Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests hit po­lit­i­cal fil­ter

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

WASHINGTON — For at least a year, the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment de­toured hun­dreds of re­quests for fed­eral records to se­nior po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers for highly un­usual scru­tiny, prob­ing for in­for­ma­tion about the re­questers and de­lay­ing dis­clo­sures deemed too po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive, ac­cord­ing to nearly 1,000 pages of in­ter­nal e-mails ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The depart­ment aban­doned the prac­tice af­ter AP in­ves­ti­gated.

In­spec­tors in the depart­ment’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral qui­etly con­ducted in­ter­views last week to de­ter­mine if po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers acted im­prop­erly.

In July 2009, Home­land Se­cu­rity in­tro­duced a di­rec­tive re­quir­ing a wide range of in­for­ma­tion to be vet­ted by po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees for “aware­ness pur­poses,” no mat­ter who re­quested it.

The govern­ment on Wed­nes­day es­ti­mated fewer than 500 re­quests un­der­went such po­lit­i­cal scru­tiny.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment re­ceived about 103,000 to­tal re­quests for in­for­ma­tion last fis­cal year.

Ca­reer em­ploy­ees were or­dered to pro­vide Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano’s po­lit­i­cal staff with in­for­ma­tion about the peo­ple who asked for records — such as where they lived, whether they were pri­vate cit­i­zens or re­porters — and about the or­ga­ni­za­tions where they worked.

If a mem­ber of Congress sought such doc­u­ments, em­ploy­ees were told to spec­ify Demo­crat or Repub­li­can.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment spokesman Sean Smith said the manda­tory re­views by po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees never blocked dis­clo­sure of records that oth­er­wise would have been re­leased.

“No in­for­ma­tion deemed re­leasable by the FOIA of­fice or gen­eral coun­sel was with­held,” Smith said.

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