51 Years After The Fact, A National Secret

A federal judge has ruled

Map of Cuba, showing the Bay of Pigs

Map of Cuba, showing the Bay of Pigs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that the last volume in a CIA history of the Bay of Pigs invasion that was written more than 30 years ago and 51 years after the ill-fated Cuban mission should remain secret.

In an opinion released Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said Volume V in the CIA’s Official History of the Bay of Pigs was a draft that was “rejected for inclusion in the final publication” and was exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Washington-based National Security Archive, a research institute and library, filed suit last year asking for declassification of all five volumes in the set after its previous FOIA requests were unsuccessful.

Volumes I, II, and IV were released last April. Volume III had actually been declassified in 1998 but researchers remained unaware of the fact until a Villanova university professor found it stashed in a box at the National Archives Kennedy Assassination Records Collection in 2005.

The National Security Archive called Kessler’s decision “a regrettable blow to the right-to-know.”

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Executive Privilege Challenge to be Heard by Washington Supreme Court

A growing menace, this state-level claiming of executive privilege:

Does the governor have the right to to shield documents from public view simply because she’s the governor? That’s a question the state Supreme Court late last month announced it would consider.

The case is brought by the Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank based in Olympia. The group is challenging Governor Chris Gregoire’s claim to an “executive privilege” that she says allows her to withhold documents from public disclosure. According to the foundation’s research, Gregoire claimed this privilege roughly 500 times between 2007 and 2010.

But there is no executive privilege spelled out in either the state Public Records Act, or the state constitution. So the foundation sued, citing a half-dozen examples of withheld documents.

Alan Copsey, the deputy solicitor general in the state Attorney General’s office, tells Seattle Weekly that the privilege “flows from the separation of powers.” He explains: “Each branch of government has a core function and in order to perform it property, it needs to have room to operate.” In the governor’s case, he continues, that means letting the state’s chief exec privately “consult with her advisers before making a decision.”

Freedom Foundation attorney Mike Reitz, however, says the documents withheld by Gregoire are not just communications between the governor and her advisers. He cites, for instance, a draft memorandum of agreement–along with Gregoire’s handwritten notes–between the state, King County, and city of Seattle over the viaduct replacement.

The question is, says Copsey, who were those handwritten notes for? He suggests that they may have been intended for the governor’s aides.

E-Mails Show “Cozy” Relationship Between Maryland Guv and Chicken Titan

Another FOI at Work moment:

A national consumer group is alleging emails they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal an “unnervingly close and direct” relationship between Gov. Martin O’Malley and an attorney for Perdue Farms Inc.

The topics covered in 70 pages of emails between O’Malley and Herb Frerichs, general counsel for Perdue Business Services, run the gamut from chicken waste incineration to wind energy.

Food & Water Watch highlights several exchanges of particular concern, including one from August 2010, when O’Malley is grilled regarding comments made by his press secretary to a local newspaper. The article is about an Environment Maryland petition signed by 55 farmers asking O’Malley to hold large poultry producers responsible for pollution from chickenhouses seeping into the Chesapeake Bay. The comments make it appear as though O’Malley supports the petition, and specifically names Perdue as an example of a poultry giant.

Madison Officials To Examine Their Multitasking After State Journal Nabs ‘Em

Thanks to this story, which revealed that Madison City Council members are emailing or texting colleagues, lobbyists, staff and others during public meetings, led to this welcome piece of news:

Madison City Council members intend to examine rules for emailing and texting during public meetings, and others are calling for a statewide review of such communications and their impact on open government.

The response comes in the wake of a State Journal investigation last week that revealed an unseen flow of electronic communications between council members, staff, lobbyists and others — including real-time conversations on matters before the council — during meetings.

The city should consider new rules through the council’s organizational committee, which already is shaping a council job description and code of ethics, or a special work group, members said.

