Historian Nick Turse says the Pentagon has blacklisted him for making multiple FOIA requests

Historians in the News
tags: Pentagon, FOIA



Last week, the Department of Defense issued its annual “Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer Report to the Department of Justice.” At a cost of roughly $41,449, this study, according to the Defense Department’s Chief FOIA Officer, Peter Levine, found that “DoD has continued to improve its administration of the FOIA and develop new initiatives to further streamline our FOIA processes and promote openness and transparency.” Never mind that, at this very moment, the Defense Department is seeking to add exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act that would allow it to deny requests for unclassified materials pertaining to military operations. The report suggests that sunshine is abundant at the Pentagon — even if there are some conspicuous traces of gloom beyond their control.

The report, for instance, laments that “despite their best efforts to provide helpful details, great customer service and efficient responses,” some DoD components were “still overwhelmed by one or two requesters who try to monopolize the system by filing a large number of requests or submitting disparate requests in groups which require a great deal of administrative time to adjudicate.” The study went on to call out:

one particular requester [who] singlehandedly filed three requests with SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], 53 requests with AFRICOM, 35 requests with SOCOM [Special Operations Command] and 217 requests with OSD/JS [Office of the Secretary of Defense/ Joint Staff] for a total of 308 cases this fiscal year alone. For AFRICOM, this represents 43% of their entire incoming requests for the year and 12% for SOCOM. This requester holds over 13% of the currently open and pending requests with OSD/JS and over the past two years has filed 415 initial requests and 54 appeals with this one component.


Who would do such a thing? What type of monster files this many requests?

That would be me.

The chief FOIA officer’s report seems to suggest intent, that I file FOIA requests in an attempt to “monopolize the system.” That’s presumably the reason that I’m responsible for 43 percent of AFRICOM’s FOIA requests.

Of course, Levine — who also serves as the DoD’s Deputy Chief Management Officer — never asked me my reasons. If he had, I would have offered a different explanation, one that begins back in July 2012 with my request to Colonel Tom Davis, director of U.S. Africa Command’s Office of Public Affairs, for some basic information about what AFRICOM calls “temporary facilities” — what you and I might refer to as American bases on the African continent.

Colonel Davis turned out to be on leave at that moment, but AFRICOM spokesman Eric Elliott emailed the next month to say: “Let me see what I can give you in response to your request for a complete list of facilities.  There will [be] some limits on the details we can provide because of the scope of the request.”

That, it turns out, was an understatement. ...




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