Posts Tagged ‘CIA’


FOI Update: Federal appeals court rules against reporter’s privilege in James Risen case

A federal appeals court ruled July 19 that the First Amendment does not protect reporters from being forced to testify against confidential sources suspected of sharing unauthorized information with them, according to The New York Times.

This decision against the so-called reporter’s privilege came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. The court ruled James Risen, an author and a national security reporter for the Times, must testify against a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with giving him classified information. Risen said he’s willing to go prison to protect his source, according to the Times.

The information was not for an article in the Times. It was for a chapter in Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War,” that portrays efforts by the CIA. under the Clinton administration to trick Iranian scientists as “reckless and botched in a way that could have helped the Iranians gain accurate information,” The Times said.

Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr. justified the ruling by writing: “Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony.”

The 118-page decision comes one week after Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines for leak investigations to supposedly tighten the circumstances for obtaining reporter’s records.

“It’s very disappointing that as we are making such good progress with the attorney general’s office and with Congress, in getting them to recognize the importance of a reporter’s privilege, the Fourth Circuit has taken such a big step backwards,” Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Times.

For more information about the case, read The New York Times article.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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NY Daily News reports special operations commander secretly moved Osama bin Laden raid records to sidestep FOIA

News organizations are calling out the nation’s top special operations commander for a secret move they say sidesteps federal rules and perhaps the Freedom of Information Act, as well, according to New York Daily News.

Adm. William McRaven secretly ordered military files about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden to be moved from Defense Department computers and sent to the CIA, where they can be better shielded from disclosure obligations of public records law.

The CIA has special authority to withhold “operational files” in ways that cannot be challenged in federal court, the Daily News said. On the other hand, the Defense Department can be contested in court and forced to turn over non-sensitive portions of the records.

The move was described briefly in a draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general last week, but CIA spokesman Preston Golson told the Daily News it’s “absolutely false” that the records were moved to sidestep the FOIA. Instead, he said, the files were moved because the raid was led by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta. A spokesman for the admiral declined to comment.

Federal rules require the National Archives and Records Administration to approve government record transfers from one executive agency to another, and a spokeswoman for the Archives told the Daily News they did not receive any request to transfer these records. But the spokeswoman said the Archives understands the military records belong to the CIA, so they do not require permission to transfer.

Even so, open government advocates are frustrated that transferring the records allows the Pentagon to sidestep a records request filed by The Associated Press more than two years ago because now they can tell the AP they couldn’t find any documents inside the Defense Department.

This could be a new strategy for federal agencies hoping to hold sensitive information out of public view, according to Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private research institute at George Washington University.

“Welcome to the shell game in place of open government,” Blanton told the Daily News. “Guess which shell the records are under. If you guess the right shell, we might show them to you. It’s ridiculous.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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FOI Daily Dose: Controversial CIA whistle-blower speaks about prison life

Former CIA operative John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in a low security Pennsylvania prison in January for revealing a covert officer’s identity.

But he’s sticking by his story that he’s really behind bars for blowing the whistle on the U.S. government’s use of torture techniques to obtain information from terror suspects.

“In truth, this is my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official U.S. government policy. But that’s a different story,” Kiriakou wrote in a letter from prison first published by The Dissenter blog on May 29.

Kiriakou’s attorney, Jesselyn Radack, told ABC News she published the six-page letter to draw attention to “the way he’s being treated” in prison. But other than a security official allegedly trying to stage a fight between Kiriakou and an Arab prisoner, the ex-operative reports that “violence isn’t a problem.” Most of his letter details day-to-day observations around the prison and doesn’t divulge much more about the provocative predicament that landed him there in the first place.

Kiriakou was a CIA intelligence officer from 1990-2004, and in December 2007 became the first insider to publicly acknowledge the CIA’s use of waterboarding (a torture tactic that simulates drowning) when he told ABC News how interrogators got information from al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah.

Kiriakou told reporters Zubaydah broke after one session of waterboarding, but U.S. government documents released in April 2009 showed that the CIA used waterboarding “at least 83 times during August 2002 in the interrogation of Zubaydah,” ABC News reports.

Even so, according to the CIA, Kiriakou didn’t become the subject of  investigation until a separate incident in the spring of 2009 when he allegedly revealed information and photographs about CIA and U.S. government contractors to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in 2010 to oversee the investigation of Kiriakou, and in 2012, Kiriakou was indicted for telling a reporter the name of a covert CIA operative along with classified information about that operative and another employee.

Kiriakou pled guilty to disclosing the name,  but four other charges, including three counts of violating the Espionage Act, were dropped.

