CIA Admits It Hasn't Touched FOIA Request In Six Years… Says It Will Close Case If Requestor Doesn't Reply

from the this-is-bad-and-you-should-feel-bad dept

Back in 2011, MuckRock user Jason Smathers filed a FOIA with the CIA for all responses they had sent to requesters containing the term “record systems.” This was a reference to two earlier rejections he had received from the Agency, which cited the inability to perform a search in the system based on the terms Smathers had provided.

In response, the agency sent him partially redacted copies of those same two rejections.

Smathers immediately appealed, on grounds that it beggared belief that he had been the only requester to have ever had an exchange with the CIA that contained the words “record system.”

Six years go by, and we hear nothing from the Agency regarding this request. Then, just this week, this letter arrives in the mail.

Which is worse? The casual admittance that they haven’t done anything for over half a decade, or the unfathomable audacity of putting Smathers on deadline? And while two months sounds pretty generous, keep in mind that they’ve been sitting on this for 72 months — a mere 36 times what they’re giving him.

To give this some further context — Smathers’ request was assigned an internal MuckRock tracking number of 238. If you were to file a request today, you’d be given a number in the 31,000s.

To the CIA FOIA officer (not) reading this: There have been children born since this appeal was filed that you could have a conversation with. This is bad, and you should feel bad. Please don’t be bad, be good instead.

And get rid of that damn fax machine.

Republished from Muckrock

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Comments on “CIA Admits It Hasn't Touched FOIA Request In Six Years… Says It Will Close Case If Requestor Doesn't Reply”

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11 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

“Which is worse? The casual admittance that they haven’t done anything for over half a decade, or the unfathomable audacity of putting Smathers on deadline?”

Neither. The fact that they haven’t done anything for 6 years is bad, but their admittance of this is actually very good. It means that wherever he is in the backlog is getting some attention and will get some effort to process. It also means they’re admitting a problem rather than trying to sweep it under the rug.

As for the rest, it’s basic admin work. Someone’s going through a backlog and is checking that the requests are still required. Given that a positive response is required to confirm that this is true, it makes sense to put a time limit on the response. It’s likely that this time limit will actually enable Smathers to get his request processed sooner. Also, I’m not sure how this works, but has he been chasing the request at any point over that 6 years (assuming that’s possible), or has he just been leaving it until they bothered to contact him?

So, it’s bad that it’s taken this long, but freaking out over standard admin work that shows people are finally getting to that point in the backlog is counterproductive.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wait, so you feel like there is nothing wrong with their statement that since there has been no correspondence in six years, which is COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY THEIR SCREW UP (not the requestor’s), they are going to close out the case if the requestor doesn’t speak up? How about an apology instead?

“We’re sorry completely ignored you for six years. Are you still interested in the data you requested?”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Wait, so you feel like there is nothing wrong with their statement that since there has been no correspondence in six years, which is COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY THEIR SCREW UP (not the requestor’s), they are going to close out the case if the requestor doesn’t speak up?”

No, I don’t. An apology would be nice, but this is a simple mailing to make sure that open requests are still required. It’s highly doubtful this is the only person to receive such a letter, so it’s silly to take it personally.

Once the time limit’s been reached, it’s reasonable to presume that either the request is no longer required or the recipient is no longer contactable via the given address (and so won’t be able to read the eventual response). Therefore, they can clear some backlog quickly and reserve time & resources for the people who still need a response. In other words, the point of the letter and time limit is to speed things up for the people who do reply with a request to keep their original request open. The alternative would be to continue at the snail’s pace they have been going at, much of that effort wasted on people who no longer require the information.

The tone could be nicer, but getting offended over a standard admin technique is extremely silly.

Ninja (profile) says:

“In response, the agency sent him partially redacted copies of those same two rejections. “

Due to my browser configurations the frame right after that phrase is completely blank unless I take action, which made me giggle a little because even before checking anything I already knew a blank frame has the same impact/utility the partially redacted document probably had.

Bob says:

legal authority

Under what legal statute do they have the authority to not respond to a FOIA request and then inform the requester that based on the agency’s own non-performance, the requester has 60 days to reply so that the agency can continue to not fulfill its legal obligation?

This should be evidence in the termination proceedings of some government employee.

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