Washington Post publishes Afghanistan Papers after years-long FOIA battle
In the biggest FOIA story of the week, The Washington Post published Monday its assessment of materials released after a three-year FOIA fight with the Department of Defense: a report, including transcripts and audio recordings, spelling out how the war in Afghanistan fueled corruption and how federal officials made statements about the war’s progress they knew to be false.
For the most part, names of federal officials were redacted from the audio recordings: only 62 out of 366 were identified. For the most part, officials spoke candidly under the understanding that what they were about to say would not be made public. The Post is asking a federal judge to force the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to reveal the names.
The Post filed a FOIA request with SIGAR in August 2016 to obtain the documents. While the agency first responded indicating the records would be released in a few weeks, they stopped returning reporters’ phone calls and emails and claimed they were being kept in the dark by the agency’s attorneys. The day after Michael Flynn was announced to be President Trump’s national security advisor, SIGAR finalized the request as entirely unreleasable under Exemption b(5) and would not respond to appeals or duplicate requests.
Read the full series at The Washington Post.
The University of Michigan spent $1.2 million on NDAs and lump sum payments in 6 months
Documents show the University of Michigan paid over a million dollars to former employees in non-disclosure agreements signed between November and May.
The Michigan Daily filed nine FOIA requests to obtain the contents of settlement agreements signed by two senior human resources representatives at the university. The tenth settlement had already been publicly reported.
It is unclear whether the sum represents all of the university’s settlements over the six months. According to The Daily, the public university’s budget contains no mention of these settlements, which university spokesman Rich Fitzgerald claimed were divided by unit and listed under salaries.
Fitzgerald also disagrees with the characterization of these agreements as “buying silence.”
“If you sign an agreement and you still think the University has done something wrong and you wanted to file a complaint…there is nothing in that agreement that precludes you from doing that,” he said. “It says disparagement, it doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with University policy. People do that every day around here.”
A former employee also in an agreement with the college who spoke anonymously told The Daily that “Coming out of an adversarial situation, such language can only be seen as silencing.”
Read the full story at The Michigan Daily.
Private foundations connected with public colleges are not subject to Virginia FOIA
The Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that no matter how closely they are tied to public colleges and universities, private non-profit foundations are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information law.
The lawsuit was filed last year by Transparent GMU, a student advocacy group at Virginia’s George Mason University, after being denied a request for donor-related documents from the university. The university in the past has received large, several-million dollar donations from the Koch Foundation, which are then processed through GMU’s private foundation.
Neither of those entities are subject to the state’s FOIA law, a massive blow to transparency in Virginia.
“Not only is the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling a barrier to transparency and accountability, but it serves to maintain strategies of the wealthy elite to further corrupt fundamental tenets of democracy,” said Jasmine Banks, Executive Director of UnKoch My Campus in a press release. “Thankfully our organizers are resilient and have other strategies they are dedicated to pursuing to ensure our democracy is protected.”
The Supreme Court characterized its decision on the basis that, had the state’s legislative body intended foundations associated with public higher education to be included in the FOIA law, it could have stated so.
In the wake of student organizing at GMU, a bill has been filed in the Virginia House of Representatives that would require universities to disclose the terms and conditions donations from private entities.
Read the full statement at UnKoch My Campus.
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