The Whopper That Got Away
Last week an article entitled, “Look Here, Birthers!” drew attention to a video which showed what was claimed to be Obama’s passport. That article and video came shortly after 2 FOIA requests for the passport records of Obama’s mother had been answered with the release of some documents. While the FOIA responses and passport video were being analyzed in the blogosphere – a necessary venture – a much bigger story was being ignored: what I’ll call “The Whopper That Got Away”.
Among the documents the State Department released to Chris Strunk was a 1967 amendment to a passport issued to Stanley Ann Dunham in 1965. In the official FOIA response it was explained:
“We did not locate a I965 passport application referenced in an application for amendment of passport that is included in the released documents. Many, passport applications and other non-vital records from that period were destroyed during the 1980s in accordance with guidance from the General Services Administration.”
Later, an affidavit was filed by Alex Galovich, the supervisor in charge of FOIA responses for the State Department. The affidavit described how Strunk’s request was processed and included a memo cryptically dated Feb 6, 1985 which claimed that
1. Sometime between the late 60’s and 1982, passport file retention requirements were changed from 100 years to 15-20 years, and
2. A project begun in June of 1984 had resulted in the destruction of records from 125 million passport files dating through November of 1961. The 40 workers, if full-time, would each have processed about 2,170 files/hour (taking about 2 seconds apiece), sorting out records in Class A from Class B (below). I think you can see why I call this “The Whopper”:
Class A: A listing of the primary documents being retained is as follows:
- REPORTS OF BIRTH
- CERTIFICATES OF WITNESS TO MARRIAGE
- CERTIFICATES OF LOSS OF NATIONALITY (WITH ATTACHED FILES)
- REPORTS OF DEATH
- APPLICATIONS WITH DELAYED BIRTH CERTIFICATES OR SPECIAL REGISTRATIONS ATTACHED
- APPLICATIONS (NATIVE BORN) WITH SECONDARY EVIDENCE OF BIRTH/IDENTITY ATTACHED
- APPLICATIONS OF FOREIGN BORN CITIZENS
- APPLICATIONS INCLUDING FOREIGN BORN CITIZENS
- APPLICATIONS OF WOMEN ACQUIRING CITIZENSHIP THROUGH MARRIAGE
- APPLICATIONS TO RESUME CITIZENSHIP (VOTING IN ITALIAN ELECTIONS BETWEEN 1/1/46 AND 4/10/18)
- APPLICATIONS TO TAKE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE AND
- RENUNCIATION (SERVICE IN CANADIAN ARMY)
- APPLICATIONS FOR REGISTRATION, INCLUDING APPLICATIONS FOR CERTIFICATES OR CARDS OF IDENTITY, OR CARDS ISSUED FOR BORDER CROSSING PURPOSES.
- REGISTRATION APPLICATIONS
- ALL PHILIPPINE PASSPORT RECORDS
- LOOK-OUT CASES
- POSSIBLE LOSS, NON-ACQUISITION, NOR-RETENTION, DENIALS, LIMITATIONS, REVOCATIONS, QUESTIONABLE CITIZENSHIP CLAIMS, ETC (WITH ATTACHED FILES)
- FRAUDULENT CITIZENSHIP CASES OR CASES INVOLVING FRAUDULENT USE OF PASSPORT
- OUTSTANDING LOANS
- CLASSIFIED FILES.
Class B: A listing of the primary documents being eliminated follows:
- ROUTINE PASSPORT APPLICATIONS FOR NATIVE BORN CITIZENS (WITH OR WITHOUT BIRTH CERTIFICATES OR PHOTOSTATIC COPIES OF BIRTH CERTIFICATES ATTACHED)
- ROUTINE RENEWAL APPLICATIONS
- ROUTINE APPLICATIONS FOR FOR PASSPORTS FOR NATIVE BORN CITIZENS WHERE PREVIOUS PASSPORT USED AS EVIDENCE
- CORRESPONDENCE OF NON-CITIZENSHIP NATURE
- CHARGE-OUT SHEETS BEFORE 1969
That Got Away
And this alleged passport retention change and destruction of records “got away” without leaving any evidence in the official records. Agencies such as the State Department are “required to schedule all their records” – that is, to determine whether each record is to be kept, for how long, and in what form. The instructions for specific records is their “disposition”. Changing the disposition requires a formal process which is documented in the Federal Register, numbered, and posted (See 3303a here ).
