The NSA figured out a way to deny my appeal regarding my request for information about the PAIC (see earlier). Their new line is that "the appropriate response is to neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of the information" even when required by law to do so, and this is expressed as a blanket policy for all FOIA requests received by the NSA.
This latest Fuck Off is signed by E. R. Brooks, chief of staff and FOIA/Privacy Act Appeal Authority. This is probably Elizabeth R. Brooks, who has done this before.
I sent out a few more FOIA requests to different government agencies because email makes it easy. They sent back paper, even when I requested an electronic response, because they suck. The papers were all form-letter rejections because they suck. That's bureaucracy, wasting paper since we moved from vellum to paper. I have a proposal for them that can save a few trees. Whenever someone requests information, they can just send back an email containing this photo:
This would be functionally no different from the current FOIA process.
The Bird and the Bin Laden Brother
One of my requests was about a Col. William Shimonkevitz who once sold a house in Virginia to a Mr. Bin Laden in the mid-1990s. When a colonel with roots in Colorado and Pennsylvania has a business in DC for twenty years after his offical retirement, that suggests to me that he might be be a talented individual, perhaps quite intelligent. When such an individual sells a house to a guy that was already under investigation for funding terrorism through the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, that tells me the house should have had more bugs than contemporary Microsoft products. Even if that was not the case, an officer from the WWII generation is going to inform somebody that he's doing business with a foreigner. So we've got an alleged major terrorist fundraiser sitting pretty in Virginia, "alleged" because we did jack shit about it for years and never tried to get a conviction, and this happy situation lasted until the bin Ladens were honored with the special privilege of flying back to Arabia in the week after the first September 11 attacks when Americans were still grounded. Here are some possible scenarios that could lead to this situation:
- Somebody fucked up in authorizing a bug-free home deal
- Somebody fucked up in failing to get the intel to the FBI
- Somebody fucked up in failing to get the intel in the first place
- Somebody else fucked up too, but it's pretty damn clear that somebody fucked up
I sent letters to a few different agencies to see if Col. Shimonkevitz gave them any usable intel on the bin Ladens. I got a ping back in the form of a Fuck Off letter from the the Drug Escorting Agency telling me that they're not convinced the late Colonel is really dead and they're not allowed to check their own fucking service records. I don't feel like bothering the guy's family, so that's the end of that.
I earlier received the same kind of Fuck Off response from the FBI for asking about Shamil Basaev. We can't say he's dead and we're not allowed to use Google, so please provide a Russian autopsy report which will not be able to read because it's in Russian or get this al-Qaeda warlord to sign off on this waiver form and we're not going to ask any questions if you manage to get an al-Qaeda warlord's personal signature because we're not that bright. At the time I had daydreams of talking the Washington Post's editors into running a front-page headline "FBI Not Convinced of Chechen Warlord's Death" and then grabbing some popcorn and sitting back to see how the Russians react to that, but I managed to escape the conundrum by finding a human being to push the request forward to the next step of no, seriously, Fuck Off. So in summary, He Might Be A Vampire is a standard way to get out of responding to a FOIA request.
Al-Qaeda's Global Launch Party
Various unverifiable sources tell that al-Qaeda became a global network in April 1991 when the Sudanese government invited all of the world's Muslim terrorist organizations to a big pow-wow called the Popular Arab and Islamic Congress. The evidence is thin on this ever having happened and the US intelligence community seems intent on wishing everyone would forget it happened, but it is better established that they all got together again for the Second conference two years later and were all kicked out of the country after five years, and the US refused to accept Sudan's offer of all of the intelligence the Sudanese had collected about this group.
The Israelis tell the most interesting stories about the conference. The PLO were running the show, the Iranians were the main financiers and trainers, and doesn't it make you want to bomb Israel's enemies? I'd like to see a second source, myself; the Egyptians probably had the best intel, but it probably all burned in the Arab Spring. But, I am digressing, so let us return to speculating about this conference. The stories go that it included every notable terrorist of the time: Yasser Arafat, Carlos the Jackal, Abu Nidal, and a bunch of guys you've never heard of like this dude named Osama bin Laden. And you'd think someone would have noticed. Seriously, you'd think someone would have noticed all those people coming together. It's like TMZ ignoring a hotel-destroying bender involving Justin Bieber, Lindsey Lohan, the Kardashians, and all the other famous celebrities I care so little about that my pop culture references are five years old. Or if MH370 lands in CNN's parking lot and they don't report it. The silence is so unusual as to raise questions.
