Credit Where It’s Due: DOJ Changes Its Tune on FISA Transparency

Earlier this week, I complained that the Department of Justice seemed to be stonewalling a Freedom of Information Act request I’d filed seeking copies of mandatory semi-annual reports to Congress on the National Security Agency’s compliance with the procedures and civil liberties safeguards of the FISA Amendments Act—which the House voted yesterday to reauthorize for another five years. After sitting on the request for two months (the statutory deadline is 20 business days), DOJ had finally replied with a letter claiming they could “neither confirm or deny the existence” of reports that were required by federal law. I thought this was a little ridiculous. Fortunately, there were officials at the Justice Department who thought so too.

Having appealed the denial of my request, I got an impressively prompt reply on Tuesday evening from the director of the Office of Information Policy at DOJ, assuring me that she recognized the agency’s initial response had been “incorrect,” and that a new one would be forthcoming immediately. By Wednesday morning, their stance had changed entirely: They had found the reports I sought, and were forwarding them to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for review to determine what would need to be redacted before release—with a request that ODNI seek to expedite its analysis to compensate for their own delay.

Now, to be sure, I’d rather have had this response a month ago, and the documents before the House vote, but at this point DOJ appears to be doing exactly what they’re supposed to and making a good faith effort to facilitate the redaction and release of these important assessments. So it seemed appropriate to follow up on my initial blog post to acknowledge that—and in particular Office of Information Policy director Melanie Pustay, who straightforwardly acknowledged the error and acted quickly to correct it. We’ll see soon enough whether a similar spirit of transparency reigns at ODNI.