An Invitation to a Deposition: DC Court Judge Approves Extraordinary Procedure in FOIA Case

Posted: 10:18 am PT
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On May 4, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted Judicial Watch to take testimony of former and current State Department employees in relation to an FOIA lawsuit related to the clintonemail. The Court notes that “discovery is rare in FOIA cases. Thomas v. FDA, 587 F. Supp. 2d 114, 115 (D.D.C. 2008) (Huvelle, J.) (noting that discovery is an extraordinary procedure in a FOIA action”). Discovery should be permitted, however, when a plaintiff raises a sufficient question as to the agency’s good faith in processing documents in response to a FOIA request.”

The Court writes:

[T]he circumstances surrounding approval of Mrs. Clinton’s use of clintonemail.com for official government business, as well as the manner in which it was operated, are issues that need to be explored in discovery to enable the Court to resolve, as a matter of law, the adequacy of the State Department’s search of relevant records in response to Judicial W atch’s FOIA request.
[…]
Having considered Plaintiff’s proposed plan, State’s response, Plaintiff’s reply, and the parties’ jointly proposed order, and recognizing that Defendant has not waived its objection to discovery, it is hereby ordered that:

The scope of permissible discovery shall be as follows: the creation and operation of clintonemail.com for State Department business, as well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action. Plaintiff is not entitled to discovery on matters unrelated to whether State conducted an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA request, including without limitation: the substantive information sought by Plaintiff in its FOIA request in this case, which involves the employment status of a single employee; the storage, handling, transmission, or protection of classified information, including cybersecurity issues; and any pending FBI or law enforcement investigations.

The court authorized Judicial Watch to seek the testimony of the following witnesses per court filing:

Stephen D. Mull Executive Secretary of the State Department from June 2009 to October 2012 and suggested that Mrs. Clinton be issued a State Department BlackBerry, which would protect her identity and would also be subject to FOIA requests. (Note that Ambassador Mull is a former U.S. Ambassador to Poland and the current Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation at the State Department).

Lewis A. Lukens Executive Director of the Executive Secretariat from 2008 to 2011 and emailed with Patrick Kennedy and Cheryl Mills about setting up a computer for Mrs. Clinton to check her clintonemail.com email account. (Note that Ambassador Lukens is a former U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and currently Diplomat in Residence responsible for recruitment and outreach for the State Department in Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and northern California).

Patrick F. Kennedy Under Secretary for Management since 2007 and the Secretary of State’s principal advisor on management issues, including technology and information services. (Note that Ambassador Kennedy is now the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Management in the history of the State Department.  Besides Ronald Ian Spiers who served as “M” from 1983–1989, Kennedy would be the only other  Foreign Service Officer appointed to this position).

430(b)(6) deposition(s) of Defendant regarding the processing of FOIA requests, including Plaintiff’s FOIA request, for emails of Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin both during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and after;

Cheryl D. Mills Mrs. Clinton’s Chief of Staff throughout her four years as Secretary of State

Huma Abedin Mrs. Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff and a senior advisor to Mrs. Clinton throughout her four years as Secretary of State and also had an email account on clintonemail.com

Bryan Pagliano State Department Schedule C employee who has been reported to have serviced and maintained the server that hosted the “clintonemail.com” system during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State);

 

The court filing says that Judicial Watch reserves the right to seek the Court’s permission to take the deposition of Donald R. Reid at a later time, and State reserves the right to object. Reid is Senior Coordinator for Security infrastructure, Bureau of Diplomatic Security since 2003 and was involved in early discussions about Mrs. Clinton using her BlackBerry and other devices to conduct official State Department business. (Note that Mr. Reid’s Information Security responsibilities include the management of classified information programs, oversight of the Department’s Special Security Office, the operation of the Industrial Security program, and the investigation/resolution of security violations). 

Judicial Watch is granted 8 weeks to conduct its discovery plus a possible July surprise:  “Based on information learned during discovery, the deposition of Mrs. Clinton may be necessary. If Plaintiff believes Mrs. Clinton’s testimony is required, it will request permission from the Court at the appropriate time.”

Read the court ruling below; use the side scroll or maximize arrow at the lower right handside of the Cloudup box below. You may also read it here.

