CIA Can't Let You Know How Much It Paid For A Single Amiga Computer In 1987 [Updated]

from the and-the-closest-without-going-over... dept

Update: After all that, the CIA says this was just “an error” and a new version will be released tomorrow without the redactions. Of course, that raises other questions about how the error happened and how often such errors don’t get caught. Original story below.

Steven Aftergood at the FAS (Federation of American Scientists) Secrecy Blog came across this interesting redaction of mundane information while perusing the “Studies in Intelligence” journals recently released by the CIA. In an article [pdf link] touting the purchase of a product that would forever change the world of the CIA’s in-house video production department, the actual purchase price has been redacted.

If you can’t read/see the picture, it says:

We bought our first Commodore Amiga in 1987, for less than [REDACTED] including software.

Twenty-seven years later, this dollar amount still can only be speculated on. (Aftergood prices it out with Wikipedia’s help.) It couldn’t have been much, though. The preceding paragraph states:

We did not have a big budget, so we were tempted to buy the system with petty cash.

Does the CIA actually believe some sort of irreparable rift in the National Security Complex might occur if this dollar amount from three decades ago (unadjusted for inflation) was made public? Probably not. Aftergood theorizes that it’s a blanket exemption used to redact more sensitive dollar amounts and this innocent cost just became collateral damage during the rush to declassify several dozen documents in response to an FOIA lawsuit court order.

CIA seems to have adopted a declassification rule dictating that all of its expenditures, no matter how trivial, shall be withheld from disclosure, except in extraordinary cases (or the occasional mistake). The Agency might go on to argue that such a rule actually facilitates disclosure by expediting the declassification review process. That’s because instead of needing to pause to consider the potential ramifications of any individual spending disclosure, the Agency can proceed more quickly by simply withholding all such figures.

So, there’s the excuse for over-redaction, even if it isn’t much of one. Aftergood points out that efforts have been made to scale back overbroad classification and redactions since 1997, but little if anything has come of those attempts — part of the reason why so many FOIA requests end in lawsuits.

Also of note: the author’s adoration of the new technology leads to the innocent Amiga being used for evil.

We are experimenting with photo enhancement and colorization of black-and-white photography. Future Executive Summaries will include “Turnerized” ground photos.

While this CIA doc is good for a few laughs at the agency’s overprotective tendencies, it must be noted that these documents stem from former CIA agent Jeffrey Scudder’s FOIA request — a request that ended his career and saw his house raided by the FBI, which seized every electronic device it came across. The CIA destroyed the life of a 19-year employee who had served the agency in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq in order to withhold things like a three-decade-old computer purchase.

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Comments on “CIA Can't Let You Know How Much It Paid For A Single Amiga Computer In 1987 [Updated]”

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Anonymous Coward says:

There was a time when the mainstream news media had a field day reporting on the shockingly high prices the government, and the military in particular, was paying for (seemingly) everyday items. Thousand-dollar toilet seats, etc. (This went on for a decade, but has been strangely absent in recent years).

This no doubt caused much embarrassment, making it understandable why any department of the federal government is reluctant to reveal the price paid for anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…time when the mainstream news media had a field day reporting on the shockingly high prices the government, and the military in particular, was paying for (seemingly) everyday items. Thousand-dollar toilet seats, etc…

How much of that money went towards those items? Or did some of that money go to other items the government doesn’t want to talk about?

Blah says:

What model? A2000?

Hmm. 1987? Probably one of the early US Amiga 2000s. Those things were built like tanks and weren’t as cheap as the familiar home-oriented 500, likely quite legitimately they’d have paid a four-figure sum, maybe low five figures with a load of expansions and payware software. (still arguably cheap for what an amiga could do at the time…)

John says:

Someone should create a game. Redaction Theatre.

The idea is to treat redacted documents like the old game Mad Libs and fill out the blank spots with humourous or insightful replacements. Using the example above: We bought our first Commodore Amiga in 1987 for less than a blowjob including software.

The more heavily redacted a document is, the more fun would be had by all.

Dirkmaster (profile) says:

Actually, they could have bought it at the Exchange

I bought my first Amiga at the Navy Exchange in Charleston, SC in 1987. Total price was in the neighborhood of $1500 after the external floppy drive, additional 256K internal memory module, and monitor (which I also played VHS tapes on, as it had an RCA inputs as well). Drug them down into the sub later that year (kept them in their boxes, the monitor box just fit down the hatch). I bought an Epson printer there too, and took it as well. The officers loved the reports I could generate!

Blah says:

Anyway, later released and...

So “Less than $2000” initially (suggesting a shiny new 1987 Amiga 2000) and “less than $20000” over for years for 3 workstations, extra harddrives, ram, and a bunch of neat video-related peripherals.

So I’d reasonable normal cost for a fancy amiga video-processing setup of the era alright, and a small fraction of what they’d probably have paid trying to do it with anything else.

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