Obama’s Department of Homeland Security: Willfully Witholding Records Legally Requested Under Freedom of Information Act: AP Produces 995 Emails To Prove Claim.

WASHINGTON — For at least a year, the Department of Homeland Security detoured requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive, according to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press.

The department abandoned the practice after AP investigated. Inspectors from the department’s Office of Inspector General quietly conducted interviews last week to determine whether political advisers acted improperly.

The Freedom of Information Act, the main tool forcing the government to be more open, is designed to be insulated from political considerations. Anyone who seeks information through the law is supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose confidential decision-making in certain areas.

But in July 2009, Homeland Security introduced a directive requiring a wide range of information to be vetted by political appointees for “awareness purposes,” no matter who requested it.

Career employees were ordered to provide Secretary Janet Napolitano’s political staff with information about the people who asked for records – such as where they lived, whether they were private citizens or reporters – and about the organizations where they worked.

If a member of Congress sought such documents, employees were told to specify Democrat or Republican.

This, despite President Barack Obama’s statement that federal workers should “act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation” under FOIA, and Attorney General Eric Holder’s assertion: “Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the new era of open government.”

The special reviews at times delayed the release of information to Congress, watchdog groups and the news media for weeks beyond the usual wait, even though the directive specified the reviews should take no more than three days.

The foot-dragging reached a point that officials worried the department would get sued, one e-mail shows.

We need to make sure that we flip these ASAP so we can eliminate any lag in getting the responses to the requesters,” the agency’s director of disclosure, Catherine Papoi, wrote to two of Napolitano’s staffers. “Under the statute, the requester now has the right to allege constructive denial and take us to court. Please advise soonest.”

A department spokesman, Sean Smith, says the mandatory reviews by political appointees never blocked disclosure of records that otherwise would have been released. “No information deemed releasable by the FOIA office or general counsel was withheld, and responsive documents were neither abridged nor edited,” said Smith, who was among the political staffers who could review and approve records for release.

E-mails obtained by AP do not show political appointees at Homeland Security stopping records from coming out. Instead they point to acute political sensitivities that slowed the process, a probing curiosity about the people and organizations making the request for records, and considerable confusion.

Political staffers reviewed information requests submitted by reporters and other citizens as a way to anticipate troublesome scrutiny. Days after the nearly catastrophic Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a Detroit-bound airliner, political staffers asked whether news media or other organizations had filed records requests about the attack.

On another matter, one request sought data on expensive international travel by Homeland Security employees during the Bush administration. “Let’s make sure we don’t have a similar problem,” Napolitano’s chief of staff, Noah Kroloff, wrote in an e-mail in October to colleagues.

When the department released immigration records in September about Obama’s father, Kroloff wrote: “We haven’t released this yet have we? … I’m hoping this was done in coordination with Sean (Smith), the WH and other relevant and interested parties.”

The answer came from the general counsel’s chief of staff, John Sandweg: “WH was made aware early and said treat it as normal.”

The new review rule was so unclear to career Homeland Security employees that they sometimes weren’t sure exactly which information requests the political staff was demanding to see: “I don’t think they know what they want until they see it,” Papoi confided to a colleague in an e-mail.

Months later, in January, Papoi sent another e-mail that revealed the frustration the rule was causing between political advisers and career employees in the office responsible for enforcing FOIA.

“These people are going to be the death of me,” Papoi wrote to Sandra Hawkins, the administration director in the privacy office. “I know, I know,” Hawkins wrote back.

Political staffers were frustrated, too. “They really hate us,” Jordan Grossman, special assistant to the chief of staff, wrote to his boss, another political appointee.

In one case under the new directive, Papoi reprimanded a Coast Guard employee in November for explaining over the phone to a reporter – without approval by political staffers – that the information requested under FOIA was already available on the Coast Guard’s website.

The White House said it had no role formulating the rule at Homeland Security and requests for records generally were not forwarded to the White House for approval. “They only need to go thru front office awareness review, not wh (White House),” wrote Mary Ellen Callahan, the department’s top chief privacy officer and FOIA official.

Two exceptions required White House review: requests to see documents about spending under the $862 billion stimulus law and the calendars for Cabinet members.

Calendars became politically sensitive after AP obtained them for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. They described calls several times each day with Wall Street executives.

Internally, Homeland Security was adamant that Napolitano’s political advisers were merely reviewing materials before they were distributed, not making the call on whether they should come out. “To be clear, this is a review not an approval,” Callahan wrote.

