Thursday, March 19, 2015

US Sets New Record for Denying FOIA Requests/'Compromised & Gone:' Pentagon Lost $500mn of Weapons, Equipment in Yemen

Excerpt: "Obama administration redacted and denied government files in record numbers for the second consecutive year, AP analysis finds."

US Capitol building (photo: AP)

US Sets New Record for Denying FOIA Requests

By Associated Press
18 March 15

Obama administration redacted and denied government files in record numbers for the second consecutive year, AP analysis finds

The US has set a new record for denying and censoring federal files under the Freedom of Information Act, analysis by the Associated Press reveals.

For the second consecutive year, the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them under the open-government legislation.
The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

It also acknowledged in nearly one in three cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law – but only when it was challenged.
Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55% to more than 200,000.

The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever.
Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The US spent a record $434m trying to keep up.

The government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4% decrease over the previous year. The government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39% of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.

On 215,584 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.

The White House touted its success under its own analysis. It routinely excludes from its assessment instances when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law, and said under this calculation it released all or parts of records in 91% of requests – still a record low since Barack Obama took office using the White House’s own math.

“We actually do have a lot to brag about,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The government’s responsiveness under the open records law is an important measure of its transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. It cited such exceptions a record 554,969 times last year.

Under the president’s instructions, the US should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, but federal employees last year regularly misapplied the law. In emails that AP obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the agency blacked-out a sentence under part of the law intended to shield personal, private information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. But it failed to censor the same passage on a subsequent page.

The sentence: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH [White House].”

In nearly one in three cases, when someone challenged under appeal the administration’s initial decision to censor or withhold files, the government reconsidered and acknowledged it was at least partly wrong. That was the highest reversal rate in at least five years.

The AP’s chief executive, Gary Pruitt, said the news organization filed hundreds of requests for government files. Records the AP obtained revealed police efforts to restrict airspace to keep away news helicopters during violent street protests in Ferguson, Missouri. In another case, the records showed Veterans Affairs doctors concluding that a gunman who later killed 12 people had no mental health issues despite serious problems and encounters with police during the same period. They also showed the FBI pressuring local police agencies to keep details secret about a telephone surveillance device called Stingray.

“What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years,” Pruitt wrote in a column published this week. “The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.”

The US released its new figures during Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

The AP earlier this month sued the State Department under the law to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The government had failed to turn over the files under repeated requests, including one made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.

The government said the average time it took to answer each records request ranged from one day to more than 2.5 years. More than half of federal agencies took longer to answer requests last year than the previous year.

Journalists and others who need information quickly to report breaking news fared worse than ever.

Under the law, the US is required to move urgent requests from journalists to the front of the line for a speedy answer if records will inform the public concerning an actual or alleged government activity. But the government now routinely denies such requests: Over six years, the number of requests granted speedy processing status fell from nearly half to fewer than one in eight.
The CIA, at the center of so many headlines, has denied every such request over the last two years.

© 2015 Reader Supported News

Excerpt: "American military officials admitted to members of Congress that they have lost track of millions in small arms, ammunition, night vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the US to the Yemeni government."

Police troopers in Yemen. (photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

'Compromised & Gone:' Pentagon Lost $500mn of Weapons, Equipment in Yemen

18 March 15

American military officials admitted to members of Congress that they have lost track of millions in small arms, ammunition, night vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the US to the Yemeni government.

The US has supplied more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen since 2007 through programs managed by the Defense Department and State Department. But in January, the Yemeni government was toppled by Shiite Houthi rebels, backed by Iran and critical of US drones strikes in the country, who also took over government military bases in the north.

Since then, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of weaponry and equipment. The situation has only grown worse since the US closed its embassy in Sanaa, the capital, in February and withdrew military advisers.

“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” a legislative aide on Capitol Hill told the Washington Post, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Washington Post said US military officials declined to comment for the record, but a defense official said there was no hard evidence the weaponry had been looted or confiscated. Nonetheless, the Pentagon had lost track of items.

“Even in the best-case scenario in an unstable country, we never have 100 percent accountability,” the defense official told the newspaper.

Pentagon officials said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands. As a precaution, defense officials said they have halted shipments to Yemen of about $125 million in military hardware and donated it to other countries in the Middle East and Africa.

In Yemen, the Obama administration pursued a policy to combat terrorism by training and equipping foreign militaries to fight insurgencies and defeat networks affiliated with Al-Qaeda without sending US troops. A similar effort was tried in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003, when the US spent $25 billion to recreate Iraqi security forces that were eventually defeated in 2014 by Islamic State fighters who now have control of many areas of the country. Yemen was supposed to be the success story for the White House.

© 2015 Reader Supported News

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