Oops. Navy Sends Internal Memo About Dodging FOIA Requests to the Reporter They Were Trying to Thwart

Just a guess: Navy public affairs officer Robin Patterson, who was in charge of responding to this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, probably didn't mean to send his her strategy memo about to how to dodge various aspects of the query for photos, memos, and emails to the reporter who filed the request. (Click to enlarge.)

Some choice excerpts: 

Again another "fish expedition" -just because they are media doesn't mean that the memos would shed light on specific government activities....

DON2014F-0387: this one is specific enough that we may be able to deny. However, I want to talk with the FBI, as they may have "all emails during that time, in their possession."...

Some of the requesters have already filed appeals - so the administrative files need to be kept up-to-date.

None of this is particularly egregious, actually. It just shows the generally oppositional and mildly grumpy attitude that is typical of government responses to FOIA requests. And how valuable Gmail's Undo Send button can be.

Via Scott MacFarlane's Twitter.

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  • ||

    Devil's Advocate...

    FOIA requests entail a fair amount of work upon the requestee, and once you start down the path of providing information, you are then more likely to be held culpable when you fail to provide "all" of the information, as a court may later find. The FOIA is effectively an unfunded mandate on bureaucrats. Thus, it is natural that they would try to dodge it whenever possible.

    That doesn't make it right. But it's not surprising either. It's inherent to the nature of the FOIA.

  • anon||

    Know what an easy way around FOIA's would be?

    Providing the information ... gasp ... voluntarily.

  • Brett L||

    Unfunded? Its in your job description by being statutory, and you are allowed to bill for reasonable materials and expenses, although not your time if you are salaried.

  • ||

    It's unfunded because it imposes bureaucratic costs that typically aren't budgeted for. When someone complains that they are "overwhelmed" with FOIA requests, it's because they are expected to be doing other things and FOIA requests interfere with their regular workload.

    Look, it's easy to want to piss all over the Government. But in general, people are just try to do their job. And FOIA requests represent a substantial burden on those people that typically goes beyond their daily job responsibilities.

    My point is that this particular example is a natural, human, and thus expected outcome of the FOIA. It's really not much of a story.

  • anon||

    When someone complains that they are "overwhelmed" with FOIA requests, it's because they are expected to be doing other things

    Ahahahahahaha, bullshit. There's no Federal employee anywhere that's expected to be doing anything.

  • sarcasmic||

    There's no Federal employee anywhere that's expected to be doing anything.

    Exactly. My job takes me into the bowels of a federal building from time to time, and it's easy to spot the difference between a government employee and a contractor. The contractors are awake.

  • Ivan Pike||

    What agency?

  • sarcasmic||

    Navy.

  • Ivan Pike||

    I had a feeling it was DoD.

  • Steve G||

    Interesting. I'm in an office w/ military, govt civilian and contractors. The military are generally hardworking and conscientious. The civilians are a mixed bag. The ones in the competitive, transient 'career broadener' positions are sharp and go-getters who contribute. The "tenured" civilians have roots growing out of their ass and could go tomorrow and we wouldn't miss a beat. The contractors however, although lively (since they want to remain on contract) could also go without much impact since what they usually do is a lotta make-work to make it seem like they are accomplishing something when in fact they are just rearranging clipart in powerpoint.

  • John Galt||

    You pretty much backed me up before I even posted what I had intended to post. Having worked for many years as a contractor (USDA FS and state lands throughout the western states) I could not be in more agreement with your statement.

  • Brett L||

    And my point is that the US Navy has all the data it needs to forecast its FOIA workload the same as any other bureaucratic function it has to perform. This isn't new ground. Poor management is not an excuse.

  • Adam330||

    Not budgeted for? Every agency has a specific FOIA office with a bunch of people who do nothing but FOIA. The agencies certainly are including the salaries and expenses for those folks in their budgets. They may have to go ask people who are not FOIA-only for documents, but so what? If the head of the agency asked for that same document, do you think the guy would say "eh, I really have other stuff do." Plus, unless there is a fee waiver, agencies get to bill requesters for their costs of search.

  • anon||

    If the head of the agency asked for that same document, do you think the guy would say "eh, I really have other stuff do."

    Yes.

  • Adam330||

    apparently you haven't worked in a federal agency then.

  • anon||

    Nope, just dealt with enough federal employees to know that not only are most of them worthless human beings, but none of them have any ambition.