Yet many e-mails directed Homeland Security employees never to release information under FOIA without approval by political appointees.

“It is imperative that these requests are not released prior to the front office reviewing both the letter and the records,” Papoi wrote in an e-mail to the agency’s officers responsible for administering the law.

Another e-mail described a request from USA Today that was “tagged by the front office and requires approval.”

Under the Freedon Of Information law, people can request copies of U.S. government records without specifying why they want them and are not obligated to provide personal information about themselves other than their name and an address where the records should be sent.

Yet several times, at least, junior political staffers asked superiors about the motives or affiliations of the requesters.

The directive laid out an expansive view of the sort of documents that required political vetting.

Anything that related to an Obama policy priority was pegged for this review. So was anything that touched on a “controversial or sensitive subject” that could attract media attention or that dealt with meetings involving prominent business and elected leaders.

Anything requested by lawmakers, journalists, activist groups or watchdog organizations had to go to the political appointees. This included all of AP’s information requests, even a routine one for records that had already been sought by other news organizations.

The Justice Department office that oversees FOIA across the federal government is unaware of any other agencies with similar mandatory review policies, spokeswoman Gina Talamona said.

According to the e-mails, the senior review staffers in Napolitano’s inner circle included: Kroloff; Sandweg; Smith; Amy Shlossman, deputy chief of staff; Leezie Kim, a senior department lawyer; Brian DeVallance, senior counsel; Jan Lesher, chief of staff for operations, and Mary Ellen Brown, Napolitano’s deputy director for scheduling.

Each could approve release of government records under FOIA – when they answered their e-mails.

Callahan, the department’s FOIA official, wrote in September 2009 that Kim might have to clear the information requests because Shlossman, DeVallance and chief-of-staff Kroloff were not addressing them. Those three “are not an option given non-responsiveness,” Callahan wrote.

Homeland Security rescinded the rule requiring prior political approval earlier this month, just as it delivered the e-mails to AP.

Under a new policy, records are submitted to Napolitano’s political advisers three days before they are made public but can be released without their approval.

AP obtained the 995 e-mails under FOIA after a seven-month disagreement resolved by the Office of Government Information Services, a new independent U.S. agency that mediates disputes over access to federal documents.

The AP’s request for the Homeland Security e-mails was itself submitted for review by the political advisers.


05/27/2010 Homeland Security Reports: Terror Attacks On US At All Time High – Likely To Worsen

05/27/2010: Obama Adminstration Issues Terror Watch for the Texas/Mexico Border.

By Jana Winter: Published May 26, 2010 | FOXNews.com

The Department of Homeland Security is alerting Texas authorities to be on the lookout for a suspected member of the Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorist group who might be attempting to travel to the U.S. through Mexico, a security expert who has seen the memo tells FOXNews.com.

(McAuleysworld: Did DHS also warn Texas authorities not to ask the illegals crossing the border for their IDs?). 

The warning follows an indictment unsealed this month in Texas federal court that accuses a Somali man in Texas of running a “large-scale smuggling enterprise” responsible for bringing hundreds of Somalis from Brazil through South America and eventually across the Mexican border. Many of the illegal immigrants, who court records say were given fake IDs, are alleged to have ties to other now-defunct Somalian terror organizations that have merged with active organizations like Al Shabaab, al-Barakat and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami.

In 2008, the U.S. government designated Al Shabaab a terrorist organization. Al Shabaab has said its priority is to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, on Somalia; the group has aligned itself with Al Qaeda and has made statements about its intent to harm the United States.

In recent years, American Somalis have been recruited by Al Shabaab to travel to Somalia, where they are often radicalized by more extremist or operational anti-American terror groups, which Al Shabaab supports. The recruiters coming through the Mexican border are the ones who could be the most dangerous, according to law enforcement officials.

Security experts tell FOXNews.com that the influx of hundreds of Somalis over the U.S. border who allegedly have ties to suspected terror cells is evidence of a porous and unsecured border being exploited by groups intent on wrecking deadly havoc on American soil.

The DHS alert was issued to police and sheriff’s deputies in Houston, asking them to keep their eyes open for a Somali man named Mohamed Ali who is believed to be in Mexico preparing to make the illegal crossing into Texas. Officials believe Ali has ties to Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist organization aligned with Al Qaeda, said Joan Neuhaus Schaan, the homeland security and terrorism fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, who has seen the alert.

