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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: cia, computers, foia, secrecy


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 1 Oct 2014 @ 7:37am

    Of course the number is redacted.

    The public would be furious if the CIA paid more than $1 for an Apple.

    >:]

    The non-joking side of this: it could have been much more than the going retail price at the time.

    :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 1 Oct 2014 @ 9:25am

    You have to understand, they redacted it because that is where the IRS head's email was stored....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    johnjac (profile), 1 Oct 2014 @ 9:31am

    It doesn't make sense until you realize that this is the CIA security question for master password resets:
    What was the price of your first computer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2014 @ 9:44am

    All in a name

    What do you call an organization made up of paranoid schizophrenics who give instruction to psychopaths?

    CIA

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 1 Oct 2014 @ 9:59am

    Hmmm, I think that by now they are just redacting because they can. If they could they would simply not release any document and ignore the FOIA thing altogether.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2014 @ 10:08am

    Knowing the prices that they purchased their first computers for would cause the terrorists to change tactics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Just Another Anonymous Troll, 1 Oct 2014 @ 11:03am

      Re:

      And then they could evade detection and blow stuff up, so sign away all your civil liberties or else you will DIE DIE DIE!!! DO IT NOW OR THE TERRORISTS WILL KILL US ALL!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Shill on duty, 1 Oct 2014 @ 3:57pm

      Re:

      Well, yeah, if the terrorists know the cost of each piece of equipment that we buy they can better figure out how to cost us or make us spend the most money using as little of their money as possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2014 @ 10:22am

    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.

    http://articles.latimes.com/1986-07-30/news/vw-18804_1_nut

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2014 @ 3:43pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Blah, 1 Oct 2014 @ 12:27pm

    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...)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiga_2000

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyoty (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:53pm

      Re: What model? A2000?

      If they were using it for video processing, which appears to be so, then five figures is possible. The 2000 plus pre-Toaster video cards plus high-capacity hard drives plus printers plus whatever else the system needed could have been at least $8000.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 1 Oct 2014 @ 1:13pm

    Petty cash?

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

    Maybe they redacted the purchase price in order to conceal the size of their petty cash budget, which this makes sound relatively large. Of course one could just look up the price of an Amiga from that time and get an approximate number anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John, 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:02am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dirkmaster (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:20am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:04pm

    This sort of thing happens often enough that it may be time for a new word. Since government agencies seem to just randomly redact things for the hell of it, maybe "randaction?"

    Of course, this is probably just a [RANDACTED] idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Blah, 4 Oct 2014 @ 10:16pm

    Anyway, later released and...

    http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/DOC_0006122414_0.pdf

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Sponsored Promotion
Public Money, Public Code - Sign The Open Letter at publiccode.eu
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.