On President Obama's first day in office, the White House's 44th Temporary Occupant pledged "a new era of openness in our country" by a) signing an executive order committing the administration to transparency and b) issuing two presidential memoranda to achieve those results. Among other things, declared the duly informed National Security Archive, Freedom of Information Act requests would demand "a presumption of disclosure for government records and a hostility to the use of secrecy laws to cover up embarrassing information." It looked swell on paper, especially after the Bush regime’s 9/11 info-lockdown. But we all know how that turned out.
In March, an Associated Press analysis produced a sharp rebuke to the transparency initiative, reporting not merely bureaucratic foot-dragging on FOIA processing but an alarming backslide for taxpayers who might be curious to see what our money's buying. “Five years after Obama directed agencies to less frequently invoke a ‘deliberative process’ exception to withhold materials describing decision-making behind the scenes,” stated the AP, “the government did it anyway, a record 81,752 times.” Furthermore, The National Security Archive announced that 50 of 101 federal agencies have failed to comply with a 2007 congressional mandate to update their FOIA policies, and that 55 of those agencies “have FOIA regulations that predate and ignore President Obama's and Attorney General Holder's 2009 guidance for a ‘presumption of disclosure.’” And then came a dispiriting assessment of 15 major federal agencies from the Center For Effective Government, which graded the likes of the Social Security Administration to the State Department on FOIA processing, communications policies, and user-friendly websites. Seven of the 15 flunked. Said the Center’s CEO: “The fact that no agency achieved a top grade across all three areas illustrates the difficulty agencies are having with implementation overall.”
There are, of course, myriad possible explanations. Maybe, given budget cutbacks, there aren’t enough personnel to manage the crush of volume anymore. Maybe Obama was just kidding. Or maybe the federal culture of classification and secrecy is so pervasive and hard-wired, executive and legislative directives just don’t matter anymore.
Either way, as a handful of UFO researchers have discovered, the censorship epidemic has recently thrown a tarp over America's raw radar records. The dominoes began toppling in 2009, when the Federal Aviation Administration started sequestering ERIT data. ERIT — a computer program called the En Route Intelligence Tool — logs everything that reflects pingbacks, including a lot of chaotic junk that air traffic controllers normally don’t need to see on their screens, e.g., birds, bug swarms, false echoes, even jet contrails. ATC operators' top priority is legitimate air traffic, mapped by the National Track Analysis Program. NTAP’s real-time system filters out all the extraneous clutter and concentrates on targets that are supposed to be there, namely, aircraft with signal beacons, or transponders.
Since The Great Taboo ignores our transponder laws, UFO researchers fielding credible eyewitness reports have lately, via FOIA requests, been sifting through ERIT data, which can corroborate, or challenge, eyewitness narratives about location, speed, and direction. Traditionally, that sort of material has been an under-explored resource in getting a bigger forensic picture on UFO encounters.
“You almost never get good radar data, for a variety of reasons,” says Mark Rodeghier, director of the Center for UFO Studies in Chicago. “There’s ignorance that it could be done in the first place. Sighting reports lag behind the event. Say you get the report a week after it happened, then you’ve got to investigate it before you can determine if it’s strong enough to go after the records, and you’ve only got a couple of weeks to request the records because they’re only required to keep it in their files for so long.
“You have to use the FOIA channels judiciously. It’s not a simple process to analyze radar data, you have to know what you’re doing. And if you waste too many requests, understandably you can imagine how FOIA officies will react.”
To reiterate, the FAA began yanking ERIT records from the public domain in 2009, ostensibly because it could expose America’s radar-coverage vulnerabilities. What’s a little weird is how that vulnerability window stood wide open for a good eight years after 9/11. And nobody thought to slam it shut until researchers Glen Schulze and Robert Powell came along. In 2008, they successfully FOIA’d radar records to reconstruct the Stephenville UFO incident, which had national security implications because it involved jet fighters and a non-transpondered flight beelining directly for the no-fly zone around President Bush’s ranch in Texas. While nearby military bases claimed their radar logs had been routinely auto-purged, the FAA and National Weather Service complied with the FOIA law, and the result was one of the best-documented UFO events on record.
Among the ironies of the FAA’s blackout of ERIT records, Powell argues, is that raw data wouldn’t be of much use to evil-doers, who presumably would be more interested in seeing what pops up on ATC screens in order to find those Swiss-cheese blind spots in which to do evil. Or the evil-doers could simply fly low beneath radar coverage altogether. But here's the kicker: Until just a few months ago, UFO radar analysts found a way to bypass the FAA embargo on ERIT material. They got it from military sources, namely, the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (84th RADES) at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Researchers did it discreetly, of course, rarely if ever mentioning The Great Taboo in their FOIAs. But the Stephenville case, which confirmed eyewitness accounts and forced the USAF to retract its initial assertion that it had no planes in the air that night, provided a model for future research.
Perhaps inevitably, Air Combat Command, which oversees 84 RADES from its headquarters in Langley, Va., has turned off the ERIT spigot once and for all. In a dispatch to Powell, ACC said this was a consensus decision also involving the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security’s Long Range Radar Joint Program Office. In asserting the ERIT data was owned by the DoD, DHS, and the FAA, the ACC stated 84 RADES has “never received or requested approval to release this information to the public,” and apparently it will not be authorized to do so. (By the way, has your head exploded from the cascading acronyms yet?)
Researchers say their requests for clarification about the new rules simply dissipate without a response at all. De Void was a little skeptical. After all, from first-hand experience, government bureaucracies at least acknowledge receipt of a media query, usually within 24 hours. So De Void passed a few concerns along to the Pentagon via its designated point person on this issue, USAF PIO Anh Trinh — questions like why did it take so long for the DoD to plug this gaping hole to potential evil-doers, how high up the chain of command did this decision-making go, etc., etc.
It’s been well over a week now without so much as an official “We got your stuff, draft a formal FOIA letter to XYZ, now flake off.” But then, when bureaucracies are free to ignore Congress and the White House, hey, what’s one lousy newspaper reporter?
Continue Reading . . .
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