CIA Tells FOIA Requester That He Needs To Know Everything About The Emails He's Requesting Before He Can Request Them
from the using-the-rarely-seen-tautology-exemption dept
More FOIA-related nonsense, this time from the CIA. Michael Morisy, co-founder of MuckRock, sent a request for internal emails discussing (rather ironically) the fact that the CIA's "FOIA Portal" seems to suffer from extended periods of downtime.
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:Given the agency's disdain for the FOIA process (second only to the NYPD), I'm sure this sort of outage is viewed as a feature, not a bug. But whatever internal musings the CIA had about its FOIA portal issues will apparently be staying internal for the time being.
A copy of emails sent to or from the CIA's FOIA office regarding the FOIA Portal's Technical Issues.
According to the CIA's current FOIA website: "FOIA requests cannot currently be made online due to technical issues. Requests can still be submitted via the US Postal Service and facsimile."
Please also include any attachments to these emails.
The CIA rejected Morisy's request in full, basically stating that searching for emails is hard work and that the requester could have at least bothered to know exactly who was talking about the portal issues and exactly when they were doing it before making the request.
The FOIA requires requesters to "reasonably describe" the information they seek so that professional employees familiar with the subject matter can locate responsive information with a reasonable amount of effort. Commonly this equates to a requirement that the documents must be locatable through the indexing of our various systems. Extremely broad or vague requests or requests requiring research do not satisfy this requirement. We require requesters seeking any form of "electronic communications" such as emails, to provide the specific "to" and "from" recipients, time frame and subject. We note that you have provided the subject only. Therefore, we must decline your request.Obviously, a FOIA requester isn't going to know these sorts of specifics beforehand, hence THE REQUEST FOR INFORMATION. As MuckRock's JPat Brown points out, Twitter user Mythosopher had perhaps the best response to this refusal...
You can't see any emails or know who sent or received them. But you must request the exact email and who sent and received it.... along with this graphic:
The CIA has pretty much ensured many requests will be found too cumbersome to comply with. It used 2013's brief sequester as an excuse to shut down its office in charge of declassifying historical documents and fold it in with the FOIA department's steady stream of extension requests and denials. And the CIA joins an ever-lengthening list of federal agencies completely mystified by internal email systems. Oddly, this same government expects the US public to trust that agencies like the FBI, CIA, NSA and countless law enforcement entities will be able to find the needles in your personal email haystacks -- obtained in bulk with FISA court orders, NSLs or old-fashioned open-ended, non-specific warrants.
The CIA itself has already raided internal networks to root out Senate staffers and whistleblowers, but no one heard anyone complain about the lack of specifics making the job too tough to do. It's only when the public asks to dip into the government's business that these agencies suddenly start acting like the impossible is being demanded.