from the oops dept
Those documents were certainly interesting, but perhaps more interesting (and troubling) is that last fall, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) in Congress had asked DHS for similar information, including "all mission logs related to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's (CBP) drone program from 2010 to 2013." DHS eventually handed over that information, including many of the same documents it released to the EFF, which were shared publicly. Except... the documents it gave to Congress had many more redactions than the ones they released to EFF.
Senator Tom Coburn's staff noticed this, and thought it was, well, rather odd, that DHS seems to think that the public can handle the information, while the relevant oversight committee in Congress cannot. Coburn has now sent a letter asking about the differences:
DHS insisted these documents were so sensitive they could not be produced without explicit promises they would be handled with utmost care, and reviewed only by Committee staff. The Department further requested the Committee promise not to release any document without receiving permission from DHS, and to return or destroy all documents when they had been reviewed. The Committee declined to oblige this virtually unprecedented request.Oh, also, Coburn's staff noticed that some of the documents included don't appear to have been given to EFF at all, raising a separate question: that even among the newly found documents that DHS is still withholding pertinent information.
The documents DHS produced are extensively redacted. DHS claims it redacted information relating to activities by other agencies. The release of that information to Congress, it stated, is "under review," presumably with the other agencies.
My staff has reviewed the logs DHS produced for calendar year 2010. From this limited review, it appears that DHS has redacted information in the documents it provided to the Committee that is not redacted in the same documents DOJ released publicly.
For 2010 alone, my staff has tallied at least 20 instances in which the publicly-released documents appear to contain legible passages which are redacted entirely or in large part from the documents DHS provided the Committee. In other words, DHS appears to have chosen to withhold information from Congress which the DOJ -- and, we must assume, DHS -- has determined was appropriate to share with the American public. I have attached examples to this letter for your review.
Also of concern is the apparent lack of coordination between DHS and outside agencies, particularly the Department of Justice. DHS stated to the Committee that the passages it redacted were "pending review" with an outside agency. However, a comparison of the redacted passages with the publicly-released documents reveals that several of those passages relate to support for DOJ components, including the FBI. If the DOJ compels public release of documents detailing activities on behalf of its own component, and the documents are subsequently released to the public, it is not clear why DHS would later withhold the same information from Congress in order to consult with DOJ.
Of secondary concern but still significant, my staff noted several instances in which information that was provided to Congress does not seem to appear, even in redacted form, in the public documents released to the public interest group, suggesting that information may have been withheld in full from the organization without explanation or accounting.Not surprisingly, Coburn is... not pleased with DHS over this.
The Department's conduct in this matter has impacted the Committee's ability to conduct its Constitutional responsibilities to oversee DHS operations. It has delayed access to relevant documents, and what it has provided falls short of what it is required to share with anyone, let alone in response to a Congressional request.After all this, Coburn orders DHS to hand over "a full, unredacted set of the documents" as soon as possible.
For over a year, this Committee has pressed the Department for more information regarding its unmanned aerial vehicle operations. These improperly redacted documents raise even more questions. If these vehicles are being operated in accordance with U.S. laws and in support of the Department's statutory mission, the lawfulness and efficacy of their operations should be easily demonstrable. This exercise may be said to demonstrate many things, but it does not demonstrate efficiency or transparency. Congress and the American people have a right to expect more from a Department which asks to be trusted with powerful tools and great authorities.