Rummaging in the Government’s Attic: Lessons Learned from 1,000 FOIA Requests

Civil Society, Government, Methods & Process, Open Government
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Presented by Michael Ravnitzky & Phil Lapsley at The Next HOPE, July 2010 in NYC

(page 18 of the presentation)

The three exemptions most misused

Exemption b(1) – currently and properly classified national security information

Exemption b(2) – internal materials

Exemption b(5) – legally privileged material; usually the “deliberative process privilege”
Be especially skeptical of these.

Audio version (mp3) of the above presentation 64 kbps | 16 kbps

(page 22)
FBI Confidential File Room Dossier

• Collection of memos identifying FBI files so sensitive
that they had to be stored in a special file room
• 1950 – 1972
• Serves as a roadmap to historically significant FBI files
• Shows the tension between the need to isolate certain
files but still be able to use them – this problem still
exists in the electronic age
• Documents that describe interesting documents

(page 23)
FBI Confidential File Room Dossier
The file on “Smuggling of Atomic Bombs or Parts thereof and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction into the United States,” contains highly classified information …regarding United States developments in the field of atomic weapons and estimates of Soviet developments in the field of atomic weapons, together with suggested countermeasures.”– August 1, 1952
(And you thought the term “Weapon of Mass Destruction” was something President Bush came up with!)

(page 25)
The FBI’s High Visibility Memos
John Winston Ono Lennon, Deceased Former Member of the Beatles Musical Group: “The bulk of the documents to be released are from a Security Matter –New Left investigatory file. The investigation was initiated upon receipt of information that Lennon might engage in activities to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention …”– May 15, 1980

(page 26)
DoD Resale Activities Board of Review
• Established by Congress to review which sexually explicit magazines and videos could be sold or rented on military bases
• An example of where government and free speech collide
• The Board’s meeting minutes and agendas and decisions were requested

(page 31)
FEMA’s RAMP Database
• The Federal Emergency Management Agency keeps a set of lessons learned
• RAMP: Remedial Action Management Program
• Shows what worked and what failed
• Everything from Space Shuttle Challenger accident to floods/disasters/hurricanes/tornadoes
• GA got a printout of the database after asking for the lessons learned on a flood, seeing a mention of RAMP, and asking for the RAMP database FOIA & documents archive provides electronic copies of hundreds of interesting Federal Government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Fascinating historical documents, reports on items in the news, oddities and fun stuff and government bloopers, they’re all here. Think of browsing this site as rummaging through the Government’s Attic.

+ Audio version (mp3) of the above presentation 64 kbps | 16 kbps