 

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Is Congress aware that the people that do ALL the reviewing for @StateDept FOIA requests (are) part timers?

Posted: 3:23 am ET
Updated: April 19 9:47 pm PT
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Below is an excerpt from the Associated Press v. State Department Case 1:13-cv-01363-EGS Document 48-2 Filed 12/11/15, a status hearing with John Hackett who has been with the State Department since 2013. Mr. Hackett was the Deputy Director, Office of Information Programs and Services from April 2013 to March 2014. He served as Acting Director for a year, and in June 2015, he was appointed Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services. The hearing occurred before Judge Richard Leon at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This is an excerpt from the court transcript:

Q How many people you got working under you, sir?
A We have approximately 60 civil servants who work on the FOIA program.

Q You have some part-time people too, right?
A We have additional part-time people.

Q Forty?
A We have 40 former foreign service officers who do primarily the review.

Q You have 40 part-time employees, former foreign service officers who assists the 60 full time, right?
A The 40 former foreign service officers are the primary reviewers. They’re experts in their field, and they do, they do the bulk of the review. In fact, they do all of the reviews.

Q The sixty, 64 folks that you have on your full-time staff don’t do any reviewing?
A No, your Honor, they’re case analysts and they receive the documents that come in, the requests that come in from the public. They do the validations of the requests. They do the tasking of other bureaus and offices. They open the mail, task things out.

Q They process the paper?
A Process the paper, yes.

Q They don’t have the training, background and skill to make the kinds of judgment calls that reviewers make, if I understood you correctly?
A That’s correct, your Honor.

Q And when you say 40 are part time, what does part time equal 20 hours per week?
A It depends, your Honor. They are in a special category that allows them to work X amount of hours per year and receive their pensions at the same time, their foreign service pension. So there’s a cap on their hours and there’s also a cap on their dollars. So a lot of them work I would say 20 to 24 hours a week, but it depends on what they’re paid. Because many of them cap out before they’ve used all their hours. They cap out on their salary hours.

Q So you don’t have the authority to direct them to work more than X-number of hours a week or do you?
A I don’t, your Honor, because it is a provision, and I’m not sure — it’s in the department’s regulation or whether it’s in an act or statute that allows them to work, work for the State Department, work for the government in addition to receive their foreign service retirement.

Q Is Congress aware that the people that do all the reviewing for State Department FOIA requests part timers? Does congress know this?
A Your Honor, I can’t speak to what Congress does or does not know.

Q Well, has that always been the system?
A It’s been the system since I arrived, your Honor. It’s been a successful system to have.

Q Well, now that’s a matter of prospective, sir. The  State Department has been publicly criticized on many occasions for how slow they are in processing FOIA reviews, many occasions. Indeed, I think Justice and State are the ones that are publicly criticized the most for the slowness of their reviews. Surely you’re aware of that, are you not, it’s your department?
A Your Honor, we have since 2008, had a 300 percent increase in the number of requests coming to the Department.

Q All the more reason why you should have full-time people doing the reviewing. So prior to you getting there it was always part timers too as far as you know?
A As far as I know, your Honor, yes.

Q As far as you know it’s always been part timers?
A Yes, but there’s been part timers, but it’s not just their part timers. You need staff or you need experts in this field, in diplomacy and national security information. And they come to us with —

Q Let’s pause there for a second. You don’t need that to figure out Huma Abedin’s, Special Government Employee papers. That doesn’t affect national security, does it?
A I don’t know, your Honor.

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Retired FSOs who return to work as part-timers are called Reemployed Annuitants (previously categorized as WAEs or When Actually Employed employees), and their work hours are capped at 1040 hours a year. Below via RNET:

The term WAE (When Actually Employed) is used in the Department of State (DoS) to describe a reemployed annuitant who works on an intermittent basis for no more than 1040 hours during each service year and whose appointment is not to exceed one year. Bureaus utilize WAEs to fill staffing gaps and peak workload periods. While the acronym WAE is currently well-known inside DoS, new employees understandably find it confusing. In order to transition out of using the term WAE, the program has been renamed the Reemployed Annuitant (WAE) Program or REA/WAE.
[….]
A FS annuitant reemployed on a temporary basis will continue to receive their full annuity and the full salary so long as the annual earnings and annuity received do not exceed the higher of: (a) the FS annuitant’s salary at retirement (unadjusted for inflation) or (b) the full- time salary of the position in which the FS annuitant is reemployed.

