The United States Navy, trying to sidetrack an investigation into the September Navy Yard shooting by an NBC reporter, mistakenly sent him a copy of a memo delineating how the Navy would deter his requests for information using the Freedom of Information Act.
Scott MacFarlane, a reporter for NBC 4 in Washington, D.C., received a copy of the memo and tweeted a screenshot of part of it showing the name of Robin Patterson, the Navy’s FOIA Public Liaison. MacFarlane’s information requests were mentioned in the memo. The Navy FOIA office confirmed that MacFarlane had, in fact, made the FOIA requests mentioned in the memo.
MacFarlane was looking for memos written by several Naval Sea Systems Command officials in the months that followed the shooting, e-mails sent the morning of the shooting, and photos of Building 197, the site of the incident. MacFarlane asked that any fees for the information higher than $15 be waived as the “request is in the public interest.” He asserted, “A compelling need exists to warrant expedited processing of this request, because a large number of our viewers are immediately impacted by the content of these records. These records relate directly to performance of government in matters of safety, health and well-being.”
The Navy memo suggests telling MacFarlane that his investigation would be a “fishing expedition” and also discusses the possibility of slowing MacFarlane down because the documents he wants to obtain may cost him more than he wants to spend, which would “narrow the scope” of his request. The memo dismisses MacFarlane’s request as yet “another ‘fishing expedition'” and asserts that “just because they are media doesn’t mean the memos shed light on specific government activities.”
Politico reports that “officials in the Navy’s FOIA office told us at first that the memo was sent as an ‘administrative error,’ then later said they could not comment on the veracity of the document.”
After the revelation of the memo’s contents, MacFarlane tweeted that the U.S. Navy apologized. The Navy tweeted:
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) January 7, 2014