Tag Archives: FOIA

Transparency Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Transparency Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Washington, DC — On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Property of the People filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the Bureau’s failure to comply with the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the FBI’s cyber-enabled surveillance platform named “Gravestone”.

Very little is publicly known about Gravestone. In late 2016, Property of the People located information online identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “metadata” about a previously unknown FBI surveillance platform named Gravestone. The metadata was posted on the DOJ’s website data.gov [screencaptures 1, 2].

The metadata and associated information on the DOJ site revealed, “Gravestone is a system consisting of an IP based camera, routers, firewalls, and a workstation to review surveillance video. The system provides Video Surveillance data to FBI field offices and is used by case agents.”

The DOJ shortly thereafter deleted the Gravestone entry from data.gov. This deletion appears to have part of a broader DOJ data.gov purge of publicly available information about FBI systems. While it is unclear precisely when the DOJ deleted the Gravestone information, the deletion appears to have occurred sometime between December 9, 2016 and January 24, 2017.

In March 2017, Property of the People submitted five Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI for records on Gravestone. The FBI failed to comply with the organization’s requests within the statutorily-permitted 20-working day deadline, and therefore the FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, earlier today, the group filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI to compel compliance with its FOIA requests.

Among other things, the transparency organization’s five FOIA requests seek FBI documents on Gravestone-related Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA), instructional and training materials, acquisition and maintenance records, and security incidents and misuse.

Under the E-Government Act of 2002, federal agencies are generally required to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments for all systems that collect personally identifiable information, and make these publicly available online. While it is unknown whether the DOJ and FBI consider Gravestone to be a National Security System, the DOJ’s own guidelines mandate that Privacy Impact Assessments be completed for all systems, including National Security Systems. Not only has the DOJ now purged all information about Gravestone from its website, but the FBI and DOJ have failed to make public any Privacy Impact Assessment for the FBI’s Gravestone system.

According to Property of the People Co-Founder, Ryan Shapiro:

“The FBI has a long, dark history of utilizing new surveillance technologies to facilitate violations of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the public requires access to documents about this cyber-enabled FBI surveillance platform.”

Shapiro continues:

“The FBI has failed to make public, and possibly even to conduct, the legally mandated Privacy Impact Assessment for its Gravestone surveillance system, and also failed to comply with our Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about Gravestone. True to form, the FBI appears intent on conducting surveillance with abandon on Americans while simultaneously refusing to comply with even the most basic requirements of transparency about this surveillance.”

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.

Property of the People Forensically Reconstructs Trump’s Undisclosed White House Visitor Logs

Property of the People Forensically Reconstructs Trump’s Undisclosed White House Visitor Logs


Partnership with ProPublica Makes 8,807 Meeting Records from the Executive Office of the President Searchable Online

Access the Searchable Records
HERE
Download the Raw Data HERE



Washington, DC
Property of the People, in partnership with ProPublica, published a searchable online database of 8,807 records today comprising meeting logs and calendar entries for five White House offices.

In a move roundly criticized by journalists and transparency groups, on April 14th, 2017, the Trump administration announced it was abandoning the Obama-era policy of making White House visitor logs open for public inspection. Seeking to restore public access to these crucial records, the Washington, D.C.-based transparency organization Property of the People filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with numerous White House offices, and filed suit against some of these offices for failure to comply with the group’s requests.

As a result, Property of the People obtained large portions of these White House visitor logs and calendars. In a publishing and development partnership with ProPublica, a searchable database containing 8,807 entries from these White House visitor logs and calendars was created for journalists and concerned citizens. The release contains entries spanning January 20, 2017 to September 6, 2017, which represent a large portion of the meetings taken by the White House’s executive Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

Just one of hundreds of pages of hand written visitors logs Property of the People obtained from the executive office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). ProPublica worked to digitize these records and thousands of others to forensically reconstruct the bulk of Trump’s White House visitor logs. A searchable database of the records is available via ProPublica HERE.

Within these records are revelations both small and large.  Today ProPublica leads with reporting based on the released documents that upon arrival at OMB director Mick Mulvaney’s calendar quickly became a who’s who black book of corporate and conservative interests — a selection includes casino magnate and friend of the president, Steve Wynn; representatives of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation; Wall Street and health CEOs; Koch Industries lobbyists; a Russian cryptocurrency evangelist; and a prominent member of the right wing Catholic organization Opus Dei.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of ProPublica, over 8,807 White House Complex meeting records are now available for public inspection. The searchable database of White House records is available via ProPublica’s website HERE.

