Posts Tagged ‘Eric Holder’

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 or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Update: DOJ hasn’t questioned a FOIA exemption in four years, didn’t respond for four months

Four seems to be the magic number for the Department of Justice.

The department told congressional investigators on June 10 it hasn’t questioned an agency’s decision to withhold information under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption for four years, and when confronted about its own outdated FOIA regulations, it didn’t respond for four months, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

A National Security Archive government-wide audit in December revealed that 56 federal agencies failed to update their FOIA regulations after Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum requesting an update in 2009.

Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) even noted the DOJ’s own regulations have not been updated since 2003.

But when Issa and Cummings called this to the DOJ’s attention in a February letter, the DOJ did not respond until June.

Principal deputy assistant attorney general Peter Kadzik wrote a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on June 10, saying the DOJ has not determined any FOIA exemptions improper since the Obama administration’s first year in office.

But the Free Beacon notes that Kadzik’s letter did not acknowledge Issa and Cumming’s findings that in 2011 alone, the DOJ fully denied 30,000 FOIA requests and partially denied another 171,000 requests. It also used exemption 5 to deny more FOIA requests even though the Justice Department itself notes that this exemption is riddled with “somewhat opaque language.”

An August 2012 Washington Post analysis showed the number of FOIA requests fully denied due to exemptions rose more than 10 percent last year, from 22,834 to 25,636. But free information isn’t the only thing at stake when the government issues exemptions, tax payers dollars are often dished out to cover costly legal fees when news organizations and other information requesters file FOIA lawsuits against the federal government.

The Free Beacon reports that the number of FOIA lawsuits has “increased dramatically under the Obama administration,” even compared to his tight-lipped predecessor.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) compared the last two years of President George W. Bush’s second term to the last two years of President Obama’s first term and found that FOIA lawsuits increased by 28 percent. The DOJ alone faced 50 percent more FOIA lawsuits, according to TRAC reports.

But in his letter to Issa and Cummings, Kadzik defended federal agencies, saying they have taken  “concrete steps to improve their FOIA administration.” The Free Beacon notes that the DOJ plans to publish its new FOIA guidelines later this year.

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

Whistle-blower Watch: DOJ ‘very likely’ to seek source of NSA leak in Verizon case

Federal whistle-blowers, beware. Attorney General Eric Holder is “very likely” to seek out the source who squeaked to the Guardian about the National Security Agency’s top secret phone record raid, according to an NBC correspondent who interviewed Attorney General Eric Holder about the Associated Press and Fox News subpoenas after the news broke.

The Guardian published a court order for the NSA to obtain Verizon customers’ phone records as well as a provocative article calling out the Obama administration’s “extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance” on the evening of June 5. (See our previous post on the topic.)

But before the Guardian posted the order or the article, it said it approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Justice Department, all of which declined to comment or raise specific security concerns as to why the information should not be made public.

Even so, NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams, who appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” June 6 with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, confirmed that the Justice Department will investigate who blew the whistle.

“I was told last night: definitely there will be a leak investigation,” Williams said.

But on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” later that morning, Williams backed away from such certainty, telling host Chuck Todd: “It seems highly likely this will trigger a leak investigation.”

The Huffington Post said a senior administration official told them Thursday morning that it’s too early to suggest an investigation will “definitely” take place.

Stay tuned for updates.

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

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 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 or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

Attorney General Holder willing to compromise on Fast and Furious; secret service documents released

Holder – done  Holdin’ out?

“The department’s willingness to provide these materials is a serious, good-faith effort to bring this matter to an amicable resolution,”

Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has agreed to postpone a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder, provided Holder discloses the additional documents relating to the failed gunwalking operation Fast and Furious.  Holder has expressed willingness to compromise and turn over documents showing how the government learned about specifics in the Fast and Furious operation. The rest of the documents, he said, were not within the Oversight Committee’s interest in the investigation.  Holder also offered to meet with  Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform by today to discuss the controversial withholding of documents in relation to the operation.

This is in the midst of the investigation into  Fast and Furious , where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives  intentionally let weapons purchased by traffickers  across the border to strengthen their case. The fallout of the case included the death of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

“The department’s willingness to provide these materials is a serious, good-faith effort to bring this matter to an amicable resolution,” Holder said, according to the  New York Times. “We believe that this briefing, and the documents we are prepared to provide — which will include information you have requested regarding whistle-blowers — will fully address the remaining concerns identified in the recent letters to me from you and House leadership.”

This is in response to Issa’s June 16 letter in which he said he could compromise the June 20 contempt vote, but only if Holder submitted a “serious proposal,” Politico reports.

“Let me be clear – if the Department of Justice submits a serious proposal for how it intends to alter its refusal to produce critical documents subpoenaed by the Committee, I am ready and willing to meet to discuss your proposal,” Issa said to Holder in a June 13 letter.

Rumor has it: Two sources close — or formerly close — to Holder have come to Issa seeking protection as whistleblowers, according to Sipsey Street Irregulars‘ Mike Vanderbeogh and National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea ,  The Examiner reports. An anonymous source with knowledge of the gunwalker investigation likened whistleblowers’ information to “keys to the kingdom as far as Holder is concerned.”

Other open government news:

Update: The Senate Appropriations Committee told the Department of Labor to cooperate with media in finding a mutually-agreeable policy that would serve the needs of both parties, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Read more here.

Bonus near $500K  has some questioning lobbyist’s motives

Thomas MacKenzie,  a former Northrop Grumman lobbyist, received nearly $498,334 as a bonus in 2011 after leaving the company to work for the House Armed Services Committee, incidentally taking a near $400,000 paycut, according to the Project on Government Oversight.  Northrop Grumman is one of the largest weapons makers in the world and could stand to benefit by having someone on their side on the Committee, according to Lee Fang of the Republic Report.

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

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Sticking up for Drake, Nigeria FOI law to keep industry transparent

Public, WaPo stick up for whistleblower Thomas Drake

National Security Administration whistleblower Thomas Drake goes to court next week, but he isn’t without public support for his actions.

Drake is facing charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. According to prosecutors, he willfully retained classified documents that he had promised to protect.

Drake provided unclassified but important information to a Baltimore Sun reporter about wasteful spending and other problems in the NSA, which led to his indictment. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

The Washington Post published an editorial Sunday that echoed the concerns of various whistleblower supporters. The central question in the Drake case, at least for the WaPo editorial board, is whether the court case is an overkill response to Drake’s actions.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) showed support for Drake on June 3, presenting a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder and the House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary Committees urging the Department of Justice to drop the case against Drake.

The petition has more than 4,600 signatures according to its Web page on

Nigeria FOI law to strengthen transparency of extractive industry

The country’s new FOI law, recently signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, should boost transparency in the extractive industry.

The operations of the industry’s revenue collection agencies and oil companies can be very secretive, but there is a push toward open access that the new law can strengthen.

The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) aims to improve openness among industry companies, especially with respect to their revenue disclosures. Its Executive Secretary, Zainab Ahmed, said the FOI act complemented the NEITI Act of 2007 that created the initiative.

With the implementation of the FOI law, as well as NEITI, Nigeria is moving forward with its goal of improving transparency throughout the nation – both in the government and in the economic sector as well.

– Morgan Watkins

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


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