Posts Tagged ‘whistleblower’


FOI DAILY DOSE: Army whistleblower hits gov with FOIA lawsuit, Rumsfeld releases new docs revealing secrecy views

Whistleblower sues for info on Army investigation

Army Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, who opposed what he felt were illegal actions while serving in Afghanistan, has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit with fellow solider Laural Levine to gain the release of an Army investigation’s results.

The investigation was launched in response to a Rolling Stone article that detailed how Holmes had spoken out against an Army general’s alleged orders for information operations specialists to employ “psychological operations” on congressional representatives visiting Afghanistan.

These operations are generally used on insurgents, according to the Project on Government Oversight.

Holmes enlisted the help of a military lawyer to ensure that the activities he was to take part in were modified because he felt they would otherwise have been illegal for him to perform.

He and Levine worked closely together in Afghanistan and felt they were later subjected to an Army investigation in retaliation.

For more details on Holmes’ story, check out the Rolling Stone article.

Rumsfeld releases 2005 memos revealing his rhetoric on secrecy

In a November 2005 memorandum then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the system of government secrecy was, quite frankly, a failure.

He wrote that the government was unable to keep a secret and that policies should reflect that fact.

Another Rumsfeld memo from August 2005 raised the idea of reducing the amount of information that is classified – a goal that is being evaluated by the Obama-ordered Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.

While these memos don’t appear to have had any major effect on policy, they do raise interesting points about government secrecy. The documents were posted on Rumsfeld’s website on July 12 with more than 500 other memos that had been previously undisclosed.

For commentary on the memos and their implications, read this 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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Transparency Triumph of the Week: Watchdog sticks up for nuclear whistleblower

After an investigation that lasted nearly a year, engineer Walter Tamosaitis is finally getting government support for blowing the whistle on nuclear practices by the Energy Department.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent watchdog agency within the government, rebuked Energy Secretary Steven Chu and supported Tamosaitis in his claim that a $12.3 billion nuclear project’s safety culture has serious flaws.

The investigation into the engineer’s claims showed that he was unfairly removed from work on a nuclear project that was supposed to handle radioactive waste materials located near Hanford, Wash., after asking uncomfortable questions about its design.

63-year-old Tamosaitis was redirected into a basement storage room where he had little work to do, according to the LA Times.

He questioned engineering experts about the chemical mixing technology incorporated into the Hanford project’s design, which carried several risks, including the potential for hydrogen gas explosions.

Tamosaitis’ treatment is under investigation by the Labor Department.

Although the Energy Department’s handling of Tamosaitis is deplorable, at least a government watchdog has finally stepped up in support of him and has criticized the agency for its mishandling of both Tamosaitis and the project he was questioning.

– 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: Agent accuses ATF of retaliation, Wired editorial examines open data dump issues

Ex-ATF agent accuses agency of retaliation over Project Gunrunner

An agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has accused his employer of retaliating against him for publicizing information on an agency scandal.

Vince Cefalu said he was given notice of his termination last week in a move he argues is motivated by his decision to speak out against “Project Gunrunner,” a scandal that revealed the ATF’s role in permitting thousands of guns to be sent across the U.S.-Mexico border and end up in the possession of Mexican drug gangs.

Cefalu’s termination letter doesn’t mention the Gunrunner situation, according to Fox News. One of the main reasons for firing him stated in the letter was his decision to leak documents on CleanupATF.org, a website Cefalu helped establish.

The Project Gunrunner fiasco led to congressional hearings on the issue and a public statement by Obama that the operation was a mistake.

Two days before Cefalu was notified of his firing, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent the ATF a letter telling its officials to refrain from retaliating against whistleblowers.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, posted a short comment online stating that the only acceptable response to this action by the ATF, if it turns out to have actually been whistleblower retaliation, is for a race between a few legislators and Obama to be “the first to kick the ass of the idiot at ATF who tried this.”

Wired editorial: Open data initiatives not sufficient by themselves

A Wired editorial by Jesse Lichtenstein examines the push for open data programs throughout the world, noting that dumping tons of government information online doesn’t mean transparency has been achieved.

Putting more government information online – as at least 16 countries have been doing via open data initiatives – is a step forward for transparency, but it can backfire.

Lichtenstein mentions the Bhoomi Project, which aimed to digitize about 20 million land titles in the Indian state of Karnataka, as an example of how data dumps can cause problems rather than provide open government solutions.

Instead of helping small landholders, the project helped corporations and wealthy tycoons that used the newly revealed data to challenge titles and find potential bribery targets.

If people aren’t taught to access and sift through the data governments put online, then the so-called data divide will widen and open data initiatives will fail to provide countries’ whole citizenry with better transparency.

Read the entire Wired editorial.

– 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: Google releases transparency data, NYT articles explore Obama-era open gov

Google: U.S. government biggest requester of private info

Google released transparency information showing the U.S. government to be the biggest requester of private information.

