Thursday, July 08, 2010

Document of the Week: Chief FOIA Officer Report FY09 Central Intelligence Agency March 15, 2010

The CIA recently posted its report by a secret author on its handling of Freedom of Information Act requests for 2009. It makes for interesting reading.

In section one, part one, the CIA admits that it has released declassified documents to students at a private military day and boarding high-school located in Culver, Indiana for a symposium it called "Creating Global Intelligence: the Creation of the US Intelligence Community and the Lessons for the 21st Century." While it must have been fun for the high-schoolers, and nice for the school, one has to wonder how such a private event at a private military school, located out in the country, could be classified as a contribution to "the presumption of openness." (I'm guessing someone at the CIA knew someone connected to Culver Military Academy). I don't think that even the producers of Team America: World Police would have thought of this.
Chief FOIA Officer Report
Central Intelligence Agency
March 15, 2010

I. Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
1. Describe below the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the
presumption [of openness] is being applied to all decisions involving
the FOIA. This section should include a discussion of the range of
steps taken by your agency to apply this presumption. From
publicizing the President’s FOIA Memorandum and Attorney
General’s FOIA Guidelines and providing training on them, to
implementing the presumption in response to FOIA requests and
administrative appeals, with examples or statistics illustrating your
agency’s action in making discretionary releases of records or partial
releases when full disclosure is not possible.

Both the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA
Guidelines were widely circulated and discussed with all individuals involved
in the FOIA process. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has worked
diligently to release information to the public that no longer requires
protecting, including discretionary releases not mandated under FOIA.

Under the CIA’s Historical Review Program, several discretionary collections
on historically significant topics were released to the public in FY09. These
collections included (date of release in parentheses):

• Office of Scientific Intelligence (10/08)
• Polish Martial Law (12/08)
• Vietnam Histories (3/09)
• Air America: Upholding the Airmen’s Bond (4/09)
• Founding Documents of the Intelligence Community (5/09)

These discretionary releases provided official acknowledgement of
previously undisclosed information. For example, in the case of the Polish
Martial Law documents, the documents provided insight into the
contributions of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski to U.S. policymakers’
understanding of the events leading up to the imposition of martial law in
Poland. In the case of the Air America documents, the CIA acknowledged
for the first time the role that Air America pilots played in the search and
rescue of airmen during the Vietnam conflict.

The CIA also partnered with Culver Academy, a private school in Indiana
during a year long effort to place declassified documents into the classroom
for hands-on study in the classroom. The CIA released the Founding
Documents of the Intelligence Community, 833 documents primarily from
the late 1940’s through the 1950’s. The documents provide specific
procedural and implementing guidance for the establishment of the CIA and
more broadly, the Intelligence Community. Historians from the CIA’s Center
for the Study of Intelligence Historians, the National Security Agency, and
Villanova University conducted in-class learning experiences with the
students showing them how to use the primary sources and also providing the
background framework and events that shaped the documents. The Capstone
of the project was a symposium entitled Creating Global Intelligence: the
Creation of the US Intelligence Community and the Lessons for the 21st

In section one, part two, the CIA states that it released 363 records in full and 918 records in part, in response to FOIA requests. This is compared to the previous years totals of 237 and 532, respectively. Thus, the CIA concludes: "The data show that more documents were released in full or in part in FY09 in comparison to 2008." This data is almost meaningless, because it consists only of raw numbers, rather than percentages of requests answered. How many requests were made as opposed to answered in the two years discussed? They don't say, we don't know, and so cannot make any claim as to relative trends in this regard. The information has been kept secret, in such a way as to negate the validity of the claim, except as technically responsive to the question. Perhaps some high school students at Culver Military Academy could explain principles of statistical analysis to the CIA FOIA officer?
2. Report whether your Agency shows an increase in the number of
requests where records have been released in full or where records
have been released in part when compared with those numbers in
previous year’s Annual FOIA Report.

In FY09, the CIA released 363 records in full and 918 records in part as
compared to FY08 when 237 records were released in full and 532 records
were released in part. The data show that more documents were released in
full or in part in FY09 in comparison to 2008.

In section two, sections one and two, the CIA first admits that it didn't have a functioning IT system in 2008 to track FOIA requests, then describes the new system in such vague terms as to be almost meaningless. I couldn't find one hard fact, statistic, or number to analyze. A non-answer. Again, the CIA FOIA officer might benefit from a refresher course in English composition at Culver Military Academy.
II. Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency has an Effective System for
Responding to Requests
1. Describe here the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the
system for responding to requests is effective and efficient.
2. This section should include a discussion of how your agency has
addressed the key roles played by the broad spectrum of agency
personnel who work with FOIA professional in responding to
requests, including, in particular, steps taken to ensure that FOIA
professionals have sufficient IT support.

