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DoD: Media must request drone strike data

Mar. 14, 2013 - 01:21PM   |  
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Information on weapon releases from remotely piloted aircraft — previously made open to the public — is now only available through official Freedom of Information Act requests.

On Friday, Defense News reported the Air Force was no longer providing a breakdown of weapon releases from remotely piloted aircraft in a monthly summary of airpower statistics. Additionally, Air Forces Central Command removed the information from previously released breakdowns. The releases still contained the RPA data as of Feb. 16, according to an online archive, and metadata in the RPA-less versions of the reports show the files were all created Feb. 22.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement earlier this week the decision to remove the statistics was made in collaboration with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) because the data disproportionately focused on the weapon releases from RPAs.

ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Les Carroll today refused to expand on the decision. Air Forces Central Command referred all queries to ISAF.

A DoD spokesman said reporters would be able to lay hands on the monthly weapon release stats — if they are willing to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In other words, the public information is now behind a less-than-accessible firewall.

“It’s disappointing when an agency decides to make it more complicated and bureaucratic to get information that had been freely available,” said Sean Moulton, director of Open Government Policy with the Center for Effective Government. “It costs them more money, it costs the public more time and money, to get that information that was previously just being released.”

The Defense Department “doesn’t have a good reputation when it comes to FOIA,” Moulton added.

The revelation of DoD’s new policy on the drone statistics comes during “Sunshine Week,” an event organized by a number of good-government groups — including Moulton’s — to encourage more transparency in the government.

The Central Command statement from earlier this week said that protecting civilians remains at the core of AFCENT’s mission and that “the use of all AFCENT aerial weapons are tightly restricted, meticulously planned, carefully supervised and coordinated, and applied by only qualified and authorized personnel.”

About 3 percent of RPA sorties in Afghanistan included weapons releases, according to Central Command.

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