From July to Dec. 2010, the U.S. requested user data 4,601 times. Google complied with 94 percent of those requests, according to a Guardian article.

Brazil had the second-highest number of requests at 1,804, while India took third place with 1,699 requests. The United Kingdom placed fourth with 1,162 requests.

Google’s compliance rate varied by country – India had 79 percent of its requests filled, while the U.K. had 72 percent of them partially or entirely completed.

Private user information was requested more than 14,000 times in the second half of 2010 in 26 developed nations.

NYT articles scrutinize open government under Obama

Two recent New York Times articles took aim at transparency under the Obama administration.

The first piece, a June 25 story by Natasha Singer, focuses on the need for faster, more comprehensive FOIA compliance and overall transparency at the federal level.

Obama called on government agencies to become more open on day one of his presidency, yet only 49 of 90 agencies have made changes to their FOIA procedures in the two-and-a-half years since Obama entered the Oval Office, according to a National Security Archive study.

The story explores some problematic government practices regarding FOIA and methods being pursued to potentially improve the situation, such as the Faster FOIA Act.

It also looks at the still-undisclosed records regarding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage companies bailed out by the government using taxpayer dollars, as examples of government information that should be readily available but remain private.

A June 26 NYT editorial by Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, questions whether Obama has been a strong supporter of transparency as president.

The verdict: Kind of, but not really.

Stone acknowledges that Obama has taken some action to scale back the Bush administration’s legacy of anti-transparency, but he also points out ways in which Obama has perpetuated it.

One open government success for Obama was his repeal of a 2001 directive by Bush-era Attorney General John D. Ashcroft that allowed the government to classify any information that might hurt national security if disclosed.

As for Obama’s transparency failures, Stone mentions a few key problems. These include the president’s lack of support for whistleblowers and his flip-flopping on the issue of a federal journalist-source privilege, which would allow reporters to better protect their sources’ identities.

When he was a senator, Obama supported the Free Flow of Information Act, which aimed to provide federal protections for journalists. As president, he raised objections to the proposed bill before it later stalled in the Senate.

SPJ has been one of many journalism organizations and news outlets calling for such a law.

– 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 Fail of the Week: Obama admin. pushes forward with another leaker case

Despite the watering down of the whistleblower case against former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake from felony charges to a single misdemeanor, the Obama administration is pressing forward with its next court case against a leaker.

The next target for the Justice Department is Stephen Kim, a South Korean arms expert accused of violating the Espionage Act by providing classified information to Fox News.

A New York Times article outlines the case.

Prior to being charged by DOJ, Kim spent years discussing the potential threats posed by North Korea with various government officials.

The DOJ does not seem to be considering changes to its campaign against leakers despite the collapse of its high-profile case against Drake.

Kim is one of five leaker cases the government has pursued thus far, compared to three in all previous presidential administrations combined. There is also an ongoing grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks, the group responsible for publishing U.S. diplomatic cables and other secret documents online.

Kim began speaking about North Korea-related issues with Fox News reporter James Rosen in March 2009 after a press officer with the State Department asked him to do so.

Kim sent some emails using the pseudonym “Leo Grace.”

In June 2009 Rosen reported that the CIA had learned that, in response to a United Nations resolution expressing disapproval for North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the government centered in the national capital of Pyongyang would probably react by increasing the number of tests and related activities.

– 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: Levee breaks may support Army Corps whistleblower claims, watchdog wants unified spending database

Levee issues show whistleblower may be right about Army Corps

Levee breaks on the Missouri River this week may support whistleblower Maria Garzino’s claims against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A Politico article this week noted a February letter from Garzino to the Obama administration explaining various Corps failures. She presents information detailing how New Orleans is still as vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina-level flooding now as it was in 2005.

She also explained that the Corps deceived Congress and the public about a project that led, partly through faulty testing techniques, to the installation of equipment that can’t properly protect New Orleans from flooding.

A film, “The Big Uneasy,” shows how Hurricane Katrina could have been avoided. It follows Garzino and scientific investigation team leaders as they explain the Corps’ failures that contributed to the problems.

Stimulus watchdog calls for unified coding system for fund reports

The federal government’s primary watchdog for stimulus spending spoke with lawmakers Tuesday, calling for an oversight database that tracks federal spending based not on agencies but on funding recipients’ reports.

Recovery and Transparency Accountability Board Chairman Earl Devaney also recommended using a unified coding system for federal spending data. A unified database would save time previously spent working through different systems when codes didn’t match.

The unified system could use a cloud computing data storage model.

Cloud computing outsources IT services like data storage to a remotely accessed shared platform. While a vendor maintains the applications running via the cloud, the agency can more easily handle other issues.

This model is used on the Recovery.gov website and has saved time and money in the year since it was implemented, Devaney said.

