Following a Washington reporter's request to the Navy to turn over documents related to the Navy Yard Shooting, a US Navy official mistakenly forwarded an internal email outlining instructions on exactly how to avoid his Freedom of Information request. As RT reports, hours after NBC's Scott Macfarlane's tweets on the matter went viral, the Navy "regretted the incident" and re-iterated its "commitment to transparency."
Scott MacFarlane, a news reporter for NBC 4 in Washington, DC, had filed a FOIA request with the Navy in an attempt to compel authorities to turn over documents related to the Navy Yard shooting in September. MacFarlane was seeking memos written by higher-ups at Naval Sea Systems Command from September, October, and November 2013--messages sent by the same officials in the hours directly after the shooting occurred, and images of building 197 at the Navy Yard, where the gunman killed 12 people and injured three others.
The Navy’s FOIA office confirmed that it had received MacFarlane’s request, but instead of sending him the relevant documents, they inadvertently sent an internal email containing instructions on how to avoid the reporter’s request. MacFarlane tweeted a screenshot of the message – which included the name of Robin Patterson, the Navy’s FOIA public liaison – accompanied by the phrase “EPIC FAILURE.”
“I think the appropriate response is ‘cameras are prohibited from the premises, with the exception of ‘official photos’ of specific events and assemblies, or ceremonies, such as retirements,” the email read, in part. “This request is too broad to tie to the specific event. If you discover that there is a ‘photo library,’ I would recommend negotiating with the requester..."
FOIA workers advised each other to avoid turning over information by telling MacFarlane his request was too broad and would constitute a “fishing expedition,” and that he should “narrow the scope of his request.”
“Again, another ‘fishing expedition,’” the screenshot shows. “[J]ust because they are media doesn’t mean the memos shed light on specific government activities.”
Officials also singled out one of MacFarlane’s requests in particular, noting “this one is specific enough that we may be able to deny it. However, I want to talk with the FBI as they may have ‘all the emails during that time, in their possession.’”
Just hours after MacFarlane’s tweets went viral, the Navy’s Twitter feed published a series of messages addressing the military’s respect for the FOIA process.