’s sex offender registry, supposedly to deter the crime. But unlike the older one, the names of those making the arson list will not be public. That means you won’t know if your neighbor is an arsonist.

Or this:

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently that asking for the emails sent to and from public officials is too “ambiguous.”

What’s going on?

Those are just two of many examples of how government is becoming more secretive as lawmakers and the courts turn transparent government to opaque in Ohio.

It means you can’t see what your government is doing or where it’s spending your money or what deals are being cut. In fact, some public officials even want you to pay for accessing what are now free online records – such as the deed to your house or your military discharge papers – if you print them in your own home….

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Classification is broken, report says…

The federal government is classifying information at a rapidly increasing pace

More black holes than a cheesy sci-fi film

More black holes than a cheesy sci-fi film (Photo credit: gary_foulger)

, and every time the CIA, FBI or National Security Agency stamps a document “Top Secret,” it’s risking the public’s right to know, says a report released Thursday by the Public Interest Declassification Board.

The current classification system, the board concluded, is “fraught with problems. In its mission to support national security, it keeps too many secrets, and keeps them too long; it is overly complex; it obstructs desirable information sharing inside of government and with the public.”

The board, an official body of academics, ex-spys and transparency experts appointed by the president and Congress, does not have the power to force changes. Only the president, it says, has the power to force agencies to end an overly cautious culture of secrecy. But non-governmental organizations have questioned the administration’s commitment to transparency, citing its prosecution of people who have leaked confidential documents to the press.

The National Archives have a declassification backlog of 400 million pages just for documents older than 25 years. And as computers suck up more data, the problem is getting worse. At one unnamed intelligence agency, the board found, the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text is classified every 18 months.

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In Case You Missed It….

Dana Milbank took the Obama administration to task for its hollow talk when it comes to transparency this week in the Post. These are the best minds in the business on the subject, and they are right. Goes to show you that secrecy is a bipartisan value.

From the column:

“My administration,” President Barack Obama wrote on his first day in office, “is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

Those were strong and hopeful words. Four years later, it is becoming more and more clear that they were just words.

On Monday afternoon, open-government advocates assembled in a congressional hearing room to ponder what had become of the Obama administration’s lofty vows of transparency.

“It’s been a really tough slog,” said Anne Weismann of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The lack of effective leadership in the White House, in the executive branch, has really made it difficult to have more significant progress.”

“They’ve been reluctant to take positions,” said Hudson Hollister of the Data Transparency Coalition, “and translate that to real action.”

 

 

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Secret Watergate Files Released…

The government on Nov. 29 finally released more than 850 pages of once-secret documents from the Watergate political scandal, meaning that only a few more sets of Watergate documents remain sealed…The Washington Post story contain a few nice nuggets:

The files do not appear to provide any significant new revelations in the 40-year-old case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and criminal prosecutions of many of his top White House and political aides. But the files provide useful context for historians, revealing behind-the-scenes deliberations by the judge then in charge of the case, U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, along with prosecutors and defense lawyers…

One new transcript of an in-chambers meeting between Sirica and then-Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in July 1973 shows that the judge revealed secret probation reports indicating that Hunt had cited orders from “very high” Nixon administration officials. Several of Hunt’s co-defendants had previously denied any White House involvement in court testimony, and Sirica told Cox and other prosecutors that he felt the new information “seemed to me significant.

And:

Reports from prison psychiatrists and probation officers also show that four of Hunt’s co-defendants justified their role in the Watergate break-in on national security grounds, saying they were under orders to search for evidence that Cuban government funds supported Democratic party campaigns. Dean said Friday that Hunt once told him that excuse was a ruse used to persuade the others to participate in the burglary.

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Who Languishes in IND Detention Centers? We Can’t Tell Ya…

Nice look at an absolutely infuriating developmen

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

t….

Who’s being held in immigration detention centers?

lawsuit filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this week hopes to shed more light on that, asking for information like the demographic breakdown of detainees and internal inspection records of all detention facilities.

But the goal of the suit, filed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering organization based at Syracuse University, is about much more than just getting this information.

“We’re trying to establish the principle that they have to give us data,” said David Burnham, co-director of TRAC. “We’ve been negotiating with them for years at the administrative level.”

Since 9/11, the flow of information from federal agencies like ICE has tightened, and courts have backed them up. That includes aggregate data that doesn’t identify individuals by name.

The rationale is something legal scholars call the “mosaic theory.” The idea is that tiny bits of information might seem innocuous, but when used collectively, could be a threat to national security.

Perhaps the most notable example of information-turned-dangerous goes back to the trials over the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which some say help enabled the 9/11 attacks. During the trial, U.S. government intelligence-gathering methods were made public.

The mosaic theory has existed in case law since 1972, but was more aggressively employed by the Bush administration and continues to be applied by the Obama administration, according to Charles N. Davis, professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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