Feds Keep Magically Finding Documents They Insisted Didn't Previously Exist

from the funny-how-that-works dept

We just wrote about a FOIA request where the government said there were no responsive documents, even though it had already released the very responsive document. It appears that this kind of thing is a common problem in the government — and it doesn’t seem to get solved until you sue the government. Here are two examples.

First up, Gawker had sought the email communications of Hillary Clinton deputy Philippe Reines, focused on his conversations with journalists. The State Department came back with a no responsive records reply, which was clearly bullshit, since Reines was known for regularly emailing reporters. So Gawker sued and guess what just happened: the State Department just magically found 17,855 emails that are likely responsive. How about that?

Next, we’ve got Vice, where “FOIA terrorist” Jason Leopold is employed. As you may remember, back in 2014, Ed Snowden claimed that he had made multiple attempts at raising concerns internally at the NSA. Eventually, the Director of National Intelligence released a single email between Snowden and the NSA’s General Counsel, which was just asking a specific question. The NSA did hint (in a different FOIA request response) at the likelihood of there being more emails it didn’t plan to release. Leopold sent a more specific FOIA request to the NSA… and was told there were “no responsive documents.”

And, as he’s done more than basically anyone, Leopold sued. And at a hearing in that case, the government is now admitting that there are three more emails that Snowden sent to the NSA’s Oversight & Compliance Office, though the DOJ claims that none of these emails were actually raising questions about NSA surveillance. It’s certainly possible that, in this case, it’s true that there really were no more responsive documents, but the late addition noting these three other emails, once again, suggests that when sued, the government suddenly starts finding more documents than when directly asked under FOIA.

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Companies: gawker, vice

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Comments on “Feds Keep Magically Finding Documents They Insisted Didn't Previously Exist”

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12 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

On the contrary, they know exactly what they’re doing. In particular, they know that the only thing that can force them to release any documents is a lawsuit, and they know most people will give up rather than file one, so the more roadblocks they can throw out, making the process as painful as possible, the less work they have to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Freedom Of Information Act lawsuits sound like a big time and money waster. What’s the reward? Illegible documents with black ink covering up 90% of the words.

I prefer the whistleblowing method. Anything less, is pretty much guaranteed to be a big time and money waster.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud FOIA requesters because I don’t have the time, money, patience, and temperament for it.

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