Updated April 19:

A new declaration from Mr. Hackett (via Leopold v. State Department) case indicates that the State Department has hired additional reviewers. It looks like there will be 25 more FOIA reviewers to be brought onboard this spring.

 

Related posts:

 

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@StateDept Seeks to Limit Discovery in Clinton Email FOIA Court Case, Spox Can’t Say Why

Posted: 2:15 am ET
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Below is the State Department’s court filing via Politico:

On April 6, this obviously made it to the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: — knowing that you’ll probably refer me to the Department of Justice. But – so yesterday or late yesterday there was a filing in the FOIA – the email FOIA – one of them, on the discovery – the order to grant discovery.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And I’m just curious about this, because I haven’t actually seen the order, I’ve just read the stories about it. What does the department, through its lawyers, claim to be its standing for trying to limit the scope of questions asked of ex-employees?

MR TONER: So —

QUESTION: I mean, I can understand why you would be making a motion on behalf of current employees. And I could probably even understand why you say that this – they are being asked about their activities while they were in government. But this seems to be something – I mean, shouldn’t their own lawyers be making this kind of a motion? Why is the State Department making it?

MR TONER: So I appreciate the question and understand your interest in the story. You are correct insofar as – well, first of all, we did submit a filing with the court last night on this matter. But I cannot comment on the actual content of that court filing, because this is something that’s already – or that is a matter of ongoing litigation, so I can’t even comment on your question because it would speak to this matter that’s still in litigation.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if it says in there – I mean, maybe I’m just completely naive and ignorant —

MR TONER: I don’t have it in front —

QUESTION: — about this.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But does it explain in this motion how it is that the department has standing to make such a request on behalf of a former employee?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak specifically to this matter, but I can say that the department’s engaged on any given year in litigation before federal courts, administrative and arbitral tribunals. And depending on the facts —

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: — applicable procedures, and nature of the claims, we do – there may be discovery, but it is case by case.

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MR TONER: And so – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, the answer to my question could be very, very simple, that it’s – that it – it could be that it’s completely normal —

MR TONER: You’re asking whether it applies to ex-employees?

QUESTION: Well – no, it does. I know that the motion does cover them. I’m just curious as to what the —

MR TONER: What the rationale is?

QUESTION: Right. I mean, it may be very straightforward, that because they’re being asked to talk about stuff they did while they were in government that you do have some kind of standing to speak on their behalf.

MR TONER: And I will see if I can get you any —

QUESTION: And I’m just wondering if —

MR TONER: — more clarity on that.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks.

MR TONER: But I have to just preface that by saying —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: — I am restricted in what I can say when something – it’s an ongoing litigation.

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Court Grants Request to Interview Clinton Aides and @StateDept Officials Under Oath Over Email Saga

Posted: 3:57 am EDT
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On February 23, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District Court of the District of Columbia granted Judicial Watch’s (JW) motion for discovery. The case is Judicial Watch vs. U.S. Department of State (Civil Action No. 13-cv-1363 (EGS)). Court records say that JW will need to submit a Discovery Plan To Court and Counsel by 3/15/2016. The State Department’s response is due by 4/5/2016 and JW’s reply is due by 4/15/2016.

Below is an excerpt from JW’s Motion for Discovery:

While Mrs. Clinton ultimately returned approximately 55,000 pages of federal records from this “off-grid” system to the State Department, the process for identifying the federal records on the system was undertaken by Mrs. Clinton’s private attorneys, individuals only accountable to the former secretary, not employees accountable to the Department. In addition, there is no evidence that the process complied with appropriate federal records laws, rules, and regulations. The net result is that the integrity of the State Department’s FOIA process has been completely and thoroughly undermined to the substantial detriment of FOIA requesters like Plaintiff who submitted requests to the Department implicating Mrs. Clinton’s official email. In addition to ensuring that the State Department has satisfied its FOIA obligations with respect to the request at issue in this case, a compelling need exists to restore the integrity of the FOIA process at the State Department and ensure accountability for the FOIA violations that occurred. Before this can be accomplished, however, Plaintiff requires discovery to uncover and present admissible evidence to the Court about whether the State Department and Mrs. Clinton deliberately thwarted FOIA. Plaintiff also requires discovery of the system itself to determine possible methods for recovering whatever responsive records may still exist. The Court therefore should grant Plaintiff time to conduct discovery and obtain admissible evidence.
[…]

