It has been 46 years since President Lyndon Johnson quietly signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law on the Fourth of July, officially giving the public access to federal government records. With thousands upon thousands of requests now processed per year, it’s easy to take this law for granted. But to this day, ordinary citizens must fight to obtain important records—particularly those showing government wrongdoing. In that spirit, here are five important pieces of government information that, without FOIA, would still be hidden from the public.
Don’t miss the inforgraphic after the jump about FOIA past and present
1. The CIA’s “Family Jewels”
In 2007, the CIA released its “family jewels”—also known as its closet skeletons—a 702-page file detailing illegal CIA activity that occurred from the 1950s through to the mid-1970s. The revelations included everything from illegal wiretapping and journalist surveillance, to human experimentation and a plot to assassinate Congo leader Patrice Lumumba. The file was released 15 years after the National Security Archive filed a FOIA request. But without FOIA—these skeletons may have never left the closet.
2. Torture at Overseas Detention Centers
In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a FOIA request for documents relating to the abuse and torture of U.S. prisoners held at overseas detention centers. After the ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2004, the government turned over documents detailing torture techniques at Guantanamo—such as waterboarding and sensory deprivation. Overall, more than 100,000 pages have been made public.
3. Insider Trading at the Securities and Exchange Commission
Gary Aguirre, a former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) staff attorney, filed FOIA requests in 2005 and 2006 seeking records about a SEC insider trading probe into Pequot Capital Management. Aguirre said the SEC gave special treatment to Wall Street banker, John J. Mack, whom Aguirre suspected of leaking information to Pequot, during the investigation. Aguirre also said he was fired for blowing the whistle. After a FOIA lawsuit—where the SEC tried to seek an exemption and was overruled—30,000 pages of SEC records were released, giving the public new insight into SEC misconduct that led to the financial crisis.
In 2010, according to Thomson Reuters, the SEC filed a complaint against that company for insider trading. Pequot and its CEO agreed to pay $28 million in settlement.
4. Thousands of Americans at Risk for Flooding
In 2007, an Associated Press reporter obtained a document through FOIA from the Army Corps of Engineers revealing that 122 levees in the U.S. are at risk for flooding. The document showed that the levees could endanger people who lived near them, and also seriously affect insurance rates.
5. Pentagon Ignores Tip on $200 Million in Wasteful Spending
Thanks to a FOIA request by the Knight-Ridder News Service, we now know more about waste within the Department of Defense. In 2005, a retired Army Reserve officer called the Pentagon’s fraud hotline on 135 cases where the Department of Defense was overcharged for appliances—wasting up to $200 million taxpayer dollars. But the Pentagon never adequately investigated the tip, and without FOIA, it may never have come to light.
Last night, as you may have already heard, some miscalculation/technical difficulties with the San Diego fireworks show resulted 9 seconds of explosive madness, compressing into a few short moments what was supposed to be an 18 minute show. Now we get to actually see what many of us have always wondered: what would it look like to set all the fireworks off at once?
For those of you who scoff at those who like to photograph fireworks, perhaps this time we should be happy these folks were prepared. We managed to find a few choice shots scattered around the internet
Damage from the huge March 11, 2011, earthquake, and not just the ensuing tsunami, could not be ruled out as a cause of the accident, the panel added, a finding with serious potential implications as Japan seeks to bring idled reactors on line.
The panel criticized the response of Fukushima Daiichi plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, regulators and then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who quit last year after criticism of his handling of a natural disaster that became a man-made crisis.
“The … Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties,” the panel said in an English summary of a 641-page Japanese document.
“Across the board, the Commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power. We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety,” the panel said.
The sledgehammer’s existence first came to light in 1980, when a group of inspecting officers from the General Staff visiting Strategic Missile Forces headquarters asked General Georgy Novikov what he would do if he received a missile launch order but the safe containing the launch codes failed to open.
Novikov said he would “knock off the safe’s lock with the sledgehammer” he kept nearby, the spokesman said.
At the time the inspectors severely criticized the general’s response, but the General Staff’s top official said Novikov would be acting correctly.
Houston resident Eddie Darnell Bassett has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for possession of cough syrup found in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Lexington, Texas resident James Anderson, whose car was searched during a traffic stop for an expired registration tag, was more fortunate: A gratuitous charge of “possession of a dangerous substance” – in his case, a bottle of ibuprofen – was dismissed by a judge.
According to a survey published Wednesday by historians at Boston University, more than 85 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the upbeat, traditional dance routine intended to accompany the singing of the national anthem.
Once taught in the nation’s elementary schools, showcased at the start of all sporting events, and included as part of the exam for new U.S. citizens, the patriotic kicks, dips, waves, and twirls from “The Star-Spangled Banner” have nearly vanished from the public consciousness over the past century, the study found.
“From a historical perspective, it came as quite a shock that nearly nine out of 10 Americans could not recall more than a single step of what was, for many years, an essential part of civic life,” said Kenneth P. O’Neill, who co-authored the report. “Most people are familiar with the dance’s iconic first move, placing one’s right hand over one’s heart. But when we asked them what comes next—placing the left hand over the right and pumping back and forth—people had no idea what we were talking about.”
“Katie ambushed Tom Cruise and in so doing outwitted some of the most controlling people on earth,” says Karen De La Carriere, who was once one of the most powerful executives in Scientology and was married to Heber Jentzsch, Scientology’s longtime president who mysteriously hasn’t been seen in years. De La Carriere shocked the church by leaving in 2010 and telling secrets in anti-Miscavige blogs — including her claim that she was kept for six months against her will at the secretive church base camp near Hemet, Calif. “I have no doubt that she’s being tailed by them. It’s par for the course. But she had to have planned this very carefully, right down to using disposable cell phones and laptops to throw people off her trail. It had to have been a very cloak-and-dagger operation.”
Many of the banks implicated in the Libor mess have also been targeted in the various municipal bond bid-rigging investigations, and RBS is no different – its subsidiary Natwest is also a defendant in the major civil lawsuit in the bid-rigging case. The cases aren’t related, except in the sense that they both involve manipulation and anticompetitive cooperation. It’s going to be harder and harder to make the case that the major banks do not routinely cooperate at the expense of the public when it serves their purposes to do so.
The news that RBS is involved comes with a perverse twist. This is from the Times UK:
The bank, which is 82 per cent owned by the taxpayer, is preparing for a political firestorm over the affair because it believes that it has no power to claw back bonuses from the traders responsible. Instead, the expected fines would be borne by the shareholders — largely the Government.
Libor manipulation is a crime that already robs the public to create bonuses for bankers. By artificially lowering interest rates, the banks caused cities, towns, countries, and other public entities to receive smaller returns on their variable-rate investment holdings. If it turns out that taxpayers end up paying the fine for RBS’s crime of robbing taxpayers, how perfect would that be?
As lifeguards are paid and trained to do, Tomas Lopez rushed down the beach to rescue a drowning man — and then got fired for it.
The problem: Lopez stepped out of the beach zone his company is paid to patrol, a supervisor said Tuesday.
Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
When Eichenwald asks Brian Cody, a former Microsoft engineer, whether a review of him was ever based on the quality of his work, Cody says, “It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers.” Ed McCahill, who worked at Microsoft as a marketing manager for 16 years, says, “You look at the Windows Phone and you can’t help but wonder, How did Microsoft squander the lead they had with the Windows CE devices? They had a great lead, they were years ahead. And they completely blew it. And they completely blew it because of the bureaucracy.”