An indictment was unsealed in Texas federal court earlier this month that revealed that a Somali man, Ahmed Muhammed Dhakane, led a human smuggling ring that brought East Africans, including Somalis with ties to terror groups, from Brazil and across the Mexican border and into Texas. 

In a separate case, Anthony Joseph Tracy, of Virginia, who admitted to having ties to Al Shabaab, is currently being prosecuted for his alleged role in an international ring that illegally brought more than 200 Somalis across the Mexican border. Prosecutors say Tracy used his Kenya-based travel business as a cover to fraudulently obtain Cuban travel documents for the Somalis. The smuggled Somalis are believed to have spread out across the United States and remain mostly at large, court records show.

(McAuleysworld: I wonder how many of these terrorists headed straight to one of our “sanctuary cities” where they can safely hide until they are activated for the next 911 style attack?)

Somalis are classified by border and immigration officials as “special interest” — illegal immigrants who get caught trying to cross the Mexican border into the U.S. who come from countries that are considered a high threat to the U.S., Neuhaus Schaan explained.

DHS did not respond to multiple e-mail and phone requests for comment.

In addition to the Somali immigration issue, Mexican smugglers are coaching some Middle Eastern immigrants before they cross the border – schooling them on how to dress and giving them phrases to help them look and sound like Latinos, law enforcement sources told FoxNews.com.

“There have been a number of certain communities that have noticed this, villages in northern Mexico where Middle Easterners try to move into town and learn Spanish,” Neuhaus Schaan said. “People were changing there names from Middle Eastern names to Hispanic names.”
Security experts say the push by illegal immigrants to try to fit in also could be the realization of what officials have feared for years: Latin American drug cartels are helping jihadist groups bring terrorists across the Mexican border.

J. Peter Pham, senior fellow and director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, said that for the past ten years there’s been suspicion by U.S. law enforcement that drug cartels could align with international terrorist organizations to bring would-be-jihadists into the U.S.

That kind of collaboration is already being seen in Africa, said Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

McAuleysworld: Are they referring to Somalia, again, where international drug smuggling, human trafficking, piracy and Jihadism go hand in hand? My kudos to President William Jefferson Clinton, January 1993 –  January 2001, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton) and his handling of  Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993. Clinton’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia on March 31, 1994 left a “free field” for the Terrorists to over run and consolidate their control of the Country when Clinton ordered a “U.S. retreat and the surrender of Somalia” to the Terrorists. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mogadishu_(1993))

“Al Qaeda could easily say, “Ok, now we want your help getting these guys into the United States,” Phares said. “Eventually the federal government will pay more attention, but there is a window of time now where they can get anyone they want to get in already.”

Experts also say the DHS alert and recent court case highlights the threat of terrorists penetrating the Mexican/Texas border — and the growing threat of Somali recruitment efforts to bring Americans of Somali descent back to Somalia for jihadist training, creating homegrown terrorists.
Pham says the DHS alert comes too late. “They’re just covering themselves for the fact that DHS has been failing to date to deal effectively with this,” he said. “They’re already here.

Michael Weinstein, a political science professor at Purdue University and an expert on Somalia, said, “In the past year, it’s become obvious that there’s a spillover into the United States of the transnational revolutionaries in Somalia.”

“It’s something that certainly has to be watched, but I don’t think it’s an imminent threat,” he said. “This has to be put in context with people smuggling — everybody and their brother is getting into the United States through Mexico; I read last week that some Chinese were crossing, it’s just a big market.

Pham disagrees. “The real danger is ‘something along the lines of jihadist version of ‘find a classmate,’ he said, referring to Al Shabaab’s potential to set up sleeper cells in the U.S. “Most of them rely on personal referral and association. That type of social networking is not beyond their capabilities.”

Pham says the DHS alert is too little, too late.

“This is like shutting the barn door after the horses got away,” he said.


SPECIAL ALERT FROM McAULEYSWORLD TO AMERICA’S LAW ENFORCEMENT COMMUNITY: Remember this, when you encounter one of these terrorists crossing into our Country illegally, under no circumstance should you offend these individuals by asking to see identification. It doesn’t matter what the terrorists are bringing into the Country, be it illegal weapons or illegal drugs, don’t complicate their visit into our Country by asking for identification. I’d suggest you contact your local member of the “Progressive Law Enforcement Officers Association”, the organization that recently met with Attorney General Holder in opposition to the Arizona ID Law, and arrange transit to the nearest Sanctuary City where these “Progressives” refuse to enforce our Immigration Laws. There the terrorists can safely wait for orders to carryout the next 911 style attack on our Country.

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