A little over a month ago, I made a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request to the U.S. Navy for a copy of a very obscure DVD produced by the Naval Education and Training Command about the Seabourn Spirit incident in 2005. Given the recent renewed public interest in Somali piracy, it seemed like the video was something worth trying to get. Alas, the Navy doesn’t want to part with the “USS Gonzales / USS Capt. St. George Somali Pirate Incident” case study.
Last week, I got an early-morning phone call from them. Now, keep in mind, I have at least three other outstanding FOIA requests with the Navy, I’m not really a morning person, and the person I spoke to wasn’t particularly clear about which request they were referring to. What they said was that the “material in question” was “not going to be released”, and they’d “appreciate it” if I would withdraw the request, please. What would I like to do?
I said that was fine – but keep in mind, I thought they were referring to some training manuals I’d requested from NCIS, and which I half-expected (and still half-expect) to be withheld under the “internal rules and practices” exemption to the FOIA. Go ahead and deny the request, I said, I understand completely.
Well, they said, clearly not happy with the whole thing, it’d make things a whole lot easier if I just withdrew the request. Well, fine, I said, if it’s that big of a deal, go ahead and do that, then.
They were mighty thankful, as you might expect. They promised to send me a letter confirming the withdrawal, and then asked, in a nicely obvious way, why I wanted a copy of the material, anyway? Was it just historical interest, or something else? “You don’t have to answer that, of course,” they added. Thinking we were still talking about the NCIS manuals, I answered, of course, that it was purely academic, historical interest. And they were happy, and I was not, but – though it was mighty suspicious – it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. (I figured NCIS gets to few FOIA requests, they didn’t want to “completely deny” mine, for fear of screwing up their stats.)
Now I’ve got the letter explaining that I’ve withdrawn my request for the Somali Pirate DVD, which is – how shall we put this – fishy. You see, the DVD is “FOUO” – For Official Use Only. That’s not a classification, merely a distribution restriction. And, in the time since I made my request, back in September, the disc listing has acquired a big warning about “very limited distribution” and “not to be released to the public”. Nevermind the lack of justification for these pseudo-restrictions; the Navy doesn’t want the public to see the video, apparently “just because”. Secrecy for secrecy’s sake, in other words.
Here, dear reader, is where you come in. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter how disinterested in Somali piracy you may be, I’d like you to make a FOIA request for this DVD. It’ll cost you nothing, and can be done via email.
Simply write to PNSC_NETC_FOIA@navy.mil; give them your name and address, and say that you wish to make a Freedom of Information Act request for the “USS Gonzales / USS Capt St. George Somali Pirate Incident case study, ICN N0403-07-0006″. The Navy doesn’t want to release this video, which is perhaps understandable. However, they seem equally reluctant to actually formally review and process the video; I speculate it is because, when push comes to shove, they have no grounds for legally withholding it. They pulled a fast one on me, but, forewarned, I expect you, dear reader, to not fall for their tricks. Even if it doesn’t produce the DVD, it’ll hold them (slightly) accountable, which is all one can really ask for.
Incidentally, if you’re reading this, and are in the Navy, this video is reportedly available to you, online, on the “Center for Security Forces web page on Navy Knowledge Online”. While I would never suggest that you try to contact me about providing a “pirate” copy of the video (get it? “pirate”?), if you’d like to view the thing and provide any insights about why this video is so tightly-held, you are invited to do so – either here, again or as a comment on this page. I assure you, the world waits with baited breath your wisdom, insights, and explanations…
(Oh, and USN? Now that I’m wide awake, how lame is the whole “please withdraw your request for something we promise you we won’t release” appeal? I save you some work, and get, what, your insincere thanks? When you try that stunt on readers from this site, at least offer ‘em a free t-shirt or pen or something; you know, bribe them to go away…)