Navy Reviews FOIA Office After Mistakenly Sent Email

U.S. Navy officials ordered an internal review of employees in its Freedom of Information Act office, and a navy official said the agency will also consider disciplinary actions because of the content of an email mistakenly sent to News4 I-Team reporter Scott MacFarlane.

In the email, a Navy FOIA officer details a strategy to reject and stymie the reporter’s request for emails, photos and memorandums related to the shooting incident at Navy Yard in southeast Washington in which 12 people were killed.

A navy official acknowledges the email was sent to MacFarlane by mistake. In the email, Navy FOIA official Robin Patterson refers to the reporter’s request for Navy Yard materials as a “fishing expedition.” Patterson recommends several methods for FOIA staff to deflect MacFarlane’s request, including “negotiating with requester” to limit his search for photos.

In her email, Patterson also suggests FOIA staff encourage MacFarlane to “narrow” his request for official Navy memorandums, by convincing the reporter his search would be “costly.” She also writes, “Just because they are media doesn't mean that the memos would shed light on specific government activities.”

Patterson advises colleagues that she is working on a separate response for MacFarlane’s request for Navy officials’ emails from Sept. 16. “This one is specific enough that we may be able to deny,” Patterson writes.

In a statement late Wednesday, a Navy official said: “The Navy is reviewing our FOIA Program office's practices and procedures to ensure strict and timely adherence with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. Navy leadership is reviewing this matter to determine whether any disciplinary or administrative action is deemed appropriate “

In a separate email sent directly to MacFarlane, Navy administrator Steve Muck asked MacFarlane to “accept my apologies” for an internal memo mistakenly sent to the reporter by a Navy Freedom of Information Act officer.

The Navy has denied media access to Navy Yard Building 197, the site of the September shootings. Naval officials have temporarily relocated Building 197 employees to an office space at Buzzard Point in Washington, D.C., as repairs are made to the shooting site.

After MacFarlane posted images of the Navy FOIA office memo on social media, the agency apologized to MacFarlane by email. The agency also posted a statement of its own, under the @USNAVY Twitter handle, reading: “#USNavy regrets the content of an internal email sent to @nbcwashington”

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