Judicial Watch Sues Department of Navy for “Stonewalling” FOIA Request for FOIA Procedures
MAY 14, 2014
Navy Violates Transparency Law to Keep Secret Transparency Procedures
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on April 22, 2014, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the United States Department of the Navy seeking information about procedures for answering FOIA requests (Judicial Watch v Department of the Navy (No. 1:14-cv-00674)).
The lawsuit was filed following the Navy’s failure to respond for more than three months to a January 13, 2014, FOIA request seeking:
Any and all records concerning or relating to procedures for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. Such records include, but are not limited to handbooks, guidelines, policies, rules or memoranda.
The Judicial Watch FOIA request, sent to the Navy’s FOIA public liaison Robin Patterson, specifically called attention to President Obama’s January 21, 2009, Memorandum concerning the Freedom of Information Act, in which he stated:
All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodies in the FOIA … The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.
The Judicial Watch request came on the heels of a January 7 news report, Patterson had mistakenly sent a memo to reporter Scott MacFarlane at WRC-TV, NBC 4 in Washington, DC, detailing a strategy for stonewalling his FOIA request for information concerning the Navy Yard shooting in September 2013.
In the Navy memo, Patterson refers to the McFarlane request as a “fishing expedition,” recommending several methods for FOIA staff to stymie his request, including “negotiating with requester” to limit his search for photos. Patterson also suggests that staff convince McFarlane that his search would be “costly” adding, “Just because they are media doesn’t mean that the memos would shed light on specific government activities.”
In perhaps the most striking statement in the Patterson memo, she advises her colleagues that she is also working on a separate response that could completely block MacFarlane’s request for Navy officials’ emails concerning the Navy Yard shooting. “This one is specific enough that we may be able to deny,” Patterson writes.
Ironically, just hours after MacFarlane tweeted out the Patterson FOIA memo, the Navy’s Twitter feed published a message reading, “The #USNavy remains committed to transparency & responding to FOIA requests in a timely and professional manner. CC @politico @Gawker 4:20 PM – 7 Jan 2014.
“It is a travesty for Judicial Watch to have to file a FOIA lawsuit against the Depart of the Navy to get information about how it responds to FOIA requests,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Navy is now stonewalling us about its own stonewall – this is theatre of the absurd.”
The FOIA procedures lawsuit is not the first time Judicial Watch has been forced to file to compel the Navy to comply with a FOIA request. In March 2011, the organization filed a FOIA request with the Navy for records detailing “any funeral ceremony, rite or ritual” for Osama bin Laden prior to the terrorist’s burial at sea. After the Navy failed to respond for 17 months, Judicial Watch in July 2012 filed a FOIA lawsuit to force compliance. In November 2012, the Navy finally produced 31 pages of heavily redacted emails confirming that the slain terrorist was given full Islamic burial honors.