And the Rosemary Goes to . . .

Friday, March 13, 2009

And now, the winner of the National Security Archive's fifth annual Rosemary Award, named for President Richard M. Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, and her improbable stretch, which allegedly caused that "accidental" erasure of 18 1/2 minutes of a key Watergate tape.

The award is given to the federal agency deemed to be the worst in responding to the archive's Freedom of Information Act requests, using ingenious, creative dodges such as "losing" requests or stalling for years until requesters no longer care. This year's award, a framed photo of Woods's stretch, goes to the FBI, which has declared over the past four years that -- 66 percent of the time -- it can't find any records. Other agencies use this response on average about 13 percent of the time.

The bureau was able to achieve this remarkable rate of unresponsiveness, archive director Thomas S. Blanton says, in part by using a limited search process that it knows won't find the relevant records. Unless a requester specifically asks for a broader search -- for records stored outside headquarters here or for pre-1970s records, for example -- a "no records" response is likely. If you really, really want the broader search, you'll have to file suit in federal court, Blanton said.

The Rosemary judges clearly look for creativity. The bureau "has a longstanding practice of refusing to process requests for documents about a living individual without a signed privacy waiver from the person permitting the release of his or her records," the award announcement noted. Well, privacy is important.

So when a student journalism project wanted to learn about the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, the announcement said, the bureau "would not process their requests because they did not submit privacy waivers signed by captured 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid." Most excellent!

The award photo is one submitted in pretrial proceedings about who caused the gap. Woods is gamely attempting to show it was an accident. But the archive has found a complete set of photos, available at


For those who thought the long grammatical nightmare was over with President George W. Bush's departure from office, and that his replacement by President Obama would spell the end of those delightful Bushisms and presidential pummeling of the poor English language, think again.

Here are Obama's remarks Tuesday night after meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. "And this is something that the United States secretary to the United Nations, Secretary Rice, has been working on diligently," Obama said.

Seems he's getting his Rices confused. There's former secretary of state Condoleezza, and there's Obama's U.N. ambassador Susan.

If Obama can't quite match Bush, Vice President Biden looks willing and certainly able to help. Biden told state officials yesterday to make sure they spend all that stimulus money wisely.

"I can tell you one thing," Biden said. "My passion to make sure this is done right, it may exceed my abilities.

"But I'm telling you this is not anything I am fooling around with, nor I expect any of you," he said.


Easily overcoming GOP opposition, the Senate yesterday voted 65 to 28 to confirm David Ogden as deputy attorney and later voted 72 to 20 to confirm Thomas Perelli as associate attorney general, the No. 3 job. Conservative groups had argued that Ogden, if confirmed, would "be a great ally for advocates for death and homosexuality inside the Justice Department."

Ogden supporters said conservatives had distorted his legal work for the American Library Association in its fight against excess Internet filtering and for the American Council for the Blind over whether the Library of Congress should make a Braille version of Playboy. What do you know? People really do want to read the articles.


Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said yesterday that Obama should "reconsider" the nomination of longtime diplomat Christopher R. Hill, now assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs and a former North Korea nukes negotiator, to be ambassador to Iraq. The senators said Hill has no experience "in the Middle East and in working closely with the U.S. military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations." Stay tuned.


The White House yesterday announced its picks for four top jobs. Demetrios Marantis, chief international trade counsel on the Senate Finance Committee, is the choice for deputy trade representative; electrical engineer Kristina M. Johnson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins, is to be undersecretary of energy.

Connecticut Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy was the choice for assistant administration for Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency; and Ronald H. Weich, chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), got the nod for assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.

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