Plaintiff submits that discovery of the following facts about the use of the “clintonemail.com” system are necessary for the Court to determine whether the State Department and Mrs. Clinton deliberately thwarted FOIA:

• Who at the State Department besides Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin used an email address on the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business;

• Who at the State Department knew that Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin were using “clintonemail.com” email addresses to conduct official government business;

• Were any State Department monies, resources, or personnel used to create the “clintonemail.com” system;

• Was Mrs. Clinton assigned a “state.gov” email address and, if not, why was she not assigned one;

• Why did the State Department not provide Mrs. Clinton with any personal computing devices to conduct official government business;

• Was Mrs. Clinton advised at any point to use a “state.gov” email address to conduct official government business instead of a “clintonemail.com” email address;

• Was Ms. Abedin advised to use her “state.gov” email address exclusively to conduct official government business;

• Under what circumstances did Ms. Abedin use the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business;

• From January 21, 2009 to the day that the New York Times reported that Mrs. Clinton used the “off-grid” system, how did the State Department handle FOIA and other legal requests that implicated Mrs. Clinton’s email;

• From January 21, 2009 to the day that the New York Times reported that Mrs. Clinton used the “off-grid” system, did anyone at the State Department consider publicly disclosing the use of the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business;

• Who at the State Department assisted Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin in using the “clintonemail.com” system or enabled them to use it to conduct official government business;

• Did the State Department deliberately conceal the existence of the “clintonemail.com” system from the public, and, if so, who at the State Department assisted with ensuring that the public would not find out about the use of the system to conduct official government business;

• Were State Department employees instructed not to inform the public or the National Archives and Records Administration about the use of the “clintonemail.com” system; and

• At any time between January 21, 2009 and the day that the New York Times reported that Mrs. Clinton used the “off-grid” system was any State Department employee disciplined or reprimanded for questioning the use of the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business.

The discovery motion says JW will need “to depose State Department officials or employees who had oversight and management responsibilities relating to information systems at the department, as well as officials or employee who were involved in planning and assisting with Mrs. Clinton’s transition and arrival at the State Department.”

The names cited in the court filing includes the Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, the Director of IPS John F. Hackett and the Executive Secretary Joseph E. Macmanus.

Just so you know it doesn’t stop there, the filing also includes this:

To the extent relevant personnel have left the State Department’s employment, Plaintiff may have to serve third party deposition and/or document subpoenas on such persons after they have been identified. It also may include third party depositions and/or document requests to private persons or entities who may have advised or assisted Mrs. Clinton on the establishment of the system, including persons registered the domain name and obtained, set up, and coordinated the equipment, software, data files, etc. needed for the system. It may also include the submission of interrogatories and document requests to the State Department.

On October 3, 1984, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. On November 25, 1991, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to serve as an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. On June 16, 1994, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President William J. Clinton to serve as United States District Judge for the District of Columbia. Here’s the troubled judge:

Professor Jonathan Turley writes that “any depositions might result in refusals to testify by key officials. The invocation of Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination would have significant political impacts. After all, no one would suggest that Sullivan is part of a right-wing conspiracy or runaway investigation. The refusal to testify would reflect the real danger of tripping the wire on federal classification laws as well as more general concerns that statements conflicting statements with those government investigators could trigger charges under 18 U.S.C. 1001.” Read more below:

Read the entire motion here:

 

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@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:

Screen Shot

 

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@StateDept “Looking Good” Sausage Gets Made With “Muscular” Assist From Journalists

Posted: 2:43 am EDT
Updated:1:10 pm EDT
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In October last year, Gawker reported this:

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of State have just notified Gawker Media that the agency is once again upgrading its estimate of the number of emails exchanged between news reporters and Philippe Reines, the former State Department spokesperson and multi-purpose consigliere of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As you may recall: In 2013, in response to our Freedom of Information Act request seeking those emails, State officials asserted, bizarrely, that no such emails existed. In August of this year—five months after Gawker filed a lawsuit against State—that estimate increased to 17,855 emails.