Since then, more than 2,500 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling Kiriakou a “hero” whistle-blower and asking President Obama to pardon him.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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Tools for investigative journalists: NARA keeps some JFK documents secret; CIA shows interest in spy pop culture

Freedom of Information and government disclosure often conjure mental images of closed-door meetings and top-secret war documents. However, the government’s tight fist on some older, high-profile documents has piqued public interest.

Kennedy docs kept secret

The government is refusing to disclose some documents related to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, even though almost 50 years have gone by. National Archives and Records Administration houses many documents related to our government’s history.

When NARA posed a question on an open forum to see what it could do to boost transparency, JFK’s assassination came out on top, reports Salon.com.  However, those documents remain hidden from public view. Currently 50,000 documents related to the Kennedy assassination are still classified. David Ferriero, National Archives Chief, said they will likely remain that way until at least 2017. Naturally,  NARA’s refusal to release documents related to the Kennedy assassination has some people asking why.  One reason behind the delay may be attributed to the sheer volume of information:  Ferriero has been tasked with reducing the backlog of more than 400 million records older than 25 years.

Documents available on the the CIA website

Although there is much to lament about government’s lack of transparency, investigative journalists can utilize the information that is already available from government entities, such as these fun finds available at cia.gov.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email –  wevans@hq.spj.org –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to wevans@HQ.SPJ.org. It may be featured in a future post.

 

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Alleged leaker bites back with subpoenas, Open Gov Partnership holds first big meeting

CIA leaker throws down with subpoenas for gov. employees

Ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling is tossing his own subpoenas into the mix in the court case investigating his alleged leaking of CIA information to New York Times reporter James Risen.

He is subpoenaing three current or former Senate Intelligence Committee employees, according to Politico.

Sterling’s lawyers filed a motion Monday for subpoenas of records from three committee employees, including its budget chief Lorenzo Goco. They also requested permission to subpoena official records from the Senate.

The staffers were working for the committee when Sterling complained to the panel in 2003 about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, which targeted Iran’s nuclear program and was detailed in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Sterling’s subpoenas could lead to legal conflict over whether internal Senate records are exempt from a defendant’s subpoenas.

These aren’t the first controversial subpoenas filed in the case. Risen has received three subpoenas so far, and is awaiting U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema’s decision on whether she will honor his request to quash the third.

If Sterling’s Senate subpoenas are honored, it could help bolster his defense’s argument that Senate staffers were the culprits for the leak, according to Secrecy News.

U.S. hosted Open Gov Partnership meeting

The State Department held the first major Open Government Partnership meeting Tuesday.

OGP is an international project focused on getting solid commitments from various governments to promote transparency and fight corruption, among other things.

The program could help advance the Obama administration’s plans to use technology to develop better governing methods and strengthen democracy and human rights efforts worldwide, according to the State Department’s website.

Topics at the Tuesday meeting included breakout sessions on encouraging civic participation and promoting transparency efforts. Also covered was technology that could be helpful open government tools for governments.

Scan the meeting agenda and OGP brochure for more details.

Put this one in the “win” category for international cooperation on some of the most important issues in government: being open with citizens about federal information and welcoming their participation.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: NYT, WSJ reporters face fight against gov over subpoenas

News orgs file brief supporting WSJ reporter in subpoena controversy

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 46 other media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Wall Street Journal reporter Jesse Eisinger’s motion to quash a subpoena calling for his testimony in a New York court case.

The case involves a Massachusetts couple that is suing Goldman Sachs for providing advice for a financial partnership that failed when the technology company they were dealing with collapsed under problems with financial fraud.

Eisinger (now a reporter for ProPublica and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner) is called to testify on how he found information about the company’s financial issues, which the couple argues Goldman Sachs should also have been able to find if they had done a thorough investigation.

A trial judge said she doubted whether Eisinger’s testimony would be relevant in the case, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

SPJ has spoken out in Eisinger’s defense as well.

Gov hanging tough in subpoena against Risen

New York Times reporter James Risen may have a tough fight in court July 7 as he fights a federal subpoena in a CIA leak case.

Government prosecutors highlighted the need for Risen’s testimony in their case against Jeffrey Sterling. The ex-CIA officer is accused of leaking information about an agency operation involving Iran’s nuclear program to Risen.

The federal government believes Risen’s input is critical to the case because the testimony of Sterling’s wife from a grand jury investigation may not be available in the trial due to spousal privilege, prosecutors said.

An intelligence officer who learned that Sterling may have been a source for Risen may be unable to testify in the trial as well due to hearsay rules, which a government brief argues makes Risen an even more important player in the case.

