Well, well, it looks like the U.S. Department of Justice is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). It means that common citizens like you and me have the right to inspect almost all documents in any federal agency. As a lifelong reporter I’ve used FOIA many times. And I’ve been frustrated many times by public officials who never received my requests, ignored my requests or just laughed at my requests.
A longtime rival of mine taught a reporters’ seminar on how he used FOIA. He would make his initial request for documents. A month later he’d demand access to all documents, memos, notes or letters on how his last FOIA was to be handled. Then he’d hit the agency with yet another FOIA demand for all documents discussing his last FOIA of the FOIA. And his monthly demands created so much paperwork that agency officials finally gave up the original documents just to get this creep off their backs.
I once FOIA’d the FBI for a copy of any file the FBI file kept on me. It took about a year to get a response but they, indeed, had a one page file on me. They sent me a copy…but about a third of it was blacked out! Why can’t I see my own information?
A certain Secretary of State has been hit with subpoenas and FOIA requests for her email illegally kept on a personal computer. Obey the law? Nope. Tens of thousands of the requested emails were destroyed and the controversy is still up in the air.
The Freedom Of Information Act really does work sometimes. You can see information about flying saucer investigations (Project Blue Book), or documents related to the Kennedy assassination (some of them). But ask about some minor official’s misconduct and you’ll be treated like a Russian spy.
The U.S. Attorney’s office is still refusing to hand over documents in a Nevada Homeowners Association scandal that convicted 43 people of federal crimes. This was massive Organized Crime with connections to a Mexican drug cartel, connections to the Chicago mob, and a Nevada Supreme Court Justice who warned the criminals that the feds were going to be doing raids of HOA bigwigs. It gave the lawyer in charge of the Las Vegas HOA scam time to shred all her documents. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has repeatedly hit the feds with FOIA demands for documents. But the feds say, “Nope. Doing so might reveal the personal affairs of some public officials.” That’s not an exception in the Freedom Of Information Act!
Are we better off with FOIA than without? Of course. But don’t expect complete and total honesty out of a dishonest system.
Happy 50th Anniversary, FOIA.