from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 109
October 31, 2002
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND "IMAGINARY CONSPIRACIES"
- FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND "IMAGINARY CONSPIRACIES"
- CRITIQUE OF THE CIA CODEWORD COMPARTMENT
- ELLSBERG'S "SECRETS"
- UK PRO RELEASES
In the climax to one of the most bizarre chapters in the history of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, a federal judge issued a ruling last month not only on what the law requires but on what is real, and rebuked a requester for "seeking information about an imaginary conspiracy."
The requester, Barbara Schwarz, a resident of Salt Lake City, has become a figure of almost mythical proportions among government freedom of information officers because of her relentless pursuit of nonexistent information and her astonishing litigiousness.
In one lawsuit last year, she named 3,087 defendants in a complaint that was 2,370 pages long. The judge observed that she had sued "what appears to be every federal department, independent federal agency and office or component thereof and each agency's FOIA officers."
That case was dismissed as frivolous and malicious and, in a most unusual step, the court enjoined Ms. Schwarz from further filings. But at least two related cases of hers remained pending, until last month's dismissal of one of them.
"The premise of plaintiff's FOIA requests," as summarized by the Court, "is that a German Nazi conspiracy has infiltrated the United States Government, that [her husband] is being held secretly having been falsely convicted, that one purpose of the conspiracy is to prevent plaintiff from locating [her husband] or his parents or attorneys so that she can testify on his behalf, and that an independent or special counsel may be trying unsuccessfully to reach plaintiff to obtain her testimony."
"The Court concludes that this premise is fanciful and has no basis in fact," wrote D.C. District Judge John D. Bates in his September 24 ruling.
"The Freedom of Information Act is designed to provide requesters with real information about how the government works," Judge Bates continued. "Its admirable purpose is abused when misguided individuals are allowed (in this case, repeatedly) to submit requests to every agency and subdivision of the government, seeking information about an imaginary conspiracy."
It is a source of frustration for other FOIA requesters to have to wait in line while Ms. Schwarz demands, for example, documents proving that L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, is the unacknowledged son of President Dwight Eisenhower (Ms. Schwarz asserts that she herself is the unacknowledged daughter of Hubbard.); or CIA records "relating to a village in Utah named Chattanooga"; or any records referring to her "under code name 'Cindy'."
From a greater distance, however, the Schwarz litigation illustrates just how far the FOIA system will go to accommodate individual requesters, no matter how peculiar, idiosyncratic, or demented they may be.
"Courts are here to grant justice to anyone not only to certain people," Ms. Schwarz wrote last year (all in CAPS).
Though she does not recognize it, justice is what she has received.
A copy of Judge Bates' September 24 ruling dismissing Schwarz v. FBI, et al, obtained from the DC District Court Clerk's office, is posted here:
Undeterred by the adverse decision, Ms. Schwarz has filed notice of appeal.
CRITIQUE OF THE CIA CODEWORD COMPARTMENT
The crippling effects of excessive secrecy on the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to anticipate threats to national security are not a new phenomenon but can be traced back decades, according to a recently declassified 1977 CIA study on classification "compartments."
"It is arguable that all intelligence failures, starting with that of Pearl Harbor, are attributable in some degree to abuses of compartmentation, to a failure to integrate information. According to [name deleted], 'The intelligence analyst who did not know that the [U.S.S.] Pueblo was off North Korea prior to its seizure [in 1968], and most did not, was not likely to have alerted his superior to some anomaly in North Korean naval activity. The list of such examples is endless.'"
"At least in the minds of many analysts, the problem posed by Pearl Harbor is still with us," according to the 1977 study.
Twenty-five years later, the congressional joint inquiry into September 11 continued to find that excessive secrecy had impeded information sharing between CIA and FBI, as well as between government agencies and the American public.
All of which suggests that the problem with CIA's information policies is not a matter of individual personalities, who have come and gone, but a deeply rooted institutional dysfunction that has escaped effective remedial action.
A copy of the March 1977 "Critique of the Codeword Compartment in the CIA" (reported in Secrecy News earlier this week in connection with the "psychological effects of secrecy") is now posted here:
The normally astute CIA historian Michael Warner appears to confuse means and ends when he makes the baffling claim that "secrecy is a vital element--perhaps the key element--of intelligence. Intelligence involves information, yes, but it is secrecy, too. For producers of intelligence, it is more about secrecy than information."
See Warner's article "Wanted: A Definition of 'Intelligence'" in the latest issue of CIA's Studies in Intelligence here:
Daniel Ellsberg's new book "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers" received a thoughtful review by Nicholas Lemann in the November 4 issue of The New Yorker here:
UK PRO RELEASES
Some of the latest releases of declassified historical documentation from the United Kingdom Public Record Office are noted here:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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