Uncensored Previously Censored FOIA Documents Reveal DHS Officials Found Politically Censoring FOIA Requests CRAZY
from the a-big-helping-of-meddling,-with-nuts-and-bananas dept
When President Obama first took office, one of his first acts was to tell government employees to be a lot more open in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. The key paragraph:
The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.
Unfortunately, as we’ve noted, the administration has quite frequently failed to live up to this promise. Last fall, we noted the particularly troubling news that Homeland Security had basically ignored the very basis of the above paragraph, and instead instituted special new processes to give FOIA requests extra political scrutiny to avoid embarrassing officials. In fact, they singled out certain groups, including the EFF, as requiring extra political scrutiny, rather than the basic scrutiny that is only supposed to make sure that classified/confidential info doesn’t get out.
Amazingly, the FOIA requests that revealed this info… turn out to have been politically censored as well through that same process. The same documents have been released again — this time without the extra redactions — and we discover that a bunch of folks within Homeland Security were quite angry about the politicization of the FOIA process, with Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, who was in charge of the FOIA process, complaining that this politicization was “CRAZY.” Other emails show that DHS officials declared the politicized process to be: “meddling,” “nuts” and “bananas!”
It’s nice that all of this is coming out now, but it’s immensely troubling that Homeland Security tried to politicize the FOIA process, and got away with it for a while as well. It’s also unclear if similar politicization has taken place elsewhere in the administration. If the President really believed in that memo that he sent out when he first took office, why isn’t he taking a stand against the fact that DHS specifically appeared to go against the very basis of that memo?