… however, the State Department revealed a much larger number in a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.: The department now has in its possession at least 90,000 documents that pertain to correspondence between Reines and other journalists, and would thus be releasable under the Freedom of Information Act.

Yesterday, Gawker says that emails it received in an FOIA litigation “offer a case study” in how Clinton’s “prodigious and sophisticated press operation manipulates reporters into amplifying her desired message—in this case, down to the very word that The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder used to describe an important policy speech.” Philippe Reines was a senior advisor to HRC and a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the State Department during the Clinton tenure.

 

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Suspending Embassy Operations: Post and Bureau Not Told, and FOIA Redaction Fail

Posted: 1:12 am EDT
Updated: 5:28 pm EDT
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On February 25, 2011, the State Department announced the suspension of U.S. Embassy operations in Libya (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel).  What we didn’t know then but we know now, thanks to the Clinton email dump, is that just a few days before that, neither the embassy nor the bureau was aware that they were suspending operations.

February 22, 2011 09:50 PM – HRC aide Jake Sullivan sent an email (partially redacted with FOIA b(5) code) to Janet A. Sanderson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near East Affairs, with subject line “Suspending embassy ops” and asking “Where do we stand?”

February 22, 2011 10:14 PM – Sanderson emailed Sullivan:

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Feb 22 22:18:23 2011 (10:18 PM) – Sanderson also sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy and Kathleen T. Austin-Ferguson, M’s Executive Assistant:

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February 22, 2011 10:37 PM – Kennedy responded to Sanderson saying he “talked to cheryl and tom” and that “they are also unaware.”“Checking with Secretary. At this moment we are NOT suspending. Fully agree not possible to do tomorrow and also risks libyan blow back.”  Email must be referencing HRC Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Embassy Tripoli eventually suspended operations on February 25, three days after the start of this email chain.  These emails are part of the Clinton email dump and it shows just how messed up is the FOIA at the agency.

On Feb 22 22:40:17 2011 (10:40 PM) – Sanderson responded to the Kennedy email, adding Ronald Schlicher to the email chain. Ambassador Schlicher was previously assigned to Cyprus, and also served as a DAS at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. We are not sure what was his position in 2011, but he must have been attached to NEA to be looped in in this exchange. Ambassador Schlicher was Principal DAS at the NEA bureau, and he would have been Sanderson’s boss at the time.  Here’s a clip from that email:

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Now, take a look at the email below with the same time stamp and same addresses, released as a separate email by the FOIA office at State:

Screen Shot

 

Why, they’re the same email, except that they were released as separate documents, and in the second document, the email is redacted under the b(5) FOIA exemption, also known in the FOIA community as the “Withhold It Because You Want To” Exemption.  “Yael” must have been Yael Lempert who was assigned to Tripoli as consular section chief in 2009 and featured in the NYT here for the release of four New York Times journalists in 2011 in Libya.  She may have been the acting DCM at the time of the suspension of operations.  “Joan” is presumably Joan Polaschik who was DCM and then CDA of Embassy Tripoli. She is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.

Here is what DOJ says about the b(5) exemption:

Exemption 5 of the FOIA protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” (1) The courts have construed this somewhat opaque language, with its sometimes confusing threshold requirement, (2) to “exempt those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context.” (3)

Here is what we are not supposed to read according to the FOIA ninjas, except that one of them forgot the Sharpie:

“I have just talked to post (Yael).She and Joan will work to reduce staff and send more out on ferry. Shd get down to 10- 12. She fully understands need for limited staff to stay to deal with community. Believes likely remainder will be position to leave in few days. Says situation is “worse than Baghdad in 2004-2005 “

No matter how you read the above passage, it is difficult to make the case that it fits the b(5) exemption unless you’re thinking of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption threshold.

