FOIA

Among the many, many reasons I like the idea of Lyra Erso as a rejected Jedi-hopeful relegated to the Jedi Engineering Corps is because it gives her a reason to know Saw Gerrera before the rise of the Empire.

Also, I just like imagining graduate student Lyra being assigned to answer all the inquiry transmissions received by the Corps. Most of them are boring—scientists across the galaxy double-checking their facts, senators or contractors requesting results of geological surveys, the occasional oddball request for treasure maps, or a list of which mineraloids are poisonous if ingested.

But one day, she gets an inquiry from a man on Onderon. And though he’s circumspect about it, it’s very clear to her that he’s talking about making chemical weapons. (The war against the Separatists has been raging for some time now. She’s only surprised it’s taken someone this long to ask.)

She opens a new transmission, and keys out:

Dear Master Gerrera,

Thank you for your inquiry to the Jedi Agricultural Corps, Engineering Division. The official uses of the cyanogen silicate compound known as “Sith’s breath” are limited to the construction of Celegian life support chambers, due to the compound’s extreme toxicity to most carbon-based sentient life. Additionally, the components are difficult to procure, and their synthesization without proper licensure under Galactic Republican Statute 1184.2-4 Aleph constitutes fraudulent business practices and illegal production of a controlled chemical compound.

The Jedi Order must warn you that should you pursue this course of action, it will have no choice but to enforce the law to the fullest extent of its authority.

On an unrelated note, baradium bisulfate is an accessible liquid compound, used frequently in mining. Unlike cyanogen silicate, it does not sublimate at 20°C, but it is highly unstable and a very small amount can do a surprising amount of damage. Several years ago, a careless engineering trainee did not calibrate a suspension field carefully, and leveled a small mountain.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have further questions.

May the Force be with you,
Lyra Inair, Geological Engineer, Jedi AgriCorps 

She expects that to be the last of it, and so she’s extremely surprised when he replies directly. Less surprised when she realizes he’s asking how one goes about constructing a suspension field. Possibly one that would destabilize with some sort of trigger or timer or maybe on impact…?

And they keep—writing one another. Even after she’s moved off the transmissions desk, to actual geological work. Rocks and weapon mechanics turn to small talk, turn to little details of their lives, turn to the Force and the Republic. He talks about his sister, about the warfront; she complains about the internal politics of the Corps and Galen (though he’s not Galen, yet, he’s just the handsome Republican engineer with cheekbones like sheered silicate). They argue theology, and justice, and violence. She cries for him, when his sister dies. They—are friends. 

Saw is the only one she tells, when she decides to turn her back on the Order. She is in love and Galen has friends in Coruscant, a prestigious job with an engineering guild—

Please do not stop writing me, she begs.

I will be here, Saw writes, if you ever need me.

Great Moments in FOIA: Here’s the pile our reporter Matt Drange got back from *one* public records request he made to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has about 100 satellite offices across the country. 

With no centralized document database, the agency has to fulfill individual parts of a request separately, from each office.

buzzfeed.com
Here Are The Official Photos Showing Trump's Inauguration Crowds Were Smaller Than Obama's
Trump has accused the media of manipulating photographs in order to show the size of the crowd at his inauguration was much smaller than Obama’s. Photos released Monday by the National Park Service show otherwise.
By Jason Leopold

The National Park Service on Monday released dozens of official aerial and ground photographs of President Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January as well as images from former president Barack Obama’s inaugurations in 2009 and 2013.

The photographs, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by BuzzFeed News and other media, clearly show that the number of people who attended Obama’s inaugurations far outstripped the number of people who attended Trump’s swearing-in.

BuzzFeed News’s FOIA request was sparked by statements and tweets by Trump, which falsely claimed that more 1.5 million people attended his inauguration. Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer had accused the media of manipulating photographs and depicting them at different angles in order to show that the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was much smaller than at Obama’s.

At a speech at CIA headquarters a day after he was sworn into office, Trump talked about the attendance at his inauguration.

“I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field,” Trump said. “I’m like, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.”

A day after his inauguration, according to The Washington Post, Trump personally called acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds and demanded that he produce photographs of the people who gathered at the National Mall, which the Park Service has jurisdiction over, in an effort to prove the media had lied about the crowd size. The Park Service ceased releasing official crowd estimates more than two decades ago.

