from the ol'-FBI-FOIA-FU dept
Following an FOIA lawsuit against the FBI, Emma Best is raking in agency documents dealing with the Church of Scientology. The FBI doesn’t care much for FOIA requesters and the informal policy on handling released documents is to redact as much as possible and hope the redactions aren’t challenged.
Sadly, there’s not much subtlety or attention to detail deployed when redacting documents prior to release. It appears that the FBI’s FOIA response personnel are trained to redact anything that looks like a person’s name, whether or not it actually needs to be redacted. This almost-automatic redaction technique has led to the most ridiculous of results: the FBI has engaged in the proactive protection of Superman’s secret identity.
Included in a batch of Scientology docs is a letter [PDF] to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. This was apparently sent to steer the DA’s office away from investigating complaints about the Church’s overzealous pursuit of former members and critics. The letter attempts to paint a former member as some sort of crazy person pushing ridiculous conspiracy theories via an affidavit being circulated to press and law enforcement.
The letter claims “Wally” (a pseudonym given by the Church) is attempting to “cash in on the popularity” of Scientology with a narrative containing so much “comic book flair” the letter’s author decided to include a short vignette of the affidavit being reviewed by a mild-mannered reporter at the offices of his employer, The Daily Planet.
This faux screenplay underwent FBI FOIA surgery, redacting the full names of every fictional character (although Jimmy Olsen’s surname does slip through once). The end result looks for all the world as though the FBI truly felt Superman’s secret identity needed to be withheld for privacy reasons.
Here’s the opening of the short scene, featuring its very famous — and very fake — setting.
As MuckRock’s J. Pat Brown points out, we can be sure it is Clark Kent/Superman (rather than reporter Lois Lane) underneath the redactions because of this unredacted “Mr.”
Emma Best, in a statement to Gizmodo, points out this farcical set of redactions is, at best, a demonstration of the FBI’s apparently willful incompetence when it comes to FOIA response.
There are no explanations for this aside from gross incompetence, negligence, and/or bad faith. Even if this were an innocent mistake, the slightest amount of due diligence and research would have shown that the Daily Planet is fictional. Admiral Hardy’s FOIA staff at FBI couldn’t be bothered.
When you’re only begrudgingly engaging in your statutory responsibilities, these things happen and all names — even the fictional ones — are lazily withheld under privacy exemptions that can’t possibly apply.