CIA Opens FOIA Candy Jar to Bloggers — Kind of

In an administration infamous for its secrecy, the CIA suddenly must look like a maverick. The agency has abandoned more restrictive policies and loosened the definition of “news media” to include — through no small amount of interpretation — bloggers among the media that can access government documents through the Freedom of Information Act for free instead of for exhorbitant fees.

But it’s the CIA’s explanation of the process by which it came around to not changing the rules that has to rank as a classic in the annals of gubmint gobble-speak:

… if any features of the proposed system were dropped, the advantages would not outweigh the disadvantages of adopting this system.

The CIA received comments that supported some aspect of the proposed rule, while also receiving comments which were very critical of other aspects of this approach. After a review and consideration of all of the comments, it was clear that there was no way to reconcile the positive and negative comments into a refinement of our approach that was workable. We concluded that if any features of the proposed system were dropped, the advantages would not outweigh the disadvantages of adopting this system.

Since there was no support to proceed with the proposed rule as originally drafted, rather than implementing the sweeping changes set forth in the proposed rule, we have a more modest change by simply adopting the definition of “news media” contained in the March 27, 1987, Office of Management and Budget FOIA Guidelines. Although, the CIA remains confident in the adequacy and sufficiency of its previous interpretation of “news media” fee status, it has concluded that it is preferable to avoid sterile and unproductive technical litigation and the associated diversion of resources from more productive pursuits that that entails.

Sterile and unproductive technical litigation? Ew! Fortunately, a lawyer who speaks the language explained:

Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive, a research institute and library located at The George Washington University, said the CIA changed its definition in an attempt to pre-empt a court ruling that the agency’s existing regulations were illegal. The Archive filed a lawsuit in District Court for the District of Columbia in June 2006, challenging a CIA decision that it did not qualify as “news media” and that its request would have to concern “current events” to qualify for the fee waiver.

“We hope these changes will minimize CIA efforts to discourage news media FOIA requesters in the future,” Fuchs said.

Yeah, that sounds likely. Meanwhile, we here at Pensito Review are compiling our wish lists of documents we would like to see revealed through the FOIA. They include — every scrap of paper and e-mail ever produced in Dick Cheney’s branch of the government, the doodles Alberto Gonzalez made during his congressional testimony, Harriet Meiers’ to-do lists, Michael Chertoff’s Maalox receipts — among many others.

Have some gubmint documents you’d like to see under the FOIA? Share your wish list with us in a comment.

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