Everyone has a FOIA horror story, though the one told by Vice News investigative reporter Jason Leopold in today’s FOIA hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee deserves its very own headline.
When asked about why some agencies just refuse to cough up material, Leopold offered this example:
Leopold: The Office of Net Assessment (ONA) is the Pentagon’s in-house think tank. They spend millions and millions of dollars putting together reports — reports that they contract out about perhaps some futuristic warfare, or what the situation in the Middle East is going to look like with regards to oil. I asked for those reports. I filed a FOIA request; they refused to comply with my FOIA request. They said it was too broad. I narrowed it, they still said it was too broad. I sued them. Recently they said that ‘We’ll give you some documents as long as you promise to never file a FOIA request again and don’t have anyone else file a FOIA request on your behalf.’
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.): How is that legal?
Leopold: I don’t know but they put this in writing and I’m really looking forward to the day when I write this story up.
The reports, says Leopold, aren’t classified. As reported by USA Today, one ONA study appraised the body language patterns of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders.
More from Leopold: “Not only will they not give up the reports, they can’t find the reports,” he said, alleging government waste.
“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on legal matters,” says Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson.