Today the United States celebrates its “Freedom of Information Day”. It is supposed to provide an occasion to focus on issues of public access to information and transparency in the US government.
Given the extensive capacity of United States agencies, particularly their intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the US possesses considerable information about the rest of the world, including information on various illicit activities conducted by state and non-state actors. With this in mind, while investigating economic crime during apartheid, Open Secrets submitted several FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2013 and 2016 respectively.
We asked the FBI for their records on notorious oil sanctions buster and founder of Glencore, Marc Rich. We asked the CIA for records in their possession related to individuals and companies that assisted the apartheid regime in busting the UN arms embargo in place during the 1970s and 1980s.
It took the FBI nearly five years and the CIA two years to respond to these requests. In the last two weeks, around 2000 pages arrived from both agencies in response to our request. Well over 1000 of those pages are fully redacted, with the remainder extensively redacted. This makes the records completely meaningless, as is evident from the images below.
Despite the fact that these documents speak to complicity in crimes against humanity that took place thirty years ago, the US state still chooses secrecy over access to information and truth. Contrary to the underlying values of Freedom of Information Day, namely championing transparency in government by facilitating public access to information, the US Government’s approach to access to information appears to be reduced to a mere formality.
A culture of secrecy remains a primary weapon of the powerful to guard their interests. We need to continue to dismantle this culture by not only calling for access to information, but demanding access to information that is meaningful and disclosure of information that is in the public, and not the state’s interest.
These images are indicative of how most of the ‘declassified’ records look like.