DOJ Tells Me It Can't Find A Copy Of The Gag Order Request It Already Released

from the good-work,-team-foia dept

As you may remember, earlier this summer, we (and many others) wrote about the ridiculous situation whereby Assistant US Attorney Niketh Velamoor not only sought a bogus subpoena for information on some hyperbolic commenters on the site, but also obtained a gag order. At the time, I noted that I had sent in FOIA requests to the DOJ for Velamoor’s initial application for the gag order as well as for the DOJ’s guidelines on requesting a gag order. It turned out that Paul Levy, from Public Citizen, did the same — though he (wisely, apparently) made his request directly to Velamoor, rather than to the DOJ’s FOIA office. From that, Levy received a copy of the gag order application, which we wrote about last month.

So, imagine my surprise to have the DOJ finally respond to my FOIA request a month later, only to tell me that it could find no responsive documents to my request. There is no real detail provided. Just this:

Of course, FOIA offices are notorious for claiming no responsive docs if you’re not 100% accurate in your request, but I think my request was pretty clear. Here was my request:

The June 4th application for a non-disclosure order by the US Attorneys Office in the Southern District of NY concerning the subpoena issued to Reason Magazine (or The non-disclosure order was granted on June 4th by Judge Frank Maass and vacated on June 19th. I am seeking the original application.

And, as we learned from the document that was released to Levy, it was an “Application for § 2705(b) Grand Jury Non-Disclosure Order to Service Provider.” And it was, indeed, filed and approved on June 4th. And it was clearly “In Re Grand Jury Subpoena to” The idea that the DOJ’s FOIA staff “could find no responsive documents” suggests a serious problem with how the FOIA office works — or how the US Attorney’s Office in NY files their documents. Clearly the document exists. After all it was released to Levy. And the description I gave of the document is pretty damn close to the actual document. I am, of course, free to “appeal” the “no responsive documents” claim, but it’s not clear what the point is here, since the document was already released (unbeknownst to the DOJ’s crack FOIA team).

At the very least, this should call into question how the DOJ handles its FOIA requests.

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Comments on “DOJ Tells Me It Can't Find A Copy Of The Gag Order Request It Already Released”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

” “appeal” your FOIA claim and include a copy of your copy of the document. Write in your appeal that “the document looks like this””

Are you guaranteeing to buy him a new front door after the SWAT team forces entry thus allowing DOJ officials to seize the copy of the document that he just told them he has so that they can give it back to him later (or not) ?

They might even force him to destroy his laptop just to be sure that he destroys his copy (a la UK raid on the Guardian where a laptop was symbolically murdered). Better budget for that too.

tqk (profile) says:

Orwell's an "also ran."

All of us who’ve been seeing parallels to 1984 have got it wrong all this time. Lewis Carroll is the seminal source we should have been comparing to.

So, what could explain this? Maybe it’s in the stack of documents waiting to be entered into the database, but the stack is so big and the secretary who does that hasn’t yet got around to it. I thought the court system had gone electronic and everything is now filed electronically, so a link to the court filing would handle this.

Or, they’re too busy finding bad guys and FOIA is low priority. Just wait. They’ll find time eventually.

Or, they don’t give a flying !@#$ that Congress wrote an FOIA law (they don’t have to, as there is no effective oversight), so !@#$ you!

Or, “What’s a database?”

“Drip, drip, drip, …”

That’s the sound of tyranny. Slow and steady wins the race. In other news, since there is no “front line” on the battlefield in the War On Terror (nor in the War On Drugs, coincidentally), perhaps the Pentagon’s new Law of War manual applies everywhere, including the continental USA. You may have been added to another list, that of “unprivileged belligerents” (formerly known as “unlawful combatants”).

In which case, you’re lucky you’re not already wearing an orange jumpsuit. Count your lucky stars for having got off easy this time. Don’t expect it to happen again.

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