From: John Greenewald, Jr.
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Fax: (202) 228-3954
Senator Patrick Leahy
Fax: (202) 224-3479
Senator John Cornyn
Fax: (202) 228-2856
Dear Senators Feinstein, Leahy and Cornyn,
I am writing to you today about what I believe is a grave injustice to the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Senator Feinstein, you may not recall, but thirteen years ago, when I began filing FOIA requests at the age of 15, you assisted me with the CIA outright ignoring my requests. Your assistance made them realize I was serious about requesting records, and here, thirteen years later, I am still at it, and have amassed the largest private collection of government documents (which I archive online for free – http://www.theblackvault.com
) anywhere in the world. But a new, and greater, problem has arisen.
Senators Leahy and Cornyn, I am writing you as well on this with your introduction to the Senate floor of the Open FOIA Act of 2009. Although I understand this has not passed yet, I believe your dedication to the spirit of the FOIA should hear about how I, and many others, are being treated by some of these agencies.
Since I know you all have busy schedules, I will try to be as quick as I can.
When I first began filing FOIA requests, I was considered a “non-commercial / all other” requester. As you know, this entitled me to 100 free pages and 2 hours search/review time. I was liable for any additional costs. However, with the passing of the Open Government Act of 2007, I believe my status changed to a “representative of the news media.”
As such, I began filing my requests as a “representative of the news media.” Agencies such as the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. Army, Malmstrom Air Force Base, and many others processed my requests with this status. There was no problem.
But other agencies began fighting my status. Of course, confusing to me, they all follow the same rules and guidelines set forth by the FOIA, yet they all had different decisions on my fee status.
Agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) denied me my status. In fact, the CIA now are requiring me to agree to pay ALL FEES associated with the request. ALL OTHER agencies only require you set an amount, like fees up to $25, etc., but they are trying to put me on the line for hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars if I agree to “all fees.” I have a letter from the NSA stating one estimate for search fees was $8,000, and I was not even guaranteed a single page in return. How could I agree to pay all fees for my requests to the CIA if they won’t even give me an estimate? This is definitely not Freedom of Information.
But the situation worsens. After appealing the fee determination with the NSA, the appeal has taken more than six months, and I am still not estimated to receive a response until approximately December. And this isn’t even guaranteed. In the meantime, many of my requests are put into different categories, and receive high fee estimations. It is simply a waiting game… and my research is on hold.
As outlined by the FOIA, I submit to you the reasoning for my “news media” status (Italicized/Bolded statements come from the Open Government Act of 2007, signed by President Bush followed by my reaction):
[T]he term 'a representative of the news media' means any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. In this clause, the term 'news' means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public.
My FOIA requests, and the topics of them, are wide ranging. However, as evident by the traffic I receive on TheBlackVault.com, and download statistics of the documents (which I am more than happy to send to any Senator or agency that wants them) the evidence speaks for itself.) Roughly a quarter of a million people come to my site every month, which is free, to download tens of THOUSANDS of pages of government material on topics ranging from World War II, to current events of this year. It becomes ones interpretation on “current interest to the public” and agencies are ignoring the fact that these documents are circulated around, not even just on my site, but to sites like Wikipedia, online news sites, etc.
I believe this displays not only the public’s interest in the material, but also my ability to disseminate to the public via the world wide web.
When I first began The Black Vault website in 1996, I hand typed in the government documents I received, because I could not afford a scanner. As time passed, I was able to get one, and the rest is history. The Black Vault was one of the first sites that carried declassified government documents in the world. Agencies did not even have an “electronic reading room” as some do now that publishes records.
Examples of news-media entities are television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of periodicals (but only if such entities qualify as disseminators of 'news') who make their products available for purchase by or subscription by or free distribution to the general public. These examples are not all-inclusive. Moreover, as methods of news delivery evolve (for example, the adoption of the electronic dissemination of newspapers through telecommunications services), such alternative media shall be considered to be news-media entities.
Yet another example of my appropriate status as a “representative of the news media.”
I host a weekly radio show that interviews experts from around the globe on various topics. But the opening segment to this show is all about the new documents that were declassified and obtained by The Black Vault. I offer my critique (if needed) and point people where to go.
Away from the radio show, it is also widely ignored that my written articles are published in multiple online news agencies (as the Open Government Act 2007 even stipulates, “alternative media shall be considered to be news media entities.” I have been published multiple times on a popular news site OpEdNews.com, Examiner.com, and have had my material in countless newspapers across the country such as the L.A. Daily News, the Baltimore Sun, and many others.
I also bring up the fact that I am a television producer and director for companies like The History Channel, Discovery Channel and National Geographic. With this fact, the documents that I have received that are sometimes decades old, according to some agencies, “not in the public interest,” were profiled in programs on these networks, many of which received phenomenal ratings. Again, how can one agency determine “public interest?” It seems that if it isn’t in the “public interest” of the FOIA officer, then it wouldn’t be for the public at large. As a writer of many of these programs, they could not be more wrong.
The bottom line on this fact, however, is it is another example of how I have turned the documents I receive into an original, “editorialized” work for the public. All of this, is of course, ignored by the agencies.
And lastly, I bring up my first published book (more are being worked on) called Beyond UFO Secrecy, re-published in 2008 as an expanded second edition. This, obviously, profiled the UFO records I received which have been of great interest to the public, and I offer examples of the documents along with the story and struggle of obtaining them.
So with authoring books, hosting a radio show, being a freelance journalist with verifiable publications in reputable and arguably “alternative media” sources, I plead for your assistance in helping me with these agencies. What can I do?
My next step, since my first denial from the DoD has come in, is to take them to court. As this is something I would love to do, the financial crisis in the states doesn’t allow me to pursue such actions, at least for now.
I ask for your help in what I can do. Is it your professional opinions that I do not fit into the “representative of the news media” status, or is it that agencies want persistent requesters such as myself to just “go away?” With high price tags and unbelievable wait times, it seems the latter is more probable. As evidence of the wait times, I received one document in the mail 11 years after I filed the request. How can that be? Is this all in the spirit of the FOIA?
I appreciate any and all help and guidance you can give me. I hope the above, although a bit detailed, has given you an inside look into how some of these agencies are treating the public.
As of the writing of this letter, I know firsthand of lawsuits already filed with the U.S. District Courts to fight the CIA and other agencies. One, specifically, is about the exact same issue I raise above. An online freelance journalist, showing an extensive track record of publications, is denied his rightful place as a “representative of the news media.”
This has to stop, and I need your help. The agencies are ignoring the facts.
John Greenewald, Jr.
The White House
ATTN: President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500