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FOI At Work: Columbus Dispatch Examines 30,000 Credit Report Complaints

A great example of the power of FOI to shed light:

During a yearlong investigation, The Dispatch collected and analyzed nearly 30,000 consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in 24 states that alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act by the three largest credit-reporting agencies in the United States — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Industry observers say it is among the most comprehensive reviews ever conducted of complaints against credit-reporting agencies.

The complaints document the inability of consumers to correct errors that range from minor to financially devastating. Consumers said the agencies can’t even correct the most obvious mistakes: That’s not my birth date. That’s not my name. I’m not dead.

Nearly a quarter of the complaints to the FTC and more than half of the complaints to the attorneys general involved mistakes in consumers’ financial accounts for credit cards, mortgages or car loans. Houses sold in bank-approved “short sales,” at less than the value of the mortgage, were listed as foreclosures. Car loans that had been paid off were reported as repossessions. Credit cards that had been paid off and closed years earlier showed as delinquent.

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This page brought to you by…

Charles and I are trying something new – we posted a sponsor’s link on the right side of the page, for PeopleFinders. As former newspaper folk, we appreciate the idea of advertising, and we also know the importance of not co-mingling ads with editorial content. So we’ll be upfront – we aren’t beholden to anyone as far as content goes. But if someone wants to provide us support for an ad, we’ll be happy to take their money! (Although, we might be reluctant to take ads from the FBI touting their open, transparent operations…)

Missouri AG Sees The Light Under the Dome…

Victory!

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster on Monday said he intends to publicly release documents next week related to the St. Louis Rams’ plans to renovate the Edward Jones Dome.

The secret plans have been at the center of a legal dispute between the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission and the Post-Dispatch.

The CVC and the Rams, as required by the team’s lease for the Dome, have traded proposals on how to make the building a “first-tier” stadium. If the CVC can’t meet that standard by 2015, the team could terminate the lease and move out of St. Louis.

The CVC, a public agency that operates the taxpayer-funded Dome, contends that the Rams’ May 1 renovation plan and other documents requested by the Post-Dispatch are not subject to the Missouri Sunshine Law, the state’s open-records law. Last week, the matter went to court as the CVC and the news organization sued each other.

In  a letter sent Monday to St. Louis Circuit Judge Bryan Hettenbach, Koster and Patricia Churchill, who heads the attorney general’s government affairs division, said that the state will release the documents Monday.

Drill Baby, Drill! FOI At Work in Photos of Sea Animals Dominate the Blogosphere

Photos of animals struggling in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill remind me that a great tip is to always note a major news event and then make a calendar item of FOIAing — one year after the date — any such photographic evidence. You never know…

Previously unreleased photographs from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico show boxes and bags full of oil-covered and dead endangered sea turtles and a group of sperm whales swimming through an oil sheen.

The photographs were obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace through a Freedom of Information Act request sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July 2010.

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In Case You Missed It: A GREAT FOI Story on 60 Minutes

Truly inspiring stuff:

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7407678n&tag=api

This Would Be Funny, Were It Not So Sad…

Four years for the TSA to hand over complaints?

Here’s the story, from ProPublica’s Michael Grabell…

From intrusive pat-downs to body scans to perceived profiling, the Transportation Security Administration always seems to be the target of complaints.

Here’s another one: It took the TSA almost four years to tell me what people complained about — in 2008.

In my first week at ProPublica in June 2008, I filed a public records request for the agency’s complaint files. Such records can provide good fodder for investigations.

For example, amid the brouhaha over the agency’s introduction of intensive full-body pat-downs in 2004, I requested complaints and discovered an untold story of the pain and humiliation suffered by rape victims and breast cancer survivors. In one incident that I found from that request — while I was a reporter at the Dallas Morning News — a woman complained that a screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast to be swabbed for explosives.

When I made a similar FOIA request in 2008, I assumed the TSA would respond in a few months. Government agencies have about a month to respond to public record requests, though they often take longer. I figured even if their response took months, I’d be able to repeat it regularly to get a timely, inside look as to what passengers were complaining about and find out about incidents that required some more digging.

Boy, was I wrong.