Of their joint effort with ProPublica, Property of the People co-founder Ryan Shapiro says, “The ProPublica reporting based on our documents unmistakably reveals that OMB maintains an open door policy for those representing many of the most conservative interests in the country. Imagine what we might learn if the White House stopped hiding and actually made its full logs available. The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government. Trump’s secrecy surrounding White House visitor logs denies the public information it needs to hold this administration accountable.”

Property of the People Chair Sarahjane Blum adds, “obtaining these documents is an important step towards transparency, but the White House is still improperly withholding many names from these logs. Property of the People continues to vigorously seek release of these names through our ongoing FOIA litigation.”

Moving forward, new White House visitor logs and calendar entries will be added to the database as they are obtained by Property of the People via the organization’s continuing Freedom of Information Act requests and lawsuits.

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP

Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.

Documents Revealing Agency Payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels Provide Strong New Evidence for Impeachment

Documents Revealing Agency Payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels Provide Strong New Evidence for Impeachment

The White House National Security Council (NSC) paid over $1,000 for an unidentified guest to stay two nights at Donald Trump’s luxury resort Mar-a-Lago, according to an invoice obtained by transparency group Property of the People via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This payment, made with a U.S. government charge card, constitutes the first documented violation by President Trump of the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause. President Trump owns 99.99% of Mar-a-Lago, LLC directly, and the company’s profits are held in a revocable trust from which Trump may withdraw funds without restriction.

This and related documents were recently obtained via a FOIA request submitted by Property of the People as part of the organization’s Trump administration-specific transparency project, Operation 45.

The NSC invoice is the strongest evidence uncovered to date that Trump’s refusal to divest from his business empire has resulted in Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s anti-corruption Domestic Emoluments Clause. This provision prohibits the President from receiving emoluments (profitable payments, benefits, or advantages) paid by federal or state governments, beyond the salary approved by Congress.

A receipt from Donald Trump’s luxury Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago showing that the White House National Security Council was charged $1,092.00 for a guest to stay at the resort on March 3, and 4 of 2017. A copy of this invoice and several others can be reviewed in full HERE.

In the past, presidents possessing significant business holdings have divested themselves of their holdings or placed them into a blind trust prior to assuming office. President Trump, however, has adamantly refused to do either. Instead, Trump has placed his business empire into a revocable trust administered by his sons, a move that has been widely viewed by experts as insufficient. This trust is set up to allow Trump to withdraw any amount of money at any time for any reason “at his request.”

 

The released documents show that Mar-A-Lago charged the NSC full price for the rented room instead of offering the NSC a discounted rate covering only the resort’s costs. The NSC receipt lists the rate paid by the National Security Council as the “rack rate,” meaning the standard, non-discounted rate for the room. As such, the NSC’s payment to Mar-A-Lago constitutes a direct, profitable payment from a U.S. government agency to a business personally owned by Donald Trump. This is strong evidence of a violation by President Trump of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

A receipt from Donald Trump’s exclusive Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama showing that the US Embassy was charged $632.00 for a 4 night rental at the tower in June, 2017. A copy of this invoice and several others can be reviewed in full HERE.

Property of the People also obtained invoices showing payments by the United States Embassy to Trump’s hotel in Panama, and documentation of payments by unidentified federal employees to Trump’s Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas hotels. These payments were all made on official U.S. government charge cards. They were obtained through Property of the People’s FOIA request to the United States Coast Guard, which administers the charge card program for the Department of Homeland Security.

To date, discussion of the potential constitutional implications arising from Trump’s business holdings has focused primarily on the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Three lawsuits have now been filed against President Trump alleging violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and legal scholars and cities across the country are already calling for Trump’s impeachment on grounds including Foreign Emoluments violations. Far less attention has paid to the Domestic Emoluments Clause. The documents just obtained by Property of the People are the first solid evidence uncovered of Trump’s violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.

According to Property of the People Director Ryan Shapiro:

“These documents represent perhaps the clearest evidence yet that President Trump has violated the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The likely constitutional violation here belongs in any forthcoming articles of impeachment. Due to his glaring refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, the President has no one to blame but himself.”

Shapiro and Property of the People are also calling on the Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction over potential violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause, to investigate. Says Shapiro:

“These invoices are strong evidence of a constitutional violation and they warrant a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice.”

The complete set of documents obtained by Property of the People show that:

  1. The National Security Council paid $1,092 for a March 3-4, 2017 stay at President Trump’s luxury Palm Beach, FL golf resort, Mar-a-Lago.
  2. The U.S. Embassy in Panama paid $632 for a March 23, 2017 stay at Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Panama City.
  3. The Coast Guard paid $186.17 for a June 11-14, 2017 stay at Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas.
  4. The documents obtained by Property of the People also reveal the Coast Guard paid $62.40 for food or drink at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC on June 2, 2017.

