The Drug Enforcement Administration has released a 104-page study that concludes the Freedom of Information Act "has had a significant adverse effect on DEA's operations." The act, which allows private citizens to obtain information from government agencies, has been under attack this year from the administration and on Capitol Hill
DEA asked its field offices to prepare case studies that documented "dramatic instances of FOIA-related interference." It also selected 400 investigations at random and asked the agents in charge whether FOI requests had made their jobs more difficult.
About 14 percent of the 400 investigations were so adversely affected by FOIA-related problems that they were "aborted, significantly compromised, reduced in scope or required significant amounts of additional work," the DEA said. It added that 85 percent of its agents considered FOI requests "inhibiting" and that 60 percent of those who filed requests were from "the criminal element." A major problem, the DEA said, was that informants were afraid their identities would become known through FOI requests.
"They [DEA] aren't saying anything new that the FBI or CIA has not said earlier," countered Jack Landau, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "But when you ask for specifics which can be tracked down, you run into artificial examples where the FOIA itself was not at fault or where it was the agency that gave out information . . . when it wasn't required to."
For example, the first incident cited in the DEA report tells how a potential informant decided not to help the agency after he was arrested because he was able--through a FOI request--to identify the person who had turned him in.
"That's DEA's fault, not the law's," said Landau. The law allows agencies to deny information for one of nine reasons, including when the release of any information might "interfere" with an investigation, identify a "confidential source" or disclose "investigative techniques or procedures," said Landau. "How much more do they want?"