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

Suspending Ops Libya – February 22, 2011 11:05 PM: https://cloudup.com/cAlO_WHTfpc

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 7:59 AM: https://cloudup.com/cD33FlF7TCo

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 8:08 AM: https://cloudup.com/cjplOQtTEmw

 

Ops Center Watch Logs From Night of Benghazi – Say, Who Was Running @StateDept?

Posted: 12:24 am EDT
Updated: 10:14 pm EDT
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[N]ewly disclosed documents, obtained by Veterans for a Strong America through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, include 24 pages of watch logs from the State Department operations center recording the logistics of the back-and-forth over the deadly assault in a sterile, just-the-facts manner.

[…]

The watch logs do not show all the calls Clinton made that night, but a State spokesman said many calls are not routed through the operations center. The logs also do not appear to reflect an interagency secure video teleconference in which Clinton took part that evening.

A spokesman for the House Benghazi Committee said the panel had access to other State Department chronologies and call records but received copies of the watch logs only on Friday. That’s a week after they were released to the veterans group on Oct. 30.

Read the logs: Ops Center Watch Logs, Sept 11- 12, 2012.

While the logs may not present the complete chronology of events (if somebody made calls or sent emails outside the Watch, it would not be listed in the logs), this is probably the closest tick tock we could see on what occurred at HQ  on the night Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi.

— At 5:38 p.m. , Sept 11, the Watch patched HRC with CIA Petraeus

— At 7:05 p.m., Sept 11, at the request of HRC, the Watched convened a conference call participated  by D/S Nides, U/S Kennedy (M), U/S Sherman (P), Counselor Mills, S/P Sullivan, PA Nuland, ExecSec Mull, NEA A/S Jones, Tripoli DCM Hicks with HRC

— At 10:27 p.m., Sept 11, the Watch patched President Obama with HRC

— Ambassador Stevens’ death appears to have been reported to the Ops Center at 2:55 a.m. on September 12.

— Secretary Clinton made no visit to the Watch, but called the Watch at 7:15 a.m. with a request, on September 12.

— At 7:31 a.m. the Watch patched WH Chief of Staff Jack Lew to HRC

— At 9:20 a.m., the Watch patched HRC to Embassy Tripoli

— D/S Burns was in Baghdad

— Counselor Mills makes multiple appearances on these logs, more than the Secretary.

— Ambassador T. Pickering makes a couple of appearances.

— Senators Kerry and Graham appears on the logs

— — Except for the mass alert from the Watch directed at multiple bureaus of the State Department, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell does not appear to make any appearance in these logs. Which is odd considering that DS A/S is apparently the main guy on State Department security. One exception is at 0320 (further to item 0255, concerning the death of Amb. Stevens, the Watch called multiple individuals in State’s top ranks, as well as OBO, FLO, MED, DGHR, PA. The name of the individual called on behalf of Diplomatic Security was REDACTED. There is a separate call where the Watch patched U/S Kennedy and Diplomatic Security’s Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary in charge of international programs.

We do not think that there was a conspiracy not to save our people under attack in Benghazi but we are curious on who was running the State Department as events unfolded in Benghazi.  And why was the main official handling diplomatic security not shown in these logs? Is that indicative of just how little influence diplomatic security professionals actually have in a crisis like this? No? What’s that? Yes, I do know that DS has its own command center.

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Brown v. State Department: Another Day, Another FOIA Lawsuit

Posted: 2:01 am EDT
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David W. Brown is coauthor of Deep State (John Wiley & Sons, 2013) and The Command (Wiley, 2012). He is a regular contributor to TheWeek.comVoxThe Atlantic, and mental_floss. On September 7, he filed the latest FOIA lawsuit against the State Department. He explains why:

If it is now policy to allow private lawyers to hoard potentially classified information, the public is entitled to know the authority by which such policies are maintained, and who is permitted such generous treatment. The public is owed an explanation for blind eyes turned, in the case of Kendall and Clinton, to the obvious dangers to national security. Did no one at State object to this? And if so, who overruled those objections?

To find out, Kel McClanahan and I have filed suit against the U.S. State Department. Our lawsuit is the result of a Freedom of Information Act request for records concerning State’s decision-making in this matter. The State Department first acknowledged our request, and agreed to expedite its processing. Then they ended all correspondence. Americans have the legal right to these records, and our goal is to compel State to hand them over.

