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"freedom" Of Information: Government Secrets Coming Undone

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Late last year, Congress amended the 1966 Freedom of Information Act to forcé federal agencies to be more cooperative towards requests for documents. Since the amendment went into effect, thousands of inquines for records have poured into Washington. Documents being asked for range from a list o f "all expenditures" by the Central ntelligence Agency since its formation, to case files on the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss. The original Freedom of Information Act was passed in the mid-sixties when even Conyress was unable to obtain many federal records and documents. By 1972, a congressional committee studying the effectiveness of the act foundit had proved mostly unworkable. "The efficiënt operation of the Freedom of Information Act has been hindered by years of foot-dragging by the federal bureaucracy," said Rep. John Moss (D-Cal), a drafter of the original bilí. "The widespread reluctance of the bureaucracy. to honor the public's legal right to know has been obvious." Watergate forced a reexaminaron of government secrecy, when "national security" was found to hide bureaucratie bungling and Ilegal acts by a wide range of agencies. In 1974, Congress passed a series of amendments to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. President Ford tried to stop the plan by veto, calling t unworkable. Congress, already angered by presidential secrecy throughout the Watergate investigations, took on the challenge and overrode the veto. On February 19, 1975, the amendments went into effect. Within a week, the mostly unused act suddenly caught on in popularity. Requests poured into Washington, with the bulk going to the FBI and CIA. The FBI has been averaging approximately twenty inquiries a day for files, many from individuals who suspect they were targets of il legal spying. Other requests have come from scholars doing research on foreign policy, business people who must deal with the federal regulatory agencies, and public interest groups. Under the amended act, an agency must initially reply to any request within ten days. Fees for files cannot be excessive, (covering only actual costs of search and reproduction) and unreasonable delay cannot be used to block access. Any denials must be accompanied by a statement of reasons for the denial, as well as the name of the person who made that decisión. A denial can be challenged in the courts (which is where many of the major requests for documents are at present). SPILLED BEANS What's been released so far? Documents from the FBI's "Cointelpro" spying on radicáis were released to the Socialist Worker's Party. Over 3,000 pages have already been given to SWP, and the FBI admits this is less than a third of what is to come. The documents show the agency has kept the SWP under surveillance for over thirty years, although t had no evidence of Ilegal acts n all that time. Included was a flyer paid for by the FBI meant to keep the SWP out of the anti-war movement. Other documents ndicated agents working n Malcolm X's group trying to stop an SWP coalition with the Muslim sect. The CIA released cables indicating t kept SWP prjesidential candidate Peter Camejo under surveillance while he was visiting South America. The CIA also claimed it had 81 other documents on Camejo t did not have to release under the law. The Internal Revenue Service was torced to make public training manuals and guides, thus explaining the reasoning behind who gets audited, and how an audit is conducted. John Marks (co-author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence with Victor Marchetti) received a CIA study on "Restless Youth" done in September, 1968 studying youth militancy around the world and in the U.S. It contains a thorough analysis on Students for a Democratie Society, suggesting the CIA had its own sources. Morton Halperin, a former Kissinger aide whose phone was tapped during the Nixon administration, has requested a series of CIA documents for the Institute on National Security Studies. So far, he has obtained a copy of the original agreement between the CIA and FBI allowing the CIA a right to contact "individuals and groups of foreign nationality" within the U.S. While at first used to recruit agents, this led to the now well documented CIA domestic spying. Not all the information requested by various groups and individuals has been quickly relinquished. Many cases are now awaiting court decisions, such as Halperin's request for an accounting of all CIA expenditures since the agency's formation. One of the major searches for information is by Michael and Robert Meeropol, sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The two have applied to seventeen different agencies requesting information on the "atomic spy" case of the fifties which sent their parents to the electric chair. The FBI flatly refused to open up its files. The State Department reieased a few minor documents, and the Atomic Energy Commission and Army Intelligence reieased edited files which are useless. The U.S. Attorney's office in New Mexico admitted that all records on the case were destroyed in 1969. An appeal is planned on the decisions by the FBI and other agencies which have been uncooperative. GET YOUR FILE TODAY! The Freedom of Information Act has its personal touch. If you suspect you may have been a victim of Ilegal surveillance by any federal agencies, you can write and ask for your very own file. The major agencies with such records are the FBI and the CIA. For the FBI, write to the Deputy Attorney General, continued on page 26 The Freedom of Information act has its personal touch. If you suspect you may have been a victim of surveillance by any federal agencies like the FBI or CIA, you can write and ask for your file. Freedom of Information continued from page 1 1 Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; and the CIA can be reached through the Freedom of Information Coördinator, the Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C. Include your name, date and place of birth in the request. A number of SUN staff members sent off inquiries in late March, but as yet we haven't seen a single file. Within the required ten days, each agency responded to say t was looking through its records but the number of requests have made the work slow. Even if they do find something, it must be reviewed and edited before copies are sent out. Two staff members have already been notified that a file exists, but the edited copies have yet to arrive. Several people have been informed that at least the CIA has no record of them. The FBI has been much slower to answer inquines. One woman received an interesting response from the CIA. It didn't say no records existed, but claimed that a wide range of documents were not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, and went on to list some of these. Since most staffers simply received a flat no, it appears the CIA has sQmething it is unwilling to divulge. If you write for files, let us know about your experiences. If possible, we would like to put together information on FBI and CIA activities in Ann Arbor. One warning if you're thinking of sending off to Washington. The agencies have already admitted that for those who don't have files, the requests will be used to start one. It supposedly guarantees they will know what happened to your inquiry and how it was resolved.