At his first White House press conference, Spicer said Trump’s inauguration was the most viewed in history and challenged the media to prove him wrong. The photographs released by the park service would appear to do just that.

Some of the official photographs taken from government helicopters by National Park Service staff. Other pictures show Park Service police officers monitoring protesters and the inauguration attendees. In total, the National Park Service released 43 aerial photos of Trump’s inauguration and 93 photos taken on the ground taken from a wide range of angles. The park service said it expects to release additional photographs of Trump’s inauguration shot by the U.S. Park Police soon.

By comparison, the National Park Service also released photos Monday showing the much larger crowd gathered for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

View more of the National Park Service photos here.

anonymous asked:

What's FOIA requests?

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) the American public can request specific information and documents from government agencies, even if that information isn’t published or widely available. (There are a number of exceptions as well, I won’t get into the details here.)

For example, at one of my previous jobs, we had to submit FOIA requests to various state Medicaid agencies to look at what their coverage requirements were. We’d fill out a form specifying exactly what information we wanted, then fax it in, and hope they got back to us within 20 business days.

Federal agencies get literally tens of thousands of these requests per year.

FOIA requests are very time-intensive for both the private individual requesting the information and the government body, which has to find and prepare the information. The individual has to know exactly what information they want, and understand that they can ask for under FOIA, then wait a month for an answer. The government has to find the information, potentially redact certain parts, and send it along.

It’s why the idea of two people meeting and developing a friendship over a FOIA request is so funny—they’re very important for governmental transparency, but really one of the most tedious bits of bureaucratic minutiae.

L'amore degli uomini si distingue dalla stupida foia delle bestie soltanto per due funzioni divine: la carezza e il bacio.
—  Liberamente estratto da “Afrodite”
Pierre Louÿs

Transparency
  • US Gov: *consistently denies FoIA requests*
  • US Gov: *Refuses to provide evidence of wrongdoing by its targets to 'protect sources and methods'*
  • US Gov: *Will not reveal any examples of times when spying on citizens has thwarted terrorist attacks*
  • US Gov: *frequently lies about its illegal spying operations*
  • CIA: We wanna turn people's bedroom TVs into microphones so we can hear them fuck.
  • US Gov: Finally some transparency! Approved!!!
github.com
The counties that have all the heavy weaponry.

County-level data showing military equipment given to state and local law enforcement agencies through the Defense Department’s 1033 program. The data was received from the Defense Department in May 2014 as an Excel file, and includes transfers since 2006.

Want to know if your county has a crap-ton of military surplus gear? Check out this FOIA-extracted database on Github.

Faced with growing transparency scandals, White House exempts itself from FOIA regulations

Darn that pesky Freedom of Information Act that gives the American people access to the “most transparent administration in history”!  Obama has a solution: just delete all of the regulations that make the White House subject to FOIA requests.

from USA Today:

The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, making official a policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to reject requests for records to that office.

The White House said the cleanup of FOIA regulations is consistent with court rulings that hold that the office is not subject to the transparency law. The office handles, among other things, White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of e-mails.

But the timing of the move raised eyebrows among transparency advocates, coming on National Freedom of Information Day and during a national debate over the preservation of Obama administration records. It’s also Sunshine Week, an effort by news organizations and watchdog groups to highlight issues of government transparency.

“The irony of this being Sunshine Week is not lost on me,” said Anne Weismann of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.

“It is completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency,” she said. “That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail.”

Unlike other offices within the White House, which were always exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Administration responded to FOIA requests for 30 years. Until the Obama administration, watchdog groups on the left and the right used records from the office to shed light on how the White House works.

“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act any more,” said Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch.

read the rest

I know, I know…I can already hear our liberal readers mindlessly reciting that mantra: “It’s Bushs’s fault!”  But that’s only true for Bush himself.  You can’t blame Bush when Obama turns into him!  Actually, Obama has only turned into the worst parts of George W. Bush.  

9

What will the government ACTUALLY give you when you file a Freedom Of Information Act request?

