Secrecy and Protection Applied to FOIA Requests

Sadly, yet once again, another tool for citizens seeking truth and or investigative journalists has been firewalled and stonewalled by government operatives.

FOIA exemptions provide ample cover for bureaucrats hiding agency secrets, transparency advocates say

Black columns run vertically down 700 pages, devoid of any information about the federal workers who spent thousands of hours doing union work while on the government payroll.

This is what the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the name of protecting employees’ privacy, USDA withheld their names, duty stations, job titles, pay grades and salaries. It even deleted names of the unions benefiting from the hours spent by these USDA workers who continued to draw full pay and benefits, courtesy of the taxpayers.

The level of secrecy is a stark example of the failings of FOIA, according to open government advocates. Agency bureaucrats are free to broadly interpret the nine exemptions in FOIA that allow them to withhold information about government employees and the documents they produce.

Interpretations vary about what information should be disclosed, despite directives from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that there should always be a “presumption of openness” in weighing what to release.

The only recourse against an agency determined to keep its secrets is a costly lawsuit that can drag on for years.

“There are very strong incentives for agency officers to not release data, but there aren’t any incentives on the other side to release data,” said Ginger McCall, director of the open government program at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for transparency.

“There’s a real culture of secrecy within the agencies, and that is something that needs to be addressed,” McCall said.

A FOIA reform bill unanimously passed the House in February. It would put into law the presumption of transparency currently embodied in proclamations by the president and attorney general. But it would not change the FOIA exemptions that allow documents requested under FOIA to be withheld.

The USDA invoked the “personal privacy” exemption for federal employees to withhold data from the Washington Examiner.

Other FOIA exemptions cover things like national defense or foreign policy secrets, disciplinary actions, information about gas and oil wells and inter-agency memorandums.

FOIA reformers say the changes proposed in the House bill are positive, but without limiting the exemptions that can be invoked under FOIA, they are not likely to break the culture of secrecy at federal agencies.Foia


“If we are really going to see the agencies apply the exemptions any differently we actually have to address some problems with the exemptions,” said Amy Bennett, assistant director of OpenTheGovernment, another nonprofit transparency group.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a sponsor of the bill, acknowledged the problem with FOIA lies in partly in the exemptions, which are left intact in the legislation.

Issa is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and is co-sponsoring the FOIA bill with Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Putting the presumption favoring disclosure in the law will shift the burden to the agencies to show releasing requested information will cause specific harm, Issa said told the Examiner.

“FOIA exemptions are being abused,” Issa said. “Information should only be withheld if an agency reasonably believes it could cause specific, identifiable harm — not just because it is embarrassing or politically inconvenient.

“The bipartisan FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act will codify the ‘presumption of openness’ that the administration is fond of praising but does not practice,” Issa said.

“Along with other reforms that will improve agency compliance with FOIA, the ‘presumption of openness’ will combat the high number of inappropriate or unjustified redactions that prevent transparency,” he said.

In November 2012, the Examiner filed FOIA requests with 17 of the largest federal agencies seeking information about employees released from their regular jobs to do union work under “official time.”

The 3.4 million hours spent by union representatives cost taxpayers about $155.6 million in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available from the Office of Personnel Management.

The Examiner sought the name, title, duty station, pay grade, salary and hours spent for each agency employee released on official time, as well as the name of the union that benefited. None of that information is in the annual OPM report.

Several large agencies, including USDA, were unable to comply. The Examiner published a four-part series, “Too Big to Manage,” in February.

Most of the agencies that provided data did not invoke the privacy exemption, and released what information they had. A few, including the Department of Homeland Security, claimed the privacy exemption to withhold the names of employees, but provided the rest of the information.

The USDA finally responded to the FOIA request in mid-March 2014. FOIA Officer Alexis Graves claimed releasing employee and union data sought by the Examiner would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Graves also said there is “minimal public interest, if any,” in the information.

The Examiner will appeal.

The USDA’s response is especially frustrating because of the lack of information available on the use of official time, said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., sponsor of a bill to mandate annual disclosure of basic information about the program.

Ross is pressuring OPM to update its latest report showing data from 2011.

“If these agencies, and the USDA in particular, have nothing to hide, then they should have no problem providing timely information on how their employees spend their time during work hours,” Ross said.

By releasing bits of irrelevant information, USDA officials will be able to claim in their annual FOIA tracking reports that they made a partial release to the Examiner, rather than an outright denial, McCall said.

“They do it to game the stats,” she said.

The wide range of responses to the Examiner request, from full disclosure to the USDA’s redactions, shows there is no consistency in how FOIA officers interpret the exemptions, said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation.