The CIA is holding on tightly to whatever information they have about the conference. In a 2009 response to a lawsuit brought by a lawyer named Kenneth Trentadue, they gave him a blank page and called that a release. So I decided to ask elsewhere. Who would have information about this? Who would have been watching? The people attending the conference would have produced a lot of chatter. They would have been talking on the phone to their friends and exchanging letters about this new organization. Half of them were probably under permanent surveillance already with multiple agencies of multiple states keeping an eye on them, which makes it really surprising that this conference has been kept under wraps for so long. In considering who might have collected information about this group, I wondered who would have had the means to listening in to these phone calls and had the desire to tap the phones whoever these people may have been in contact with. My answers were 1) the NSA, and 2) an Iraq working group within the NSA.
Why Iraq? Consider what was happening at the time. The US had recently led an invasion of Iraq to remove Iraq from Kuwait following a six-month period of threats and preparation. During that six-month period, Iraq received and cultivated support from fundamentalist preachers opposed to the presence of infidels on Muslim land. The preachers were effective enough to threaten the Saudis' continued participation in the coalition and had an effect on Western analysis as well. One of the memes to have come out of the Iraqi-fundamentalist alliance is "The Arab Street", meaning this network of preachers and their ability to form large crowds of protesters and threaten to turn to violence whenever they want to pressure anyone for concessions. Another is "Linkage", the idea that Israel is at fault for everything that goes wrong in the Middle East and we should pressure Israel for concessions whenever Iran and Iraq are shooting at each other again or when there's a street fight between Saudi and Iranian proxy forces in Bahrain. One of the leaders of the fundamentalist preachers who allied with Iraq was a Sudanese named Hassan Turabi. Anybody who was focusing on the activities of Iraqi intelligence and their new friends would have been keeping tabs on this guy. Word is that Turabi was also the man who put out the invite for the Popular Arab and Islamic Congress, so anyone focusing on him and his friends would have found him and his friends. Hence my suspicion that someone in the NSA's Iraq group picked up on this big meeting and wrote a report on it because you'd have to be a complete idiot not to.
So to finally get to the point, I asked the NSA if they had any summary reports on whatever went down there. The NSA's response, as a matter of course, was a Fuck Off letter. The existence or nonexistence of the US having had any intelligence on al-Qaeda in 1991 is "currently and properly classified". Like, I heard there was this guy named Osama bin Laden and he was a total asshole... oh shit, that's a state secret! And everything is classified. The technology known as the "Black Marker" is so secret and restricted that even the NSA does not have access to it. The justification for this derpination is Executive Order 13526 Section 1.4(c) which has jack shit to do with what I asked for, and the letter also cites a few laws which are also irrelevant non sequitors. The Fuck Off letter is attributed to Pamela N. Phillips, chief of the Public Affairs office, and was probably copied and pasted by someone from a temp agency.
So that's the world we live in where we are not allowed to know who we are at war with and the stupidity community places the highest priority on protecting our enemies' secrets. It's like they're run by a cargo cult with a vague idea that the job involves secrecy but no real understanding of how and why things are supposed to work.
[Edit May 15] I mailed out my response to the NSA today. I expect them to bin it and pretend they never got it. [Edit June 6] They sent back a response, dated May 30, telling me not to expect an answer any time soon.
Please be advised that appeals are processed in the order in which they are received, on a first-in, first-out basis. At this time, there are a large number of appeals ahead of yours in our queue.
If things are that slow, they need to ask Congress for a budget to hire more people. Also, the NSA is under the Department of Defense which should have a large number of people sitting around waiting for orders. One would imagine this to be a solveable problem.
For another solveable problem, their mail room is too damn slow. They say it took until the 28th to get my appeal. That's nine business days, and the USPS certainly got it to them within four. The response, dated May 30, is postmarked as mailed on the 3rd (the Tuesday after the weekend) and appeared in my mailbox on the 6th.
The letter is signed by a Brian C., FOIA/PA Appeals Program Manager, Office of Associate General Counsel (Litigation). Again I wonder if I am really getting the attention of chiefs and managers or if they just stamp the manager's name and sig on everything. My request is case number 77703 and appeal number 3991.
There is a chart of alleged PAIC attendees on page 88 of The Terrorists' Internationale by J. Millard Burr, co-author of the banned Alms for Jihad and the highly recommended Revolutionary Sudan. According to this list, the co-founders of the global al-Qaeda network include a son of the head of Iraqi intelligence, the "moderate" Rashid Ghannouchi whose "moderate" Ennahda moderately moderated Tunisia, numerous Muslim Brotherhood chapters from around the world, Hezbollah, and the PLO. Unfortunately, Burr does not cite his sources.
Good news: You can now send FOIA requests over email.
Bad news: You need a password.
Your request for a copy of fax sent into the FBI on 12/30/2000 is not searchable in our indices. For your information, the FBI Central Records System is not arranged in a manner that allows for the retrieval of information in the form for which you have requested. Items are indexed according to individual investigatory interests.
I gave them the date, a time range, the FBI recipient city, two names used by the sender, the name of the sender's employer, and the name of the subject of the report. That was not enough.
[EDIT Apr 15] correcting my account of how much information I gave them. I did not have the fax number.