Tag Archives | FOIA

Ryan Shapiro: The Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File

Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro for Mother Jones:

Ryan Shapiro has just wrapped up a talk at Boston’s Suffolk University Law School, and as usual he’s surrounded by a gaggle of admirers. The crowd­, consisting of law students, academics, and activist types, is here for a panel discussion on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a 2006 law targeting activists whose protest actions lead to a “loss of profits” for industry. Shapiro, a 37-year-old Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contributed a slideshow of newspaper headlines, posters, and government documents from as far back as the 1800s depicting animal advocates as a threat to national security. Now audience members want to know more about his dissertation and the archives he’s using. But many have a personal request: Would Shapiro help them discover what’s in their FBI files?

The clip below shows Shapiro at an animal-rights conference, using some of the documents he obtained to make fun of the FBI’s investigative methods.
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Secretary of Defense Gets a New Fax Machine

Old-Fax-MachineLooks like we won’t need that Kickstarter to buy the Office of the Secretary of Defense a new fax machine. The department was able to scrounge up the cash for the device following a torrent of Tweets and emails suggesting that the public crowd-fund a new one.

Via MuckRock:

…MuckRock is happy to announce that OSD has managed to find a fax machine, without even a single cent of crowdfunding (save the millions it receives in taxpayer funds each year). While the office remains impervious to emailed FOIA requests, we the people now have the option of faxing our FOIAs to OSD once again, as an alternative to submitting requests by mail or the rather clunky (in our experience) online portal.

Let the FOIA faxing begin! I suggest that you inquire about their toner supply.

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Department of Defense Fax Machine That Receives FOIA Requests is Broken

imagesLooks like someone’s getting a STAPLES gift card in his kevlar-lined stocking this Christmas.

Via MuckRock:

Starting two weeks ago, requests faxed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) started coming back as undeliverable. After several subsequent attempts and troubleshooting on our end, MuckRock reached out to the OSD. Sure enough, their fax machine is down… possibly until November.

Now, in 2013, you wouldn’t think this would be an issue. But when an agency accepts FOIA requests by a) fax, b) mail or c) a clunky online request portal that doesn’t play nice with other systems, suddenly that fax machine becomes a technical linchpin.

It bears repeating: The office that oversees the most powerful military in history (not to mention the best-funded) is unable to project when its single fax machine will once again be operational.

The OSD’s FOIA section chief confirmed the grim news yesterday, responding that his office “will likely need to procure (purchase) a new fax machine.

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NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails

troll-the-nsaJustin Elliott writes at ProPublica:

The NSA is a “supercomputing powerhouse” with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees’ email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

I filed a request last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency’s public-relations efforts.

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Obama Administration Proposes Weakening Freedom Of Information Act

freedom of information actObama pushes for officials to gain the right to lie about the existence of documents or materials. Via the Denver Post:

The federal Freedom of Information Act was supposed to be a torch that journalists, advocates and ordinary people could use to cast a light on the operations of their government. It’s profoundly disappointing to see the Obama administration proposing changes to FOIA that would allow federal agencies to lie about the very existence of information being sought.

The worst among them is the proposed change that would allow the government to tell those requesting information under FOIA that the material does not exist when, in fact, it does. The change would apply to certain law enforcement or national security documents.

Currently, the government can issue what is called a Glomar response, which is when the government neither confirms nor denies the existence of the material.

That term was coined after a Los Angeles Times reporter in the mid-1970s attempted to obtain information about the CIA’s Glomar Explorer, a vessel built to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

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How To See Your NSA Or FBI File

your nsa or fbi file

Truth be told, it may be disappointing not to have an FBI file. Daily Kos writes:

Have you ever Tweeted a politically subversive message, attended a protest, or signed an oppositional petition? If so, you may have a dedicated file on you kept by the FBI and/or the NSA.

With a simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, any U.S. citizen can obtain one’s NSA or FBI file, if such a file exists.

getmyfbifile.com will, free of charge, generate the necessary forms for you already filled out. Of course, you can also do this directly through the NSA or FBI if you are worried about providing personal information to an independent site.

While an appropriate level of cynicism may be warranted concerning the transparency one should expect from such a request – should your file be substantial – it is the law that your complete file be provided to you. It is your right to know this information.

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Federal Judge: Courts Rubber-Stamp White House on Security Issues

Federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth has said what many civil libertarians have long thought. According to Politico

Speaking at a conference for federal employees who process Freedom of Information Act requests, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said his fellow jurists usually rubber-stamp agency claims that disclosing information would jeopardize national security.

“It bothers me that judges, in general, are far too deferential to Exemption 1 claims,” Lamberth said, referring the language in FOIA that allows for withholding of information classified pursuant to an executive order. “Most judges give almost blind deference on Exemption 1 claims.”

Judge Lamberth, a graduate of the University of Texas, was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1987. He previously served as an Army JAG officer and as a federal prosecutor. His recent decisions have included ordering the release of Richard Nixon’s testimony concerning the Watergate scandal and controversially issuing an injunction to prevent the Obama administration from destroying embryos used in stem cell research.… Read the rest

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President Obama’s Muddy Record on Government Transparency

FOIAJosh Gerstein reports in the Politico:

President Barack Obama set a high bar for open government, and he set it quickly. A minute after he took office, the White House website declared his administration would become “the most open and transparent in history.” By the end of his first full day on the job, Obama had issued high-profile orders pledging “a new era” and “an unprecedented level of openness” across the massive federal government.

But three years into his presidency, critics say Obama’s administration has failed to deliver the refreshing blast of transparency that the president promised.

“Obama is the sixth administration that’s been in office since I’ve been doing Freedom of Information Act work. … It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it,” said Katherine Meyer, a Washington lawyer who’s been filing FOIA cases since 1978.

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Homeland Security Hires Military Contractor To Monitor Social Media

Aaron Cynic writes at Diatribe Media:

A Freedom of Information Act request has revealed the Department of Homeland Security awarded a contract in 2010 to General Dynamics’ Advanced Information Systems in order to provide constant surveillance of social media, according to The Washington Post.

GD Information War

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the request, and according to a training manual that was among the documents they received, DHS engaged in monitoring comments on Facebook, Twitter and blogs to obtain public sentiment on a proposed transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to a town in Michigan. The $11 million contract awarded to General Dynamics is expected to produce “reports on DHS, Components, and other Federal Agencies: positive and negative reports on FEMA, CIA, CBP, ICE, etc. as well as organizations outside the DHS,” according to Computer World.

An unnamed senior DHS official denied any such snooping or out of bounds monitoring and said the training manual is no longer in use.… Read the rest

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Can Undercover Investigators Legally Be Indefinitely Detained or Assassinated?

FBI_logoNow that the Presidency has dictatorial powers, will civil disobedience and investigative journalism become capital offenses?  Dean Kuipers writes in the Los Angeles Times:

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has recommended for many years that animal activists who carry out undercover investigations on farms could be prosecuted as domestic terrorists. New documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by activist Ryan Shapiro show the FBI advising that activists – including Shapiro – who walked onto a farm, videotaped animals there and “rescued” an animal had violated terrorism statutes.

The documents, which were first published on Will Potter’s website, Green Is the New Red, were issued by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2003 in response to an article in an animal rights publication in which Shapiro and two other activists (whose names were redacted from the document), openly claimed responsibility for shooting video and taking animals from a farm.

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