A search of the Federal Register failed to locate a change from a 100-year retention to a 15-20-year retention for passport records. Further inquiries are being made.
The State Department’s listing of dispositions includes disposition changes for passport records that took place:
1. In 1978 when microfilming was required and paper records were allowed to be destroyed 15 years after microfilming ,
2. In 1979 when vital records were required to be kept separate from passport applications,
3. In 1982 when disposable statistics records were created (see #27 and #28 at ) ,
4. And in 1997, when the dispositions of all the records, by years, was clarified and reiterated – with passport applications and associated records from 1925-1970 required to be retained for 100 years.
That latest request, in 1997, lists the previous dispositions which were to be superseded – including #1-3 above and the agency’s records transfer orders for implementing those dispositions. Nothing on this even applies to passport files from 1925-1970, which is probably why the section on 1925-1970 is crossed out – since the instructions there are just a reiteration of the disposition still in effect and not a change at all. If there had been a change from a 100-year retention to a 15-20-year retention in the 1980’s which has since been changed back (explaining the current disposition on the Passport Office’s site – see Jacobsen Exhibit E), that is where it should be listed. It’s not.
The only trace of this alleged change is this memo submitted for Strunk’s FOIA case, to explain why the Passport Office didn’t disclose Stanley Ann Dunham’s 1965 passport application. This begs the question of why neither Galovich nor the memo he cited included either a copy, reference number , or date for the actual disposition change being claimed.
In the entire set of records dispositions for passport documents, the only retention periods less than 100 years are for:
1. Paper records from 1983-1999 which have already been microfilmed (which are to be retained in paper form for 15 years)
2. Abandoned and expired registrations and applications
3. Surrendered passport books.
4. Passport authorization lists which have already been microfilmed (retain paper copies 50 years)
5. Disposable statistics and accounting records
6. Routine correspondence and UIPA Requests
The only reference to a 15- or 20-year retention period is for paper copies of passport records that have already been microfilmed. Microfilming was made mandatory in 1977 for passport files.
The Evidence to Refute the Whopper
Unfortunately for the Passport Office, Phil Jacobsen requested and received his mother’s passport application from 1953 – a routine application which would have been destroyed along with Dunham’s if the records from those dates had actually been destroyed as claimed in the memo.
Alex Galovich said in his affidavit that the Passport Office searched PIERS (Passport Information Electronic Records Service), an electronic database of passports issued in 1978 and later, using Dunham’s various name combinations for the search. Although Galovich said, “The Department of State also maintains paper records of some passport applications”, he never said they searched the paper records.
In his affidavit and supporting Exhibits, Jacobsen shows that paper index records were required to be retained permanently. A search of those index cards would have revealed the status and location of the “missing” 1965 passport application as well as any other passport applications within the timeframe Strunk’s request covered (1960-1985).
1. The claim that Dunham’s pre-1967 passport records were destroyed is contradicted by the existence of Jacobsen’s mother’s passport documents from 1953.
2. Currently no record of change of retention periods has been found, and efforts to locate any such changes are continuing. Passport Services was contacted by phone and asked if passport records before 1970 had been destroyed; they refused to state whether they had or had not been destroyed, suggesting that would have to be answered by writing to the State Department.
3. The Passport Office’s website lists a 100-year retention requirement for passport files from 1925-1970 and has no warning or disclaimer that records before 1969 may have been destroyed as Galovich alleges. There is a charge of $50/person (or $150 for a third party) to search for passport records. If they are charging people to search for records from 1925-1970 that they falsely told people exist, and in fact have been destroyed, that appears to be a continuing fraud.
4. The claims on the memo in Galovich’s Declaration are not only unsupported by the documentation, they are physically impossible. The great probability is that this memo was totally fabricated as an excuse to keep from having to disclose Stanley Ann Dunham’s pre-1967 passport records. The State Department should either produce the required disposition change records to substantiate their claim, or refer this case to the DOJ Inspector General for an investigation of potential wrong-doing.
5. The permanent paper index cards would show ALL passports that were issued to Dunham, allowing those passport applications to be located. Those should be released immediately.