The New York Times’ decision not to run the story on the CIA operation (although information about it later appeared in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration”) may also weaken arguments for quashing the subpoena, according to Politico.

The prosecution’s brief also said that the idea of a “good leak” of information shouldn’t be entertained by the court because any unauthorized disclosure of classified data undermines the entire system.

In his motion to quash the subpoena, Risen asked the court to consider merits of the leak in terms of the public interest served by newsgathering, according to a Secrecy News blog post.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Colo. governor’s cell phone records deemed private, NYT reporter fights subpoena in CIA leak case

Colorado governor’s cell phone records kept private

The Colorado Supreme Court may have handed public officials a new way to keep business discussions free from public scrutiny – make the calls on a private cell phone.

The court ruled Monday that former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s private cell phone records would remain private, crushing The Denver Post’s three-year fight to obtain the information.

In a 4-2 decision, the court decided that the records aren’t covered under the state public records law because Ritter paid for the phone personally with no state reimbursements and didn’t give billing statements to a state agency. He only kept the statements for payment reasons, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Post tried to convince the court that the phone records should be public because the governor used his private cell to make calls during business hours and to discuss official issues.

This ruling could allow other public officials to keep business matters off-the-record by discussing them via private cell phones – an allowance that could cloud government transparency efforts.

NYT reporter James Risen fights subpoena

New York Times reporter James Risen and his attorneys requested Tuesday that a court quash a grand jury subpoena that would force him to testify in the case against CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling.

The ex-CIA officer is accused of providing Risen with classified information.

Sterling allegedly provided information on CIA sabotage efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program, which later appeared in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Risen’s attorneys argued that the subpoena represented a government effort to retaliate against the reporter for writing critically of the government and that the information sought by the subpoena was protected under the reporter’s privilege supported by the First Amendment and through federal common law.

Check out Risen’s affidavit on the issue and a response from Sterling’s attorneys also arguing against the subpoena on the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News website.

Risen’s motion to quash the subpoena is scheduled for a court hearing on July 7.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: NYT reporter subpoenaed in CIA leak case and Wisconsin voting issues

NY TIMES REPORTER SUBPOENAED

A New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner, James Risen, was subpoenaed by the U.S. Department of Justice for the trial of a suspected government whistleblower.

The accused leaker, Jeffrey Sterling, was indicted in December 2010 by a federal grand jury in Virginia. He is on trial for allegedly providing national defense information to Risen that appeared in a 2006 book called “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

No federal law exists that exempts journalists from testifying. Risen’s lawyer told The Associated Press he would attempt to have a judge override the subpoena.

The Society of Professional Journalists has, with other journalism groups and news outlets, pushed for a federal shield law in recent years. The proposed Free Flow of Information Act would protect journalists like Risen from turning over confidential sources and notes in federal cases, though there would be certain national security exceptions.

WISCONSIN

In Wisconsin, Media Trackers investigated voting practices during the April 5 election using open records requests.

From a small sample of registrations in 15 wards, Media Trackers found evidence of incomplete voter registrations and possible voter registration abuses.

Providing proof of residence for voters was a major problem uncovered by the records request. In one instance, a voter provided an acceptance letter from the University of Minnesota as a proof of residence, which wouldn’t be deemed acceptable under the guidelines by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: FBI’s secret surveillance and a CIA lawsuit for post-9/11 files

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the U.S. Department of Justice clashed over the nondisclosure of a secret legal memo that justifies the FBI’s ability to access citizen phone records without the inclusion of any oversight or legal process.

EFF filed a FOIA lawsuit Thursday demanding release of the memo, according to an EFF press release.

Last year, a report from the DOJ Inspector General stated the FBI had found a new way to justify this telephone access that was corroborated by an opinion issued by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The report was redacted and failed to disclose the statutes that form the backbone of this legal justification and to explain the kinds of records to which the new exception applies.

The CIA is also facing a FOIA lawsuit.

Filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the lawsuit demands records about the CIA Inspector General’s report on the treatment of people detained outside the U.S. after Sept.11. It also requests information on an internal investigation into the Office of the Inspector General itself that was reported in 2007 by The New York Times.

The initial FOIA request was submitted on April 25, according to the lawsuit, but the CIA hasn’t disclosed the records or explained its reasoning for withholding any information.

The lawsuit cites articles about Osama bin Laden’s death and the revival of debates about the use of torture techniques as a key reason for requesting the immediate release of the requested documents.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI Links: CIA responds to request regarding detainee torture

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