A federal judge earlier this month ordered the State Department to explain why it has been so slow to produce records related to the acoustic incidents that injured U.S. diplomats in Havana.
New Yorker magazine and a watchdog group, the James Madison Project, sued the State Department in February 2019 for documents about the incidents.
The State Department said it found 194,000 records, but it was processing only 300 pages per month. At that pace, it would take nearly nearly 54 years to release all the records. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the State Department suspended processing of the documents, saying the case was not “mission critical.”
On May 25, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the State Department had until June 23 to explain why it hasn’t resumed work on the request, which was filed under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
Court records state:
Defendant must submit another status report by June 23, 2021. With the next status report, the agency must further explain why it cannot resume FOIA processing when other agencies, including agencies dealing with sensitive national intelligence and/or law enforcement information, are producing records in response to pending FOIA requests at this time.
The lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Bradley Prescott Moss of the law offices of Mark S. Zaid in Washington, D.C.
The lawyer for the State Department is Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Caplen. He wrote in a status report filed May 24:
As previously reported, the Department announced in December 2020 that the National Capital Region was officially regressing to Phase One, which requires that offices maximize telework. The Department’s National Capital Region remains in Phase One. The Department continues to assess the impact the regression to Phase One has had on its onsite FOIA litigation staffing and constraints upon the Department’s ability to process records for its FOIA litigation cases, including obtaining clearances from internal Department and external Executive Branch components. Consequently, there has been no change in the Department’s ability to process this case, which involves material that is only accessible on classified servers that require in-person processing and do not allow for remote work.
Consistent with the Court’s March 31, 2020, Minute Order, Defendant shall file another status report by June 23, 2021, and continuing every thirty (30) days thereafter, advising the Court whether the Department can resume operations in this case and, if so, proposing a schedule to resume processing and productions.