“That suggests the biggest variable in FOIA is agency willingness to comply,” Wonderlich said. “That’s not what it’s supposed to be.”

The proclamation of openness by Obama on his first full day in office is similar to declarations made by previous presidents, transparency advocates say.

But like other presidents, Obama has failed to break the secretive culture within federal bureaucracy and has adopted his own practices and policies that limit the release of information he sees fit to keep secret, they say.

An investigation by the Associated Press published March 16 found the Obama administration in 2013 censored government files or outright denied access to them under FOIA more often than ever .

The administration cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, the AP analysis found.

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Benghazi Bosa Nova

Sadly, this current administration has worked diligently to obscure and impede the truth on the murders of four Americans in Bemnghazi. Security Environment Threat Lists (SETL) published by the State Department twice a year provides for a clear condition of areas around the world and Libya with particular emphasis on Benghazi was a true hot zone yet no offensive action was taken with regard to elevating security. In an effort to provide additional known facts on Benghazi as the media refuses to do so, below is an update of known facts.

1. All survivors of the Benghazi terror attack that required medical treatment and or still do are in treatment facilities that include Walter Reid or other locations under alias names.
2. After the Brits closed their presence in Benghazi where their SAS forces and Ml6 personnel were/are part of activities in Libya, continued to perform operations in joint efforts with the U.S. The Brits also left with for safekeeping their fast response weapons and gear at the CIA safehouse. The Brits, the French and the U.S. had long been providing lethal and non-lethal equipment to the Libyan rebels as well as on the ground training and conflict assistance. The laser systems used to point to targets for identification from the air assets were UK issued laser systems and not that of what the U.S. issues.
3. The mission post in Benghazi notified per procedure and protocol all officials of an imminent threat/attack even the day of the attack.
4. The interagency including the CIA ‘press-office’ were responsible for altering all the talking points that were used by the administration on the ‘why’ the attack occurred including who coordinated the attack and the reason for it.
5. Six months after the attack, still no subpoena has been issued for and to any of the survivors of the attack nor has any been issued to James Clapper. The ‘sitrep’ reports required by those with knowledge of the Benghazi attack have not been released. Interviews to this date have not been performed by agencies of the Red Cross, the Brits or other organizations that had a footprint or relationship in Libya to gain historical knowledge of anti-West militia activities. Government contractors hired by the State Department and the personnel on site working for or at the behest of the CIA have not been interviewed.
6. There has been no published summary of those that participated in the attack by the FBI or other investigating agencies as they related to Ansar al Sharia or those background connections of the membership of connected AQ militias.
7. Interviews have not been conducted with Libyan leadership by our investigating agencies.
8. Live feed videos of 9-11 in Benghazi summaries have not been made available nor have associated communications that include emails, text messages, or critical action alert exchanges.
9. No summary has been provided on the origination of the weapons, theft or smuggling that were part of Qaddafi’s arsenal or that of what the U.S. or contractors provided including State Department authorized weapons contractors including Turi Defense Systems.
10. Moktar Belmoktar of AQIM had phone call exchanges with those participating in the Benghazi attack. Belmoktar has allegedly been killed in the last week. This phone exchange is important as it points directly to al Qaeda and the immediate identification of those responsible for the attack.
11. It remains below radar that the contractors hired by the State Department that include Blue Mountain hired the February 17 Martyr Brigade to tend security at the compound. Not only were background checks not perform, but the contracts were no bullet contracts. Due to the pay scale and working conditions, many if not most of the February 17 Martyr Brigade were on strike the day of the attack.
12. USAID personnel were also working out of the mission post, the quantity of staff is unknown and to date, no one from USAID has been interviewed.
13. The State Department from the outset also lied with regard to hiring outside contract firms for security at the mission post in Benghazi, saying none had been hired.

14. Little to nothing is said with regard to the two U.S. destroyers off the coast of Tripoli at the time of the attack as this is especially important as it relates to connected communications during the night and day of the attack.


Veterans to Be Dis-Armed

Some months ago, it was revealed that the Wounded Warriors Project while performing noble causes and doing great work on behalf of long-term injured soldiers had an anti-gun agenda as noted with the matter of not appearing on a radio show.

Sadly, PTSD is one of the top areas where our active troops and veterans suffer so much so that suicide and criminal actions have become an epidemic unto itself. We cant know the exact numbers however those treated at the Veterans Administration, yet those treated exceed 250,000 or more than 30%.  Treatment of PTSD has not received enough attention much less has the treatment been for the most part effective. In the case of the former Marine Eddie Ray Routh who killed Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, Routh was released from PTSD treatment only two days before that fateful day against adamant demands from his family.