The documents were obtained in response to a FOIA request submitted by Property of the People to the United States Coast Guard. Property of the People is also pursuing the release of charge card records from other federal agencies to which the organization has submitted similar requests. These agencies include the United States Secret Service, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Patrol, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Defense.

Related Documents

  1. DHS / Coast Guard Trump Properties Response, HERE
  2. Letter from Property of the People Calling on Attorney General Sessions and DOJ to Investigate Violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, HERE
  3. DHS Charge Card Expenses (March 3-5), HERE
  4. DHS Cover Letter, HERE

About Property of the People’s Operation 45

Property of the People is non-profit transparency organization co-founded in November 2016 by Ryan Shapiro and Jeffrey Light. Property of the People’s project Operation 45 seeks transparency and accountability from the Trump Administration. The Nation calls Operation 45 a ray of hope in these dark political times.”  Operation 45 is on twitter @opfortyfive

Ryan Shapiro is the co-founder and Director of Property of the People and a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a former Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro is widely known as a leading expert on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Politico describes Shapiro as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro’s path-breaking FOIA work has led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research methodologies a threat to national security. In November 2016, Shapiro co-founded the non-profit transparency organization Property of the People, whose project Operation 45 seeks transparency and accountability from the Trump Administration.  Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC based FOIA specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light. Light is on Twitter at @_lightlaw.

You can support Property of the People by donating HERE

FOIA Litigation Produces Letter from Senators Feinstein and Cardin Urging President Obama to Directly Respond to Russian Cyberattacks

FOIA Litigation Produces Letter from Senators Feinstein and Cardin Urging President Obama to Directly Respond to Russian Cyberattacks

Washington, DC —  Today, as a result of ongoing FOIA litigation, the US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security released four (4) documents to the newly formed transparency project Operation 45.  Among the documents released Friday afternoon were records responsive to a November 1, 2016 letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Benjamin Cardin wherein the Senators call on then President Barack Obama to take immediate action against Russia for intrusions into the 2016 election, which was at the moment of their letter just over a week away.

Activists and Journalists Have Sued the FBI for Withholding Donald Trump’s File

Activists and Journalists Have Sued the FBI for Withholding Donald Trump’s File

Washington, DC — The nonprofit transparency organization Property of the People has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking the release of Donald J. Trump’s FBI file.  The records requested, which cover a period from June 14, 1946 through June 15, 2015, will shed new light on already known investigations linking Trump to organized crime and will provide new information about Trump’s engagements with the bureau.

The effort is part of Property of the People’s Operation 45, a project dedicated to seeking transparency and accountability from the Trump administration. Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate, and investigative reporter Jason Leopold, are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

It has been nearly three months since Property of the People first filed their request to the FBI seeking, among other things, as the request states: “[a]ny and all records mentioning or referring to the living person Donald John Trump.”

Though the FBI has previously released multiple documents with Trump’s name on them from the period stated to Shapiro and Leopold, they have improperly withheld records from this most recent request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would infringe on Trump’s privacy. However, Operation 45 argues that the enormous public interest in obtaining this information clearly outweighs any embarrassment Trump might suffer. Additionally Trump’s own tweets acknowledging the FBI’s investigation of him negate any arguments that such records may not exist.

Moreover, the FBI has improperly withheld records from this request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would “risk circumvention of Federal law enforcement efforts.”  As stated in the complaint:

“Confirming that the FBI maintains files numbered 137-NY-19967 and 137-22152 would not disclose techniques, procedures, or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. Additionally, documents referencing file numbers 137-22152 and 137-NY-19967 in connection with the FBI’s contact with Mr. Trump are already available to the public. The disclosure of the mere existence or nonexistence of responsive records could not reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law. The FBI has not only unreasonably withheld the responsive records, but has unreasonably refused to even confirm the existence of responsive records.”

Plaintiff Shapiro asserts: “Given the profound gravity of the FBI’s past and ongoing investigations involving Donald J. Trump, the public interest in the release of the requested documents is immense. The American public absolutely deserves to know the full truth about the FBI’s historical and current operations involving the President.”

Property of the People vs. Department of Justice, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  The complaint can be read in it’s entirety HERE.

Property of the People is anew government transparency non-profit. Their project, Operation 45, dedicated to uncovering records relevant to the public interest concerning the current Presidential administration has been described by The Nation as “a ray of hope in these dark political times.” Operation 45 is on twitter @opfortyfive

Ryan Shapiro is the director of Operation 45 and the co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” He is a historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Jason Leopold is an award-winning Senior Investigative Reporter at Buzzfeed News, specializing in counterterrorism and human rights. Leopold has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices. Leopold is on twitter @JasonLeopold.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Washington, DC based FOIA specialist, Jeffrey Light.