– 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: Open gov orgs push for money for E-Gov Fund, ACLU sues for WikiLeaks-released U.S. cables

Transparency groups call on Congress to restore open gov funding

Accountability group OMB Watch released a letter Monday that urged Congress to consider restoring funding for the Electronic Government Fund, or E-Gov Fund.

More than 30 open government groups signed the letter.

The E-Gov Fund supports government websites like USAspending.gov and Data.gov and bolsters transparency initiatives.

The 2011 fiscal year budget deal cut the fund’s financial support from $34 million to $8 million.

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up a bill for the 2012 fiscal year on June 16, which will include information on the E-Gov Fund’s budget.

The letter requests that the subcommittee consider restoring funding for the E-Gov Fund in the measure.

ACLU sues for declassification of U.S. diplomatic cables

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. State Department in an attempt to force the declassification of embassy cables already released by WikiLeaks.

The ACLU’s April FOIA request for 23 cables already released by the website was ignored. Thus, the lawsuit.

WikiLeaks support group plans pro-Manning protest

A Boston-based group called Civic Counsel plans to hold a protest Wednesday opposing the treatment of Bradley Manning and the grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

It will be held in Boston on the day activist and Bradley Manning supporter David House is to appear in court due to a grand jury subpoena.

Manning is accused of leaking U.S. diplomatic cables and other information to WikiLeaks in 2010.

– 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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On 40th anniversary, Pentagon Papers finally released

Forty years ago today, The New York Times published parts of the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page secret government report on U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War released by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

In honor of that anniversary, the federal government officially released the Pentagon Papers for the first time in their complete, un-redacted form.

You can read the documents in online, searchable form at the Washington Post website.

Daniel Ellsberg is one of the most famous whistleblowers in American history. In leaking the Pentagon Papers, he revealed the deceptive actions of presidential administrations helmed by Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and others as they escalated the situation in Vietnam while keeping Congress and the public in the dark about what was really going on.

It may be 40 years late, but at least the Pentagon Papers are now completely available to the public.

– 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: Drake agrees to plea bargain

Whistleblower Thomas Drake’s case ends with plea bargain

The case against Thomas Drake ended with a squeak, not a roar.

Drake, who provided information to a Baltimore Sun reporter in 2007 about waste in the NSA, accepted a plea bargain last week in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of intentionally exceeding authorized usage of his government computer.

Although the misdemeanor carries a potential prison sentence of one year, the government agreed that Drake would not serve any jail time. The misdemeanor is minor compared to the 10 felonies for which he was originally charged.

Drake was not on trial for leaking information to the Baltimore Sun, although the leak led to his indictment.

Concern that the federal government was overreaching in its prosecution of Drake was explored by several media outlets, including a New Yorker article on Drake’s indictment and a Washington Post editorial that said the federal government might be going overboard in its prosecution of Drake.

– 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: Drake catches a break, EPA releases confidential chemical names

Drake may have a few charges dropped in whistleblower case

Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who leaked information about wasteful practices in the NSA to a Baltimore Sun reporter, may catch a break and have a few of the charges he faces dropped from his court case.

Drake is being tried under the Espionage Act of 1917 for willfully retaining classified documents, among other charges.

Federal prosecutors will withdraw key documents from the case to protect sensitive technology information, but this may hurt their efforts to prove Drake violated the Espionage Act.

Prosecutors decided to redact the records after U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett ruled they couldn’t substitute classified information with unclassified language without hurting Drake’s ability to defend himself against the charges.

Two counts related to information Drake sent to the Defense Department inspector general to support colleagues’ complaints about the abuses surrounding an NSA program called Trailblazer may be dropped. Drake and his coworkers thought their complaints were confidential, and the evidence for those charges are contained in exhibits that will be withdrawn from court proceedings.

Another charge that may be dropped also involves information Drake sent to the inspector general. The exhibit that bolsters this charge will be redacted.

Two other charges concern information Drake had but which was also available on the in-house intranet for the NSA. Drake could argue that this material was unclassified and easily available to thousands of other employees.

The remaining charges against Drake, which include counts of making a false statement and obstructing justice, are less vital.

This could be a lucky break for Drake and his defense team.

EPA goes public with confidential chemical names

The EPA recently released the names of more than 150 chemicals that had previously been kept confidential in safety and health studies.

The move increases transparency within the agency and gives citizens access to information about chemicals that may carry potential health risks.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade association that represents the chemical industry, said in a statement to iWatch News that it agreed it was important to educate the public about potential chemical risks. But at the same time, some information should be protected to ensure businesses can remain competitive in the industry.

Some of the now-declassified documents were voluntarily disclosed by companies in honor of the EPA’s 2010 request that businesses disclose some of their confidential business information (CBI).

EPA policy will require companies to disclose the names of any chemicals on the agency’s public inventory list if they are mentioned in safety or health studies.

About 17,000 chemicals out of the more than 83,000 that are listed on the agency’s master inventory, however, do not have information about them publicly available, according to a 2009 Environmental Working Group study.

– 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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