In March, a Foggy Bottom nightingale informed us that the State Department had released its promotion statistics internally. We have not seen a copy of the cable. We were told that the promotion stats are now protected by the following authorities:
Privacy Act of 1974 – which is terribly funny because the Privacy Act of 1974 purposely has a line that says “(B) but does not include– (i) matches performed to produce aggregate statistical data without any personal identifiers;”
So then, somebody wrote here and asked, “How does the Privacy Act apply to a bunch of numbers?” And we had to confess that we actually have no idea — unless — a bunch of numbers are now people?
The promotion stats apparently are also protected by ta-da –
Freedom of Information Act 2002
The new language in this act precluded any covered US intelligence agency from disclosing records in response to FOIA requests made by foreign governments or international governmental organizations.
“The agencies affected by this amendment are those that are part of, or contain “an element of,” the “intelligence community.” As defined in the National Security Act of 1947 (as amended), they consist of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office (and certain other reconnaissance offices within the Department of Defense), the intelligence elements of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Energy, and the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the Department of State, and “such other elements of any other department or agency as may be designated by the President, or designated jointly by the Director of Central Intelligence and the head of the department or agency concerned, as an element of the intelligence community.”
As far as we are aware, the promotion statistics of the U.S. Foreign Service are nowhere done near any desks in the Bureau of Intel and Research (INR), so there’s no information contamination of any sort.
The promotion statistics are also protected by 12 FAM 540 SBU (sensitive but unclassified). When you look this up, the cite says:
a. Sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information is information that is not classified for national security reasons, but that warrants/requires administrative control and protection from public or other unauthorized disclosure for other reasons. SBU should meet one or more of the criteria for exemption from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (which also exempts information protected under other statutes), 5 U.S.C. 552, or should be protected by the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a.
b. Types of unclassified information to which SBU is typically applied include all FOIA exempt categories (ref. 5 U.S.C. 552b), for example:
(1) Personnel, payroll, medical, passport, adoption, and other personal information about individuals, including social security numbers and home addresses and including information about employees as well as members of the public;
Too funny, because the promotion statistics do not include any of the above, nor any personal identifiable information. But the important line is “warrants/requires administrative control and protection from public or other unauthorized disclosure for other reasons” — like we just don’t want you to see it, so?
It is also protected by 12 FAM 620 UNCLASSIFIED AUTOMATED INFORMATION SYSTEMS because obviously, the annual promotion statistics is an information system. And anyone who does not get that does not deserve a badge or something.
Finally, the statistics are protected by State 31. The Googles says that State 31 is a wine company dedicated to crafting small lot wines sourced solely from prime California vineyards.
What? What? How did we end up with wine and vineyards here?
After much digging around the vineyard, we learned that State 31 is STATE-31, a system of human resource records within the State Department. But here is another weird part, it also says:
“System exempted from certain provisions of the Privacy Act: Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552a(k)(4), records contained within this system that are maintained solely for statistical purposes are exempted from 5 U.S.C. 552a (c)(3), (d), (e)(1), (e)(4)(G), (H) and (I), and (f).”
Now in the past, the Foreign Service Promotion Statistics are published by State Magazine either in its March or April issue. This year, none including the current May issue has anything on that.We’ll have to see if it shows up in the June issue, but then of course, with all those “protecting authorities” in place, State Magazine would be too crazy to print it!
We have to say that the “protection” of the promotion statistics under the cited authorities above appears not only arbitrary but also capricious. Why do these numbers need protection, again? In case Al Qaeda copies it for its own up or out system? We get the feeling like all these various authorities were collected and dump over the hole for shock and awe.
We hope you are properly shocked and awed that numbers with no personally identifiable connection to specific or particular individuals are now protected information.
Silly folks, what’s next, the cafeteria menu?
So then a quick note to Promotion Statistics is called for:
Dear Mr. or Ms. Promotion Statistics -
Like me, you are now protected by the Privacy Act. The FBI may now do a background check on you, and the IRS may collect taxes. You may now request correction or amendment of any record pertaining to you that may have been incorrectly done. And best of all, you now must sign a Privacy Act Waiver before anyone can officially talk about you. This gift of genius cannot be overstated enough …