  • John Galt||

    "Most" would be my observation. There were very few employed by the USDA FS who I worked with who were very worthy and generally hard working. Those fitting that description were mostly old school foresters and fire personnel from back in the days before the politicians abandoned simply funding to become deeply involved in FS activities. There was a time the administration of our forests was left to those who understood the forests. Back then there was no room for worthless human beings devoid of ambition. That's not the case today.

  • Steve G||

    See Kid's remarks, below. Yes, there is a FOIA "home office", but the bulk of the workload gets distributed to whoever the request is meant for. And it's irregular work that is not planned for, much less budgeted for.

  • Sevo||

    Steve G|1.7.14 @ 1:36PM|#
    "See Kid's remarks, below. Yes, there is a FOIA "home office", but the bulk of the workload gets distributed to whoever the request is meant for. And it's irregular work that is not planned for, much less budgeted for."

    Kinda like when one of my customers requests information on the product they bought or the delivery?

  • John Galt||

    Are your customers a captive audience? Can they go somewhere else if doing business with you stinks? If not, then it's not the same thing.

  • prolefeed||

    It's unfunded because it imposes bureaucratic costs that typically aren't budgeted for.

    If you're running a bureaucracy, and you've had FOIA requests in the past, and thus have * some * idea of an anticipatable FOIA workload, and you don't budget for FOIA requests in your current budget, that is what is known as "incompetence".

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Executive agencies don't set their own budgets. They make requests and Congress does what it wants with them.

  • prolefeed||

    If a reasonably anticipated expense that is required by law isn't budgeted for, that is incompetence by * somebody *. It might be incompetence by the bureaucrats in charge of the agency, or by the members of Congressional committee revising the proposed budget to exclude that budget item.

  • Adam330||

    If Congress lined out a request for the FOIA office, you'd have a point. I have never heard of Congress doing such a thing though. You're going to need to provide an example.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Agencies don't "bill" anyone. They have fixed operating budgets set by the applicable appropriations act. (These days most agencies have a FOIA compliance office but if the load of requests exceeds the ability to service them, well, you have to choose what gets done. Also many requests require output from people who have actual jobs other than compliance.) Thus literally every requirement piled on top of the requirements planned for in that budget is unfunded. It means something else doesn't get the attention that was planned for.

    Most here would consider that a good thing, and I can't fully disagree with that in our current state. But for those who actually consider what they are doing important (and you don't have to agree with their assessment to understand the mindset) it makes perfect sense to try and comply with these requests in the barest sense possible.

    In a past job I had many FOIA directives come to my department ordering us to search our archives for anything related to such eclectic topics as mind control satellites and alien technology. I can certainly see how that would breed some cynicism about the law.

  • Adam330||

    Awesome. Next time my company gets a third-party subpoena, I'll just tell the judge that we have more important stuff to do than look for those documents.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    That's cute, but there is a real difference here - your company is probably not prohibited by the Constitution from spending money not appropriated by act of Congress for the purpose.

  • Fluffy||

    Here's one quick solution:

    Make all agency documents and email permanently available to the public, as they're generated, on a web server.

    Copy all new documents and emails to that server in a batch every Sunday.

    Voila! No one has to worry any longer about devoting any time whatsoever to FOIA requests.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Sounds good to me. I never said there was no solution, I was just trying to explain how it is with my limited insider perspective.

  • Ivan Pike||

    Make all agency documents and email permanently available to the public, as they're generated, on a web server.

    So you are OK with the IRS putting all their documents on the internet? The issue is what info should be put out and what info should not. Once you start trying to decide what info to put out there is where you have issues.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    One of the good effects of the proposal is that it could serve to break less desirable systems.

  • Jordan||

    So you are OK with the IRS putting all their documents on the internet?

    Another good reason for why the IRS shouldn't exist.

  • prolefeed||

    I'm OK with getting rid of any agency of the government, such as the IRS, that is doing stuff that can't be available for inspection by everyone. Stealing money via taxation after requiring people to give up their financial privacy is one such government function that is eminently get-riddable.

  • Ivan Pike||

    I'm OK with getting rid of any agency of the government, such as the IRS

    I used them as an example of information that the government has that you would not want made publicly available. Whether they should exist or not is another discussion. There are other types of information that the government has, at present time, that you would not want to have made public. The question is what information should be kept private and which not. That is why a data dump is inadvisable.

  • Fluffy||

    There are other types of information that the government has, at present time, that you would not want to have made public.

    There are very few types of information on my list, and I'll bet just about all of them are already exempted from the requirements of the Act.