1. In FY08 we replaced an outdated case management system with a new--
more efficient--system compatible with modern technology platforms. We
continue to assess and modify the current system in order to make it as
efficient and effective as possible. We also automated capturing, forwarding,
and tracking requestor phone calls to our public FOIA phone number in order
to respond to these requests effectively and efficiently.

2. The FOIA program office involves IT support in every aspect of the
FOIA/PA process and has partnered with it to further advance the common
goal to use technology to improve responsiveness. IT support personnel are
located within close proximity of the FOIA program office, fostering greater
interaction and support, and are proactive in their trouble-shooting efforts and
looking ahead for system enhancements.

III. Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
1. Describe here the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount
of material that is available on your agency website, including
providing examples of proactive disclosures that have been made
since the issuance of the new FOIA guidelines.

In addition to posting documents from closed FOIA cases each month, the
electronic FOIA Reading Room website also hosts documents released
through the discretionary Historical Review Program (see Section I above for
details). Web site statistics show that many visitors to the CIA FOIA Reading
Room website are most interested in these historically significant document
releases. New additions since the memo and guidelines include a
downloadable version of the previously released Family Jewels collection and
Warsaw Pact documents.

Part three actually contains a concrete fact. It's nice to know that some old documents have been put online. However, re-releasing already publicly available "Family Jewels" doesn't strike one as the same thing as making new material available under FOIA. If something has been made public once, it can't be made public again, even if it is now "downloadable". Perhaps Culver Military Academy offers courses in Logic?
IV. Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
1. Does your agency currently receive requests electronically? No.
2. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency establishing a
mechanism to receive requests electronically?

CIA is evaluating the security, counterintelligence, and resource issues
associated with the implementation of electronic FOIA submissions.
Currently, resources are devoted to automating the processing, tracking,
and required reporting of FOIA requests. Emphasis on back-end
processing has contributed to improved response time to requesters as
noted in our FY09 FOIA Annual Report.

3. Does your agency track requests electronically? Yes.
4. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing a
system to track requests electronically? Not applicable.
5. Does your agency use technology to process requests? Yes.
6. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing
technology to process requests? Not applicable.
7. Does your agency utilize technology to prepare your agency Annual
FOIA Report? Yes.
8. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing
technology in preparing your Annual FOIA Report? Not applicable.
Part Four seems to be the most interesting of all. While almost every government agency and business in the USA does business by email and on websites, the CIA does not receive requests electronically. While this may be justifiable somehow or other, there is no explanation given. The only answer I can think of is that it makes it harder to submit a request. They just don't want to hear from the public. But of course, I didn't go to Culver Military Academy. Perhaps they have a better explanation. Although I'd reckon some kids in the Culver Military Academy IT department might figure how to set up an email FOIA request service on a secure website.
V. Steps Taken to Reduce Backlogs and Improve Timeliness in Responding
to Requests
1. If you have a backlog, report whether your backlog is decreasing.
That reduction should be measured both in terms of numbers of
backlogged requests and administrative appeals that remain pending
at the end of the fiscal year, and in terms of the age of those requests
and appeals.

Note: Privacy Act Cases were not included in CIA’s FY08 data but were
included and reported in FY09. As reported in the FOIA Annual Reports,

CIA’s backlog is decreasing -- from 940 cases in FY08 to 592 in FY09. The
median number of days to process simple and complex cases decreased
(detailed below in Section 3), and we closed the four oldest pending FOIA
cases and the three oldest appeals cases. At the end of FY09, the oldest
FOIA/PA and administrative appeals cases were dated 10/7/1998 and
4/26/1995 compared to FY08’s oldest FOIA and administrative appeals cases
of 5/1/1992* and 3/1/1993, respectively.

2. If there has not been a reduction in the backlog, describe why that has
occurred and what steps your agency is taking to bring about a
reduction. Not applicable.

3. Describe the steps that your agency is taking to improve the timeliness
in responding to requests and to administrative appeals.

Throughout the fiscal year, CIA placed concerted efforts into streamlining
processes to improve timeliness. In FY09, the median number of days to
process simple and complex cases decreased from 28 to 15 and 68 to 51 days
respectively. For administrative appeals, the median number of days
decreased from 161 to 112 days. CIA also implemented several refinements
to its automated case management system to better address workflow and
other system issues as well as to add key data collection capabilities relative to
statistical reporting for the FOIA Annual Report.

*FY08’s Annual FOIA Report should have recorded this date as 7/7/1989.

Well, let's look at the bottom line: the oldest requests in 2009 dated from 1995 instead of 1992. That's to say, you only needed to wait for 14 years for an answer in 2009, rather than 16 years in 2008, for the CIA to process your FOIA request.

IMHO, this type of answer makes a mockery of FOIA--as well as a mockery of the CIA, the headquarters of which features the words of John 8:32 carved in stone, at the insistence of Allen Dulles, its first director:

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."