Now it has been established there are issues with returning veterans and their plight on PTSD, however, it does beg the question, how many returning veterans are thrown under the bus with regard to their mental capacity when in fact, they are healthy and completely functional? A label has been attached to returning veterans along with many other citizens of the likelihood there is a homegrown terror threat in all of us as written and published by the Department of Homeland Security without so much as a whimper and reaction from dedicated rational patriotic Americans across the land.

Now, in the past months it has been a marquis topic to step up the quest to enact more serious gun legislation which affects legal and sane gun owners in future hopes it will reduce killings on soft targets such as those at Virginia Tech, the Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook Elementary school and the Sheik church to mention a few when, legal gun owners follow the law and have not been found to be a part of these murders. Yet, when it comes to veterans, they continue to be at the core of the mission to keep firearms out of the hands of those trained and skilled to use them in high threat circumstances even in our homeland.

In recent days, in has come to our attention that veterans are receiving letters that prohibit veterans from transporting, purchasing, possessing or receiving firearms all without some formal investigation to the rationale for these demands by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The actual letter can be read here.

Just what is the Department of Veteran Affairs using for to disarm veterans? Well, there is a well coordinated document that has been uncovered that address all the bases that Veteran Administrations across the country to use to affect veterans owning firearms.

It is time now for all retired military and active soldiers to have their voices heard, perhaps this can be a start of that dialogue. We grieve for those that no longer walk with us due to having given their lives in a combat theater and certainly those at home that have fallen at the hands of those who are victims of deranged gunmen. We must have an active debate on the effective treatment of PTSD and the obscure decisions by the Department of Defense via the Department of Veteran Affairs to disarm veterans.

Mandates at the agency level and lawmakers have become judge and jury on all citizens and they are drunk with the power of the pen and their agendas.

Sequestration: Entitlements vs. National Security

Much has been mentioned in the last 18 months regarding the far and wide devastation of Sequestration that was the brain child of Barack Obama and Jack Lew in the White House. To further the support for the government cuts, this mission was meant to hurt as it was brought to Harry Reid to gain support and support Reid gave. This answers the question on why the Senate would not take up law and measures passed but the House as Harry Reid is ‘all-in’ with the White House, leaving the people’s work and voices both on the floor and silent.

A Super Committee was created to work through the process to avoid Sequestration where again the measure failed. The White House and the lobby groups have been on a loud and vocal quest to blame Republicans and the House of Representatives for what looms as Sequestration takes affect on March 1, 2013. The House has worked diligently to pass laws that stop the devastating cuts most especially those to defense while none of the measure by the House have been provided attention or vote by the Senate.

Lets take a look at what Sequester impacts on both sides. This is not a complete list and the depth of the cuts are not explained as that can be determined by a review of the associated links provided.

What gets cut:
FDA food inspectors
Parks Service
National Guard
Border Patrol
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Secret Service
Air Federal Marshalls
Special Education Teachers
Center for Disease Control
Security and Exchange Commission
Foreign aid with particular emphasis on Israel and Mexico (130 countries affected)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (nuclear weapons)
What is exempt

Social Security
Railroad employees retirement
Veteran’s Administration benefits
Tribal and Indian Trust Accounts
Child nutrition
Children’s Heath Insurance
Pell Grants
SNAP, food stamps
Highway Safety Grants
Motor Carrier Safety Operations
Federal pay
Child Support Enforcement
Farm Credits
Tennessee Valley Authority
In a snapshot assessment of what stays and what goes, it is clear that programs related to National Security and Foreign Affairs are getting the wave off in Sequester while domestic programs geared to funding the indigent remain. In short, the dangerous world will be even more dangerous and education and healthcare remains protected. We have yet to understand the large numbers of those that will be unemployed and what our enemies will take advantage of regarding our homeland.

