The National Security Agency (NSA) has been flooded with thousands of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from journalists, civil rights groups and private citizens who have asked the agency to turn over the top-secret records that former contractor Edward Snowden leaked to the media, Al Jazeera can reveal.
In response to an open records request filed in November, the NSA has just released its FOIA logs to Al Jazeera. The hundreds of pages of documents describe post-Snowden requests that have been filed with the agency — on matters from its bandwidth consumption and it sprawling new data center in Utah to metadata records and contracts with Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden’s former employer.
Since details about the NSA’s spy capabilities were revealed by The Guardian and The Washington Post 10 months ago, the agency’s FOIA office has been the subject of several national news stories noting that the leaks have resulted in thousands of new FOIA requests.
Details of those requests are revealed here for the first time and illustrate their extent as well as the logistical demands it has placed on the NSA. "FOIA requests continue to be received at a higher rate than in past years, although it has tapered off from the initial surge extremes in June and July 2013,” said Pamela Phillips, the NSA's FOIA chief.
"We have received over 5,200 requests since June 6, 2013," she told Al Jazeera. "We received just over 800 requests for the same period last year. For the one-year period from June 2012 through May 2013, we received an average of 83 requests per month. Since June 2013, we’ve received an average of 521 requests per month. Omitting June through August, which were extremely high, the monthly average for September 2013 through March 2014 is 283 — more than three times what it was in prior years.”
To deal with the surge in requests, Phillips said the NSA's FOIA office has requested additional staff, "but to date, the staff has not been augmented."
FOIA requests to the NSA skyrocketed the day The Guardian published its first report based on the documents Snowden leaked: a top-secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over call data to the NSA.