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US cites security more to censor, deny records
The government said the average time it took to answer a records request ranged from less than one day to nearly two years. AP's analysis showed that most agencies took longer to answer requests than the previous year, although the White House said the government responded more quickly and did not immediately explain how it determined that. The Pentagon reported at least two requests still pending after 10 years and the CIA was still working on at least four requests from more than eight years ago.
The AP's request to the Health and Human Services Department for contracts with public-relations companies to promote Obama's health care law has been pending for more than one year. Requests for files about the Affordable Care Act and the IRS's treatment of tax-exempt political groups have languished in government offices for months. Similarly, the AP has waited for more than 10 months for emails between the IRS and outside Democratic super PACs about tea party groups.
After Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was selected as the Republican vice presidential candidate, the AP asked scores of federal agencies for copies of letters he wrote to them. At least seven turned over the records after the election in November 2012. Some didn't even acknowledge AP's request for Ryan's letters until months after Obama was sworn in for a second term.
Last year, the government denied 6,689 out of 7,818 requests for so-called expedited processing, which moves an urgent request for newsworthy records to the front of the line for a speedy answer, or about 86 percent. It denied only 53 percent of such requests in 2008.
The EPA denied 458 out of 468 expediting requests. The State Department, where expedited processing can save 100 days of waiting time for example, denied 332 of 344 such requests. The Homeland Security Department denied 1,384 or 94 percent of expediting requests. The Justice Department, which denied AP's request for video its investigators obtained days after the Navy Yard shooting, denied 900 out of 1,017 such requests.
The U.S. spent a record $420 million answering requests plus just over $27 million in legal disputes, and charged people $4.3 million to search and copy documents. The government waived fees about 58 percent of the time that people asked, a 1 percent improvement over the previous year.
Sometimes, the government said it searched and couldn't find what citizens wanted.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, whose top official has testified to Congress repeatedly about NSA surveillance programs disclosed by contractor Edward Snowden, told the AP it couldn't find any records or emails in its offices asking other federal agencies to be on the lookout for journalists to whom Snowden provided classified materials. British intelligence authorities had detained one reporter's partner for nine hours at Heathrow airport and questioned him under terrorism laws. DNI James Clapper has at least twice publicly described the reporters as "accomplices" to Snowden, who is charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and faces up to 30 years in prison.
Likewise, Cook, departing as the editor at Gawker, was exasperated when the State Department told him it couldn't find any emails between journalists and Philippe Reines, Hillary Clinton's personal spokesman when Clinton was secretary of state. BuzzFeed published a lengthy and profane email exchange about the 2012 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi between Reines and its correspondent, Michael Hastings.
"They said there were no records," Cook said of the State Department.
U.S. government FOIA performance data: http://www.foia.gov/data.html
Example of heavily censored Justice Department document: http://tinyurl.com/p44ub6c