Analysis: Impact of sequestration on non-defense discretionary spending

Election Day and What it Could Reveal

Valerie Jarrett, has been silently elevated from advisor to Barack Obama’s actual brain and is so confident that Obama will win re-election she put out a verbal threat: “With this victory, there may be, quite literally hell to pay for those who opposed him.” Few took notice of this threat, especially the main stream media, but just what is this threat?
So, if Obama does win, is this a threat to those who did not vote for him or openly opposed him to date? Does half the population need to fear someone in the administration sending in the DHS, the DoJ, law enforcement, and/or are we going to get hit harder by executive orders than his supporters?
In Jarrett’s world, whose roots emanate from Chicago and its well-known political thug mentality, what can that ‘hell’ be? I say that Americans have lived in hell for quite a while now and in just one single term of the Obama regime has it been so evident, by an order of magnitude. Normally, a higher standard of statesmanship is expected from the White House, yet this is unlikely, especially since the “top-dog” in the White House will actually be Valerie Jarrett, not Obama. Recently, in anticipation of victory, Jarrett was dispatched with several lawyers out of Illinois to begin talks regarding Iran without Israel’s knowledge.
Let’s move on to another threat, from the man himself. Barack Obama said on national television while in Springfield, Ohio: “don’t boo, vote, voting is the best revenge.” Revenge for what? Once again, is revenge a threat? And to whom is this revenge pointed? Was it about some Romney advertisement or was it a bigger threat?
So now we have the top two people within the White House literally threatening American citizens. Are opposing voices now under threat from this day forward? Is it time to fear true tyranny so eloquently on display? Will there be a government shutdown over the debt and the debt ceiling? Will there be other threats to whatever the make-up of Congress is in 2013? Will there be a national security event concocted by this administration to completely usurp the power of the Congress as well as the people, how about the Judiciary? Threats…revenge?
Here we are on Election Day, and reports all day long have revealed lawlessness in certain states at voting polls. These events include people arriving in costumes, they include the New Black Panthers and allegedly also by former Navy Seals both working for voter “integrity”. We are also finding people going to the polls only to be told they have already voted when they have not.
Poll watchers have been forcibly removed from some locations and then put back under court order and removed again, especially in Philadelphia. In Los Angeles there are sex offenders registered with several home addresses, many voting more than once, and in San Francisco there are an estimated 25,000 questionable registered voters, most of which are dead according to Social Security Administration records. There are some states that have allowed United Nations Poll Monitors to observe voting locations and the early reports are they are stunned to know that some states do not have requirements to present any kind of identification.
The Department of Justice and the Obama campaign has been sternly opposed to new voter ID laws in states that have enacted such laws and Florida is one such state. So, the Obama campaign has a legion of lawyers coming from a pool of 5,800 lawyers assigned to challenge any irregularities. The majority of these lawyers in that pool were assembled by Robert Bauer, formerly of the White House legal team. Most of those on these teams actually have no legal experience in voting law but have been through training. The question is, training by whom? Trained to do what? Trained to muck up any eventuality like 2000 where we had to wait 37 days?
Now, we need to ask ourselves, will we really know who won on Tuesday? Will this race be challenged in a handful of states? Are the poll numbers that have been drilled into the media for the last month actually turned out to be correct? Is this race that close? Will the results be headed for state courts and later to the Supreme Court? If the results do not mirror the polling, will the “Tweeted” threats of riots emerge? Will some faction be screaming that the vote was fixed?
Beyond that, should Obama win a second term, does America know what his next term will look like for us and the world? Has he told us of his intentions? Yes and no! He has indicated by default that it will be more of the same. This means that things not completed during the first term, including a renewal of the assault weapons ban, cap and trade, more ‘quantitative easing’, and heading to a $20 trillion dollar debt.
What he has not said but the signs are apparent; it will mean Sharia compliance nationally, within 4 years. That which could not be passed through the House of Representatives will become defacto law due to a simple signature what will likely be a long list of Obama Executive Orders. Obama will likely replace 3-4 Supreme Court Judges; all much worse than Sotomayor and Kagan. There will be fuel shortages; higher pump prices, food shortages, higher taxes and the Southern border will be an even more porous virtual gateway. Most of all, however, our military will be gutted to the point of almost extinction and national security will be at our own peril. There will be a flood of retirees from all branches to be sure… and be sure to include our clandestined services as well.
Under Romney, should he win eventually, we will be assured of changes to the tax code, we will see more domestic energy production and more trade with Latin America. We will see an instantaneous opening of corporate coffers hiring and a market surge, likely on day one of confirmation that he won.
The Romney administration will be challenged by those in Congress’s Democrat Caucuses at every turn to repeal the Dodd Frank bill, Obamacare, and huge EPA regulations. Four years of Romney will be a combined effort to get government back on track…a smaller track. The relief will come, but it will be a massive cleanup endeavor and investigations will be a daily calendar item. Expect a lot of pardons in advance for many officials in many departments before the fact and before January 20, 2013.
Things in America could get real dicey for every day in the near term and it is a time to watch for events and conditions that speak to what we should be watching and correcting. We cannot forget those threats by Valerie Jarrett and Barack Obama speaking of hell to pay and getting revenge. These could be marching orders, so are you paying attention?
Ladies and Gentlemen, under either scenario, our work is not done, this is not about politics, and it is about duty. We are the strongest division of government and we must use our power.