@StateDept Process From Document Production to FOIA Website Needs a Flowchart, Please

Posted: 12″25 am EDT
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This is from the Civil Action No. 15-cv-123 (RC), Leopold v. U.S. State Department (PDF) related to the Clinton email production mandated by the court. The declaration is by Eric F. Stein who says he serve as a senior advisor and deputy to the Deputy Assistant Secretary on all issues related to GIS offices and programs. “I oversee all aspects of State’s effort to review, process, and produce the non-exempt portions of the emails provided to State by former Secretary Clinton, including the review and referral of documents to appropriate offices and agencies, and the posting of the documents on the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) website every month. I make the following statements based upon my personal knowledge, which in turn is based upon information furnished to me in the course of my official duties.”  Below is an excerpt of the declaration describing the steps  the documents must go through before they are posted on the foia.state.gov website.

4. This declaration describes the steps that these documents must go through in order to be posted on the FOIA website, and, roughly, how much time those steps take, as of the time of the signing of this declaration, in support of State’s proposal to make this interim production on its website on February 13, as of the time of the signing of this declaration. The time estimates in this declaration depend on several variables, but most importantly on the need to continue devoting sufficient resources to completing the remaining 86% of the project by February 29.

5. Posting documents on State’s FOIA website involves several steps, and State’s ability to efficiently carry out these steps is sometimes limited by the available technology and by the availability of personnel who are sufficiently familiar with the technology. The FOIA system where the documents reside, named FREEDOMS, can be extremely rigid and slow, making the necessary steps in the process more time-consuming than one might otherwise expect. For example, as described herein, most steps must be applied document-by-document, as opposed to in an automated or batch fashion.

6. Where, as with the documents that are the subject of this declaration, feedback from the legal review has been provided to the FOIA office, and FOIA staff has modified redactions in FREEDOMS in accordance with that feedback, the final quality control process and posting begins. This process, which cannot be automated, starts with the manual, document-by- document process of removing internal markings that are used for tracking purposes during the review process. It could take anywhere from two to four hours1 to complete this task for the documents that are the subject of this declaration, depending on the availability of staff to do this work.

7. Once this process of removing internal control markings is completed, copies of the documents must be prepared for production. This posting process is an involved one, particularly because the review software resides solely on State’s classified network, and several steps are involved in transferring documents from that system to a public-facing website while still protecting sensitive national security information.

8. The first step of the posting process for the documents is to finalize the redactions on those documents. This is known as “burning” the document. Before any document can be produced, the proposed redactions, which appear in grayscale during the review process, need to be fully “burned” to the document so that the redacted information does not appear in the version produced to the public. It will take about an hour to burn this volume of documents.

9. After “burning” occurs, a system developer works to migrate a copy of the burned document out of FREEDOMS onto another review site on the classified network. It is on this classified review site that FOIA staff performs the final quality control checks. It would take approximately two hours to migrate this volume of documents.

10. Once this migration is complete, the documents must go through a final quality control check, during which State looks for several things. This check ensures that redactions to each document are consistent with redactions made in other documents. For example, many messages appear multiple times as part of longer email chains, and some emails that are not part of the same chain contain similar or identical information. The quality control check also helps ensure that redactions are marked with the proper exemptions. If there is information that is being redacted using the B1 exemption, further administrative steps are required to ensure that information requiring classification is properly marked as such. This includes the application of classification stamps which identify the level of classification of the information in the document; these stamps are checked to ensure that they show the appropriate level of classification. Based on my prior experience managing this process, I estimate that about four hours of quality control check time would be needed for the documents that are the subject of this declaration. If any changes are needed to the documents, another hour or two may be needed since documents would need to be unburned so that they can be changed, and then they would need to be burned again. For any documents on which changes were made, State would need to spend anywhere from one to several minutes reviewing that document and ensuring that those changes were now properly reflected. Thus, the total potential time needed for this process could be upwards of six hours.

11. After the documents have completed this final quality control check, the FOIA office then begins the process of transferring them from the classified system to the unclassified system. This is a manual process, requiring a person to do the transferring, and cannot be automated. The specific details of how this is accomplished implicate systems security concerns, and are not appropriate for discussion in a public filing. This migration process is estimated to take approximately one hour.

12. Once the documents have been transferred to the unclassified system, they must be copied to servers where they will reside when they are posted on State’s public-facing FOIA website. This will take another two hours to complete for these documents.

13. Prior to the website being made “live” and accessible to the public, a web developer works to test for and troubleshoot any problems that may have arisen during the transfer process as well as any issues that may occur when the documents become publicly available. This will require approximately an additional hour to complete. 14. Accordingly, the total amount of time required for the team to complete the posting of the interim production could be upwards of 16 hours, approximately two 8-hour days. State believes that its proposal of making the interim production on Saturday, February 13, provides time to address any additional problems that may arise, as have occurred in the past at this final stage in the process.

Thank heavens this guy is not writing a recipe, or we’d all be in thrown out of the test kitchen already.

Frankly, we’ve read this declaration several times and we are getting a headache trying to understanding how FREEDOMS works. FREEDOMS stands for Freedom of Information Document Management System which apparently tracks all case FOIA opening, processing, and closing (see performance goal from FY2005 that we’ve been able to dig up). The system is not listed on the State Department’s Privacy Impact Assessments nor its System of Record Notices.  With one exception, we have not been able to find anything more on its public website or the foia.state.gov website.  The Federal IT Dashboard lists IT Spending in FY 2015 for A/GIS/IPS FREEDOMS/FREEDOMS2 (014-000000322) at $2.1million.