We wanted to know just what we could get away with too. So when we found out Obama was the only person to get Game of Thrones screeners ahead of time, we thought we’d submit a FOIA request for GoT screeners and see what happened.

Gifs: rheidrick

July 4, 1966. President Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act.

“This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: A democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the Nation permits. No one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest…

I have always believed that freedom of information is so vital that only the national security, not the desire of public officials or private citizens, should determine when it must be restricted…

I signed this measure with a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.”

Remember the box of documents we posted about yesterday that we received from North Carolina in response to our public records request? 

Two curious members of CIR’s data team, Joanna Lin and Michael Corey, thought it would be fun to piece together some of the shredded documents in the box to see what they were. 

Yes, this is fun (or just compulsion) for investigative journalists. You never know what you might find.

Sarin in the Sky: A Case Study of Exposure

The morning of November 7, 1952, was cloudless in Tooele, Utah, with a slight chill in the air. From the north, wind whispered across the Dugway Proving Ground, a vast Army facility in the Great Salt Lake Desert. A jet sped across the sky. Its wing tanks were filled with a hundred gallons of sarin—a colorless, odorless nerve agent many times more lethal than cyanide. The pilot had been ordered to spray the deadly chemical over a target site in the remote proving ground, but at 8:29, before the mission was completed, the aircraft malfunctioned. Its tanks, still filled with ninety gallons of the nerve agent, were jettisoned at two thousand feet. When they smashed into the salt-encrusted earth, they burst, spreading a high concentration of sarin across thirty-eight thousand square feet of desert. For the purpose of the test, the chemical had been tinted with red dye. When an Army inspection and decontamination crew rushed to the scene, it found the area suffused with a scarlet mist. One crewmember was so severely poisoned that the Army decided to study him; no American exposed to the chemical had ever come so close to death.

 

The document featured here, “Case Report of a Severe Human Poisoning by GB,” was published by the Army Chemical Center in December, 1952, a month after the sarin accident at Dugway. It provides a vivid account of one American’s exposure to the nerve agent during the Cold War. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, The New Yorker obtained the case report during research for Raffi Khatchadourian’s piece, “Operation Delirium,” about Cold War chemical-weapons experiments. To our knowledge, neither the incident nor the report has been made public before.

 

Click-through for more from Betsy Morais on the Army’s Cold War case studies on sarin and other nerve agents, and to see the official documents: http://nyr.kr/UUacb1

It will not get off the ground...

Watching President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address earlier, I was anticipating two things which I have always thought to be essential to his slogan of Daang Matuwid (The Right Path).

While I laud Aquino’s words of us taking pride in the capabilities and accomplishments of our scientists and entrepreneurs; and his appreciation of the efforts of our soldiers, teachers, and nurses in their service to our people, there was still something lacking.

I think it would be natural for someone like me who earns his keep with the use of words, pictures, and video of events, to anticipate that the President will be citing the Freedom of Information Act and the Whitleblower’s Bill as essential legislative measures which must be passed by Congress as soon as possible.

Sadly, these was no mention of either of the bills. And none was also heard of the passing of a National Land Use Law, the long-rumored Anti-Trust Bill, and the controversial Reproductive Health Bill. These were not given explicit nor implicit remarks by the President.

The FOIA and the Whistleblower’s Bill are two essentials that the Aquino administration needs in its supposed fight against corruption, abuse of power, and irregularities in government.

The Freedom of Information Act will allow journalists, researchers, and even ordinary well-meaning taxpayers to access information on government projects, offices, and expenses. The accessibility of these information is essential to ensuring the transparency and accountability of public offices to the people.

The Whistleblower’s Bill on the other hand would be essential in the protection of individuals who have uncovered irregularities in government through privileged communication or use of the FOIA. With this bill, the lives of individuals courageous enough to step forward and right the wrongs, as well as those of their family, will be protected.

The FOIA and the Whistleblower’s Bill are the wings which are supposed to lift the Aquino administration’s campaign against corruption, abuse, and irregularities. But considering that what happened earlier was the 2nd State of the Nation Address given by Aquino, and the two legislative pieces still remain missing from his speech, I am inclined to think that Aquino’s dreams of a more accountable and transparent government, will not get off the ground.