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Navy blunders in sending reporter details on how to avoid his FOIA request

Published time: January 08, 2014 01:03
AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

A US Navy official mistakenly forwarded an email to a local news reporter this week outlining the Navy’s method of avoiding the very Freedom of Information Act requests that reporter had filed.

Scott MacFarlane, a news reporter for NBC 4 in Washington, DC, had filed a FOIA request with the Navy in an attempt to compel authorities to turn over documents related to the Navy Yard shooting in September. MacFarlane was seeking memos written by higher-ups at Naval Sea Systems Command from September, October, and November 2013--messages sent by the same officials in the hours directly after the shooting occurred, and images of building 197 at the Navy Yard, where the gunman killed 12 people and injured three others.

The Navy’s FOIA office confirmed that it had received MacFarlane’s request, but instead of sending him the relevant documents, they inadvertently sent an internal email containing instructions on how to avoid the reporter’s request. MacFarlane tweeted a screenshot of the message – which included the name of Robin Patterson, the Navy’s FOIA public liaison – accompanied by the phrase “EPIC FAILURE.”

I think the appropriate response is ‘cameras are prohibited from the premises, with the exception of ‘official photos’ of specific events and assemblies, or ceremonies, such as retirements,” the email read, in part. “This request is too broad to tie to the specific event. If you discover that there is a ‘photo library,’ I would recommend negotiating with the requester…”

MacFarlane also asked the Navy to waive fees beyond $15 because his request “is in the public interest….A compelling need exists to warrant expedited processing of this request, because a large number of our viewers are immediately impacted by the content of these records. There records relate directly to performance of government in matters of safety, health, and well-being.”

FOIA workers advised each other to avoid turning over information by telling MacFarlane his request was too broad and would constitute a “fishing expedition,” and that he should “narrow the scope of his request.”

Again, another ‘fishing expedition,’” the screenshot shows. “[J]ust because they are media doesn’t mean the memos shed light on specific government activities.”

Officials also singled out one of MacFarlane’s requests in particular, noting “this one is specific enough that we may be able to deny it. However, I want to talk with the FBI as they may have ‘all the emails during that time, in their possession.’”

The Navy has consistently denied media personnel access to Building 197 since the September shooting and has relocated workers to an office nearby while repairs are completed there.

Just hours after MacFarlane’s tweets went viral, the Navy’s Twitter feed published a series of messages addressing the military’s respect for the FOIA process.

Comments (16)

 

Superabound 09.01.2014 21:07

John Greenewald 09.01.2014 20:16

I have filed more than 4,000 FOIA requests. I always hate when people say "it doesn't work. It DOES. Does it involve patience? Yes. Does it require keeping on the agency to not play games? Yes. But, it DOES work. I archive over 1 MILLION pages of material I've received on The Black Vault

  


It works *just well enough* for the government to be able to claim that it is an "open and transparent" democracy, but it can still deny or censor any request that it wants to without without any justification or public recourse. Its feel-good theater.

 

John Greenewald 09.01.2014 20:16

I have filed more than 4,000 FOIA requests. I always hate when people say "it doesn't work. It DOES. Does it involve patience? Yes. Does it require keeping on the agency to not play games? Yes. But, it DOES work. I archive over 1 MILLION pages of material I've received on The Black Vault

 

JeffW 09.01.2014 12:32

Frank Fileccia 08.01.2014 03:01

#USNavy regrets the content of an internal email sent to

What they are really saying us

#USNavy regrets getting caught sending the content of an internal email sent to

  



...and then the Navy reiterates it's commitment to transparency and the FOIA program! How freaking insulting can the govt be to us? How many lies and how much deceit can be thrown at the American people at one time?

The low information voters and the blind followers are the only ones who believe this BS.

View all comments (16)
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