Thursday, July 28, 2016

Government just beginning to process 4-year-old Benghazi public info request


On July 26, I received an urgent call from a State Department Freedom of Information (FOI) office.

“I’m calling about your Freedom of Information request for information/communications regarding the Benghazi attack.”

First, the officer wanted to know if I still want the records. A reasonable question. After all, it’s been four years. I’ve since changed jobs, gotten a new dog, received my fourth degree blackbelt, received a couple more Emmy awards and an Edward R. Murrow and my kid is about to graduate from college (Under federal law, a response to my FOIA request was required within about 30 days, but the law never seems to stand in the way of a good stonewall…)

“I only have a couple” of documents he added. That part confused me a little because there are at least thousands of pages of State Department public records related to the Benghazi attacks and aftermaths. This much we’ve discovered in the past four years.

The other thing he wanted to know was if I would “agree within those documents we could limit the scope to just matters concerning Benghazi attack or situation.”

So to summarize: I needed the information for a story I was working on in 2012. Now, nearly four years late, the State Department has a few pages of documents to provide and wants me to agree to narrow down within those pages a smaller subset.

“No,” I said. I have come to realize that their requests to “narrow” documents sometimes means the federal government is trying to keep a particular piece of public information from becoming public.

No?!?” he exclaimed, as if offended.

“No,” I repeated. “I’ll take all of them.”

“Well,” he sputtered, “that’s going to mean I have to get a LOT of approvals from MANY MANY people.”

“Any idea how long that will take?” I asked. “It’s been four years and it was due within 30 days.”

“It could take a LONG time!”