    I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be that hard for me to go through a list of departments with a highliter and identify the ones where every last document can be made publicly available. Then all of those departments don't have to worry about mean old time consuming FOIA requests any more. So it's a win/win, right?

  • Ivan Pike||

    There are very few types of information on my list, and I'll bet just about all of them are already exempted from the requirements of the Act.

    So you don't want a data dump as you suggested above? Great, I agree with you. The exemptions are:

    Exemption 1 – Classified National Security Information Concerning National Defense or Foreign Policy
    Exemption 2 – Internal Personnel Rules and Practices of an Agency
    Exemption 3 – Matters Specifically Exempted From Disclosure by Statute
    Exemption 4 – Trade Secrets and Confidential Business Information
    Exemption 5 – Internal Memoranda Privileges
    Exemption 6 – Personal Privacy
    Exemption 7 – Investigatory Files
    Exemption 8 – Records of Financial Institutions
    Exemption 9 – Geological and Geophysical Information

    I agree anything else should be released.

  • Fluffy||

    My list is much shorter:

    Exemption 1 – Classified National Security Information Concerning National Defense or Foreign Policy

    (And this only after maybe 99% of all material currently classified has been declassified by my Omnibus Declassification Act of 2014.

    Exemption 4 – Trade Secrets and Confidential Business Information

    And personal and corporate income tax filings. That's it.

  • Jordan||

    So you have to prioritize. Big deal.

  • Adam330||

    Wait, Congress didn't appropriate funds for FOIA? Or the agency just would rather spend the funds on something else?

  • R C Dean||

    FOIA is effectively an unfunded mandate on bureaucrats.

    Those bureaucrats are fully funded to their jobs. Which includes providing information to the public.

  • Sevo||

    "Those bureaucrats are fully funded to their jobs. Which includes providing information to the public."

    It's really not difficult:
    'The boss (citizens) would like you to provide this information. Is that clear?'

  • Steve G||

    As someone who has been in the shoes of Robin, all I have to say is, *yawn*

  • Restoras||

    But...the Navy is a Global Force for Good!!!

  • Brett L||

    BuSab continues to work well.

  • Raston Bot||

    That job looks meaningful and rewarding.

    /slits wrists

  • anon||

    Just saw this at Dailycaller.

    In retrospect, it's quite a brilliant strategy: Destroy and distort the economy to set up your play against those "evil rich bastards" that are "holding the man down."

  • R C Dean||

    Class warfare has never failed Obama and the Chicago/DC Machine.

    Its who they are. Its what they do. And, sadly, it fucking works a charm.

  • Dweebston||

    So long as they can provide enough lucre to satisfy the itinerant low-info independents, sure. The dependents won't carry their elections. After the ACA debacle, I don't see it happening.

  • sarcasmic||

    Those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

  • PD Scott||

    "Send this SOB the bedbug letter."

  • ||

    More and more I am very thankful at the incompetence of the government. Because as they get exposed more and more for spying, generally being hostile to their own citizens, treating all their citizens like criminals, and making everything illegal, I realize that it's this incompetence that's the reason why we aren't living in a totalitarian hell. Just the makings of one.

  • some guy||

    Each tiny little aspect of your life, liberty and happiness lies at the whim of a different bureaucrat. Each bureaucrat is petty, but quite independent from his colleagues. This is the best form of government man has yet devised.

  • prolefeed||

    This is the best form of government man has yet devised implemented.

    A government that consists of no petty bureaucrats or anything else has been devised, so FTFY.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Just like we've "devised" warp drive, I guess.

  • prolefeed||

    We got quite a lot of specifics about what no government would look like ("fire everyone in the government and sell all their assets, privatize everything"). The problem isn't in devising, the problem is getting enough well armed civilians to overthrow the government and keep it overthrown.

    Warp drive has not achieved such levels of design specificity.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    I hear that cold fusion is just 20 years away, too.

  • prolefeed||

    Nobody knows how to do cold fusion or warp drives.

    Pink slipping everyone in the government is readily understandable, just not popular enough to get implemented.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Your plans, like many before them, are beautiful but they call for a material I've never heard of.

  • Brett L||

    Unobtanium, stable only in plot holes.

  • Griffin3||

    I dunno. The paragraph about four-pronged approach to memory-hole any photos from inside room 137 seems particularly egregious to me.

  • Ted S.||

    The fucking bastards work for us. At least in theory.

