Egypt to WIB — Your Request for Military Secrets Is Denied
We here at War Is Boring are well aware of the power of the United States’ Freedom of Information Act. But despite FOIA being an American law, foreign governments can exercise an impressive amount of influence over the process.
At the beginning of August, we went looking for official orders regarding the U.S. Army shutting down its military training and technical assistance teams — a.k.a. TAFTs — in Egypt. An official Army article had highlighted this mission less than month before.
The last of two of the longest serving U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization Technical Assistance Field Teams concluded its mission with its departure from Egypt June 1.
The AH-64D (Apache) TAFT was established in Feb. 15, 1993, as a nine-man Army aviation team with the mission to advise and assist the Egyptian Air Force 550th Apache Wing in the fielding, training, and operational sustainment of three squadrons, consisting of 640 Egyptian airmen and 35 AH-64D attack helicopters.
In December 2014, the ground combat branch had wrapped up a similar mission to help with Cairo’s CH-47 Chinook transport choppers. That mission had started in 1988.
On July 6, the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C. sent a diplomatic note to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency — the Pentagon branch that oversees arms deals arranged for other nations — instructing American officials to block our request.
As one can see above, Gen. Yasser Kamal, director of the Egyptian Procurement Office ticked a box that reads:
Due to concerns of national security, we do not release this information to the public. Therefore, we request that the subject document (s) be withheld under Title 10 of the United States Code, Section 130c, since the information was provided by, made available by or produced in cooperation with our Government.
Kamal was well within his rights under one of FOIA’s nine exemptions. The third exemption — often referred to as B3 after its location within the law’s text — allows agencies to refuse to release documents because of provisions in other statues.
Under B3, Title 10 USC, Section 130c gives foreign powers a wide latitude to deny FOIA requests. While broad and written in legalese, the parameters are relatively easy to understand:
For the purposes of this section, information is sensitive information of a foreign government only if the national security official concerned makes each of the following determinations with respect to the information:
(1) That the information was provided by, otherwise made available by, or produced in cooperation with, a foreign government or international organization.
(2) That the foreign government or international organization is withholding the information from public disclosure (relying for that determination on the written representation of the foreign government or international organization to that effect).
(3) That any of the following conditions are met:
(A) The foreign government or international organization requests, in writing, that the information be withheld.
(B) The information was provided or made available to the United States Government on the condition that it not be released to the public.
(C) The information is an item of information, or is in a category of information, that the national security official concerned has specified in regulations prescribed under subsection (g) as being information the release of which would have an adverse effect on the ability of the United States Government to obtain the same or similar information in the future.
While these provisions are not supposed to expire until 25 years after an agency generates the documents and not apply to any records created before Oct. 25, 2000, the foreign country in question can still ask for the information to remain secret. All they have to do is put it in writing. The U.S. government will then consider extending the exemption.
This isn’t the first time War Is Boring has run into this problem, either. In 2014, we obtained a similar note — seen above — from Yemen’s Ministry of Defense asking the Army to keep back documents in another request.
Maj. Gen. Saleh Mohammed Hassan Salem, the assistant minister of defense for logistics support, also cited Title 10 USC, Section 130c in his letter. We eventually got a trove of documents that had not directly required Sana’a’s cooperation.
But despite these denials, we’re not going to stop trying to get more records of the U.S. military’s cooperation with foreign powers.