This goes beyond politics. If the State Department wants to pick and choose which private citizens get to store classified material at their homes or offices, the public needs an explanation of how such decisions are made, and why. Once we know that, we might know just how poorly our secrets are really being kept.

Read in full here.

The lawsuit is available to read here.

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Citizens United Files Lawsuit Against State Dept For Harold Geisel’s Records and OIG Report on Diplomatic Security

Posted: 11:16 am PDT
Updated: 8:37 om PDT
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Via Bloomberg:

Citizens United filed its fourth lawsuit against the State Department on Thursday, this time seeking documents related to the agency’s Office of Inspector General during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure. In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the conservative advocacy group complains that the State Department has not responded to two of its Freedom of Information Act requests in more than six months, beyond acknowledging receiving them. The statutory requirement is 20 business days.

In its court filing, Citizens United argues that “when left to their own devices State Department bureaucrats have taken over three years to respond to Citizens United’s FOIA requests” and that “Such extensive delays are in clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.”

This latest lawsuit, asked for two specific records related the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department: the first one related to former acting IG Harold Geisel, and the second one related to inspection report ISP-I-13-18 released in March 2013. This is the inspection report (pdf) on Diplomatic Security where the inspectors concluded that Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division (SID) lack independence. The OIG recommended that “The Office of the Deputy Secretary should restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.” We don’t know if anything happened in that front but in any case, Citizens United wanted to see all the details, potentially messy, generated by that report. We should also note that this specific report previously made a cameo appearance in another lawsuit in Texas and attracted congressional interest.

Below excerpted from court records:

CITIZENS UNITED’S SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 FOIA REQUEST (GEISEL RECORDS), F-2014-16237

11. On September 16, 2014 Citizens United submitted a FOIA request, online, to Defendant. See Exhibit B (FOIA Request Letter). The request sought:

On April 25, 2011, The Washington Post reported on the vacant State Department’s Inspector General position. The Washington Post reported that: “One high-ranking official familiar with the selection process said the State Department’s current leadership had opposed filling the top slot because it prefers the office to remain under Geisel’s supervision.” On April 5, 2011 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled State Department Inspector General, Actions To Address Independence And Effectiveness Concerns Are Under Way, (GAO-11-382T). The records I request can be described as follows: Any and all records, correspondence, and memos, in any and all formats, that mention, discuss, or reference the performance of Harold W. Geisel as acting State Department inspector general, the nomination of an inspector general, potential candidates for inspector general, a preference or desire to retain Harold W. Geisel as acting State Department inspector general, the aforementioned GAO report, and/or the vacant inspector general position in any context that were sent to and/or sent from any of the following individuals: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Office Manager Claire Coleman, Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations Huma Abedin, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Jacob Sullivan, Executive Assistant Alice Wells, Senior Advisor Jeannemarie E. Smith, Special Assistant Lona Valmoro, Special Assistant Nima Abbaszadeh, Special Assistant Bernadette Meehan, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary William J. Burns, Under Secretary Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary Wendy R. Sherman, and Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner.

B. CITIZENS UNITED’S SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 FOIA REQUEST (INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT), F-2014-16250

16. On September 16, 2014 Citizens United submitted a FOIA request, online, to Defendant. See Exhibit D (FOIA Request Letter). The request sought:

Any and all correspondence, memos, or records, in any format, that mention, reference, or discuss the State Department Office of Inspector General report The Bureau Of Diplomatic Security, Office Of Investigations And Counterintelligence, Divisions Of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, And Computer Investigations And Forensics (ISP-I-13-18), and/or any previous drafts of the report, and that were sent to, or sent from, the following individuals: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cheryl D. Mills, Huma Mahmood Abedin, Jennemaire E. Smith, Lona Valmoro, Joanne Laszczych, Monica Hanley, Robert V. Russo, and Nora F. Toiv.

This should be interesting unless everything get Sharpied out.  The case is  Citizens United v. United States Department of State, Civil Action No. 15-cv-441 (pdf).

Also this:

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