Air Force Lab Will Not Fund Controversial FOIA Study

08.09.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said this week that it will not administer a grant to a San Antonio, Texas law school to study state freedom of information laws.

In a story that prompted new concerns about official secrecy, USA Today reported last month that the government was going to pay St. Mary’s University School of Law $1 million to reevaluate state freedom of information laws in light of the threat of terrorism.

But the proposed freedom of information study “doesn’t fit with the information research and development that we do,” said Dan Emlin of the AFRL Information Directorate in Rome, New York.

That AFRL Directorate focuses on information technology — including C4I, artificial intelligence, and surveillance technology — but not information policy.

The freedom of information study “was more of a [policy] ‘project’ than bona fide research,” Mr. Emlin told Secrecy News, and “so the [AFRL] Director decided ‘We’re not going to do it’.”

Based on news reports and public statements, the proposed freedom of information study seemed oriented towards new limitations on public disclosure of information.

So, for example, St. Mary’s law school professor Jeffrey Addicott, the lead investigator, told USA Today that “There’s the public’s right to know, but how much?”

“There’s too much stuff that’s easy to get that shouldn’t be,” he added.

(“And plenty of stuff that should be easy to get that isn’t,” the Detroit Free Press objected in a July 26 editorial criticizing the program.)

But Senator John Cornyn, who sponsored the defense budget earmark of funds for the St. Mary’s project, said its purpose was not to increase secrecy.

“In fact, the exact opposite is true. The research will make certain that free flow of information is not unnecessarily hindered by security-driven laws approved by states after Sept. 11, 2001,” he said in a statement on the St. Mary’s web site.

“The study is not designed to assist the Department of Defense, Pentagon or individual States to weaken either State or Federal Freedom of Information Act laws,” according to another statement from the University.

Since the $1 million grant has already been appropriated by Congress in the FY 2006 defense appropriations bill, it is possible that another agency will step forward to administer the award. But with AFRL’s refusal to participate it is not immediately clear which agency that might be.