We did find a description of it from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as follows:

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Senators Seek to INTVW @StateDept CIO Taylor; Wait, Wasn’t He Overseas When Pagliano Was Hired?

Posted: 3:05 am EDT
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Two Senate chairmen are pressing the State Department for more information about the staffer who maintained Hillary Clinton’s controversial email server, including requesting an audience with his former supervisor.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked that Steven Taylor, State’s chief information officer, sit for a closed-door interview about the duties of his former subordinate Bryan Pagliano, according to a letter the senators sent to Secretary of State John Kerry.
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Mr. Taylor is a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. He has been the Chief Information Officer of the State Department since April 3, 2013. He was previously appointed as Acting CIO on August 1, 2012. Preceding his assignment as CIO, he was the Department’s Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) and Chief Technology Officer of Operations from June, 2011.

We should note that Secretary Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013, two months before Mr. Taylor was appointed CIO. In fact, according to this official biography, prior to his DCIO assignment in 2011, he served as Management Counselor in Cairo and Athens. So we’re guessing that between 2005 to 2011, this poor man was posted overseas and nowhere near the hiring desk when Mr. Pagliano was brought into the IT bureau of the State Department in 2009.

Not that it’s going to matter. The senators will probably drag Mr. Taylor before a closed-door interview still the same. Pagliano joined the State Department in May 2009. Maybe the senators should try the Bureau of Human Resources for their hiring and work duties questions?

Foggy Bottom’s Email Debacle Spreads Beyond Clinton Inner Circle

We don’t think this is going to stop at Mr. Taylor.  On September 14, conservative group Judicial Watch has also released a heavily redacted email, obtained through its FOIA lawsuit, between State Department official Eric F. Stein and Margaret P. Grafeld, dated April 21, 2015, with the subject “HRC Emails.”  Stein is deputy director of Global Information Systems (GIS) at the State Department and Grafeld is deputy assistant secretary of Global Information Systems (GIS). Stein reports to Grafeld that the “gaps” in Clinton’s emails include:

  • Jan. 21 – March 17, 2009 (Received Messages)
  • Jan. 21 – April 12, 2009 (Sent Messages)
  • Dec. 30, 2012 – Feb. 1, 2013 (Sent Messages)

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On September 14, the State Department spox was asked about these gaps during the DPB and he maintained that there is no gap. Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: There was a release today by Judicial Watch from its lawsuit, and it cited several email gaps it claims existed in the former secretary’s list of ledger – full ledger of work-related correspondence.

MR KIRBY: Yep, seen the press report, Brad. We’re not aware of any gaps in the Clinton emails set with the exception of the first few months of her tenure when Secretary Clinton used a different email account that she has already advised she no longer has access to. And as I understand it, Secretary Clinton’s representatives have publicly stated that she used a separate email account in those first few months of her tenure. But beyond that, there’s no gap that we have seen or are aware of in Secretary Clinton’s email messages.

QUESTION: In that early part, you mentioned there was a gap of, I think, one month before – from the first received email to the first sent email. Now, I realize it’s fully possible she didn’t send an email that was work-related in that first month – that first month when she had that account, but is that your understanding or is that still an incomplete – you’re still fully researching all of those emails or unearthing them?

MR KIRBY: I know of no research attempt to deal with those first few months, Brad, because, as I said, former Secretary Clinton’s representatives already indicated that they were aware this gap existed and that she had – no longer had access to them. So it’s difficult if not impossible to do any particular research or forensics to get at those first few months. And as for how many were sent and received in that timeframe, I just don’t know. But this is not something that hasn’t been addressed before by her representatives. And beyond that first couple of months, those first four months, we have seen no gaps.

QUESTION: And in the last part of – in the last part of her tenure, there was what they cited was another gap in January 2013, which I’m guessing you’re saying is not a gap, in fact.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you – they produced an email which showed an official saying there’s a gap or listing it as a gap. Do you understand what happened? Were those emails then later recovered or found?

MR KIRBY: Right. So we continue to maintain there’s no gap. I think you’re talking about this period of December 2012 through the end of January 2013.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And upon further review – so originally when they all came in, a cursory sort of preliminary look, a very quick look at the documents by an official here at the State Department revealed a potential gap of about a month or so in emails. But in going through them in a more fulsome manner after that, we’ve determined that in fact, there was no gap – that that time period is covered quite well by the emails that have been provided.

QUESTION: So you have emails from that period and —

MR KIRBY: We do.

QUESTION: — when you get to that point, they’ll be public.

MR KIRBY: We do, and I think you will continue to see – and we’ve been roughly rolling these out – roughly temporally and you will see – as we get to the remainder of the tranches, that you will see emails that were sent and received during that December ’12 to January ’13 timeframe.

That’s not going to end there.  The “gaps” will be too tantalizing to ignore.

This email released by Judicial Watch also includes a few more names, including Richard C. Visek, the State Department’s Deputy Legal Adviser and also the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO). We suspect that it’s only be a matter of time before the somebodies in Congress would request the official apperance and interview with Margaret P. Grafeld, Eric F. Stein, and heaven knows, who else.

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