  • prolefeed||

    According to some members of the government (certainly not most Democratic lawmakers), that is the theory they would very much like you to believe. It's not how they actually function.

    If they were foolishly honest enough to broadcast themselves as "public masters" instead of "public servents", they would run a risk of a revolution.

  • Fluffy||

    I have a suggestion:

    Amend the law so that when fulfilling an FOIA request, every communication that went into fulfilling the request must also be provided, with no exceptions for attorney/client privilege.

    Problem solved.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Problem not solved. How do you get the face-to-face direction?

    This guy forgot the Washington Post test. I assure you there are many others who are more savvy but with varying degrees of goodness.

  • Fluffy||

    Having worked in some government offices, everything questionable not undertaken between direct accomplices will have a paper trail.

    Nobody sticks their neck out for ANYTHING without a CYA memo, unless it's for a direct patron.

    There's nothing you can do to stop people who trust each other enough to conspire verbally.

    Unless we amend my demand for total public access to all documents at all times to include web surveillance (with sound and video, and screen capture of any computer screen at will) of all government offices at all times.

    Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea. Web cam panopticon and remote desktop connections to any federal PC at will. Works for me.

  • db||

    It sounds great, but it basically will work like open source software. No single person has the time or talent to vet every piece of software he uses, and so it's easier to farm that out to trusted organizations.

    The question is, would those organizations be capable of watching everything that needed watching? No. Somehow, things have to be prioritized, and the low priorities will become centers of abuse (at least until they get caught).

  • Swiss Servator, KALT!||

    Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodiem?

  • John Galt||

    Preferably an honest and intelligent citizenry. Let me know when ones finally, if ever, evolves.

  • Homple||

    The FOIA means that our noblity must pretend to be subservient to us peasants and the nobles don't like this.

  • GW||

    I worked for a state government agency for a while. We basically couldn't use email for anything but the most mundane correspondence. ANYTHING that could be deemed remotely controversial was prohibited. You had to pick up the phone and call. Because emails were subject to FOIA, and no one wanted to get caught up in that mess.

    And wouldn't you know it, there was all sorts of waste going on the public would have loved to know about.

  • Brandybuck||

    Undo send! What has been seen cannot be unseen!

    Years ago a colleague was used to MSOutlook/Exchange feature of unsending messages. But I was not on Windows, so he couldn't retroactively remove his messages. This annoyed him to no end. The linear nature of causality is a bitch.

  • Sevo||

    "The linear nature of causality is a bitch."
    Not to those who, oh, work for a living.

  • Andrew DeFaria||

  • setTHEline||

    How about instead of whitelisting every piece of data by request, you instead only blacklist the very sensitive documents? Each agency should just compile their content and let the people have their way with it. Unrealistic of course, because everything would end up getting blacklisted anyways I suppose. Government employees love to have their secrets.

  • John Galt||

    It's the nature of the beast..iality.

  • A nation of boiled frogs||

    Glad to see journalists are digging into this incident - especially if the gov't is stonewalling. Everyone here apparently assumes the FOIA request response is just routine CYA procedure to avoid exposure of bureaucratic incompetence regarding security - which could be true, but the case has a long list of odd facts associated with it (the local SWAT team being ordered to not respond, etc.).

    The FBI is typically ultra-secretive about the whole incident - although it's not clear why that secrecy is needed since the shooter's murderous rampage is supposedly unrelated to anything or anyone.

  • geologist||

    It would be illuminating to see how ridiculous FOIA requests can be, and how often the request is also based on the general laziness and ignorance of the person making the request. I recently encountered an AP news article revealing "offshore frac'ing" in California based on FOIA requests by some environmental groups. Turns out, all the information they obtained was publicly available with about 5 minutes of online searching, and I found about four times more examples of "offshore frac'ing" than the FOIA requests revealed, using the public records available online. Too many of these FOIA requests are made not only as fishing expeditions, but to sensationalize the results, because if the results could not be published as the "result of a clever FOIA request", and had to report that "public records available for years now" revealed something anyone could have found in five minutes, there would be no headline. The bullshit is shoveled back and forth on these things.

  • John Galt||

    How's your new baby doing, Katherine?

  • PaulinePhelpsmee||

    up to I saw the check of $8495, I did not believe ...that...my best friend actualy earning money part time from their computer.. there friend brother started doing this 4 only fourteen months and as of now cleared the dept on there appartment and got a top of the range Ariel Atom. website here
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    http://www.tec30.com
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