Nonprofit Sues for Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘Snowflakes’

WASHINGTON (CN) – A nonprofit claims in a federal lawsuit that the Department of Defense froze its request for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes,” a trove of unreleased internal memos and declarations from his time in the Bush administration.

The so-called snowflakes would be an addition to the massive collection of government documents the nonprofit National Security Archive has made public since its founding in 1985.

Though Rumsfeld released some of the snowflakes in his 2011 autobiography “Known and Unknown: A Memoir,” he has not come through on a promise to publish others on his personal website, the nonprofit claims in a complaint filed Friday in Washington, D.C., federal court.

The Rumsfeld website released in conjunction with “Known and Unknown” says his short memos made during and after 2001 were nicknamed snowflakes and quickly became a system of communication with department employees.

The unreleased documents sought by the nonprofit cover topics from Iran’s nuclear program to the Guantanamo Bay detention center and could run more than 95,000 pages, according to the complaint.

Most are unclassified, though some that were classified have been published “either in full, after being declassified or in partially redacted form,” the National Security Archive claims.

“The snowflakes vary in form,” the National Security Archive says in the complaint. “Some are lengthy policy memoranda while others are short declarations. In general, the snowflakes were dictated into a handheld tape-recorder and transcribed by an assistant.”

A week after Rumsfeld’s biography was published in February 2011, the National Security Archive filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense asking for the snowflakes and other documents the department had passed to Rumsfeld.

But after more than six years of in-person negotiations and constant communication between the government and the nonprofit, the Department of Defense still hasn’t turned over all the documents, leading the National Security Archive to file suit, looking for a judge’s help with winning their release.

The department’s FOIA office was originally cooperative with the nonprofit, saying it was “amenable” to producing the snowflakes in 2011. But as the years went on the department began to claim the set of documents the nonprofit was after was too large, eventually telling the National Security Archive last year it could only turn over a “narrowed down production” of the snowflakes, the lawsuit states.

The nonprofit says it already has some of Rumsfeld’s snowflakes – 19 from a “public leak” and six from a separate FOIA request started in 2009 – but it still hasn’t received any from its most recent request, according to the seven-page complaint.

The National Security Archive, which is represented by Skadden Arps attorney Clifford Sloan, did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit sent by email Tuesday night.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense declined comment Wednesday, citing department policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.

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