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....
Internally, Homeland Security was adamant that Napolitano's political advisers were merely reviewing materials before they were distributed, not making the call on whether they should come out. "To be clear, this is a review not an approval," Callahan wrote.
Yet many e-mails directed Homeland Security employees never to release information under FOIA without approval by political appointees.
"It is imperative that these requests are not released prior to the front office reviewing both the letter and the records," Papoi wrote in an e-mail to the agency's officers responsible for administering the law.
Another e-mail described a request from USA Today that was "tagged by the front office and requires approval."
Under the law, people can request copies of U.S. government records without specifying why they want them and are not obligated to provide personal information about themselves other than their name and an address where the records should be sent.
Yet several times, at least, junior political staffers asked superiors about the motives or affiliations of the requesters.
The directive laid out an expansive view of the sort of documents that required political vetting.
Anything that related to an Obama policy priority was pegged for this review. So was anything that touched on a "controversial or sensitive subject" that could attract media attention or that dealt with meetings involving prominent business and elected leaders.
Anything requested by lawmakers, journalists, activist groups or watchdog organizations had to go to the political appointees. This included all of AP's information requests, even a routine one for records that had already been sought by other news organizations.