Back in 2009, one of the first things President Obama did was promise: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”

But it seems that message takes a while, maybe years, to filter down.

We got this e-mail from Janet Webb, deputy director of Enforcement Operations at the Department of Justice. She sent it out April 29 to everyone in her office and in the criminal division with a subject line: “Potential Traffic Issues this Afternoon.”

“On the early news this morning,” she wrote, “I heard that there is a demonstration scheduled for 7 this evening to begin in Chinatown, followed by a march to the White House. I am predicting that this may cause problems for the evening commute, so plan accordingly.”

This friendly, innocuous, e-mail has, automatically stamped on it, that her prediction (or maybe the admission that she listens to the news in the morning?) is:




At the bottom we’re told the info is the property of the Justice Department and “if you are not the intended recipient of this information, any disclosure, copying, distribution or taking of any action in reliance of this information is strictly prohibited.”

(Well, we walk home, so we didn’t rely on Webb’s caution.)

These designations, we’re told,  may give the folks in the Freedom of Information Act unit some pause before releasing it in response to a FOIA request. Granted, odds are the FOIA reviewers will still release it, since it’s so obvious that none of the information qualifies for one of those exceptions to disclosure.

Still, if it were a closer call . . .

“These automatic labels slow down all the processes, because they send a flag to the FOIA people not to release,” National Security Archive director Tom Blanton said.

“The use of control markings in email templates and other documents is a speed bump that slows down any possibility of release,” agreed Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “I have Army press releases,” he noted, “that were marked ‘for official use only.'”