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Naomi Wolf Versus Joshua Holland: Was There a Coordinated Federal Crackdown on Occupy Wall Street?

Naomi Wolf responds to Joshua Holland's criticisms of her piece alleging a coordinated federal crackdown on Occupy Wall Street.

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"Our constitutional rights litigation on behalf of demonstrators over the years has uncovered time and again federal agency involvement in what were initially claimed to be local police actions."

(The link here is to background about the FOIA , and gives a pdf of one of the FOIAs.) Verheyden-Hilliard continues:

"[The] DHS has just contacted us asking that we narrow the request to information in the possession of 'senior staff'. They said that others were agreeing to do so. We are not. I believe what they may wish to do is conduct a limited search (with everyone's consent) and announce their exonerating results on their website as a PR effort to claim they have no involvement. I can forward you my correspondence with them about that today if you would like to see it."

Later that day, she sent me her letter to DHS, which reflects the phone conversation about narrowing the scope of the FOIA request:

"Dear Ms Busch,

"I am writing in response to your request that we limit our request for information regarding federal agency coordination or involvement in the response to Occupy encampments, to only that in possession of senior staff at DHS. You stated that you were making this request to media requestors and that all the other requestors had agreed and that we were the last one you were calling. You also stated that the DHS was intending to put the response to all the media FOIA requests on this topic, of which you believed there were 5 or 6 including ours, up on the web.

"As I raised in our discussion, I do not know the substance of the other requests that were made, and whether they contained any similar specificity of ours so I cannot comment on them. You did indicate that at this time they were being treated without differentiation as to specifics of the request.

"As I stated, we would certainly understand the agency prioritizing its search efforts to where it understands is the most likely location of responsive information. I would not assume that responsive information is solely contained among senior staff and think it likely that mid-level staff would carry out day to day responsibilities that would involve inter-agency coordination and work as liaisons with local law enforcement agencies and other federal agencies.

"It is premature for us, as requestors, to narrow our search request and forgo our entitlement to receive and review materials responsive to our request as originally formulated. As you know, the public interest in this subject matter is substantial […].

"I understand from our phone conversation that this initial search is not being limited to the DHS Headquarters but includes DHS component agencies […].

"Because we do not know what information will be derived in response, we cannot agree to "narrow" or change our request to senior staff only. We cannot suggest or agree that whatever the outcome of that search, it could be considered fully responsive or sufficient, and thus request that when the DHS publicly announces its response on its website, it will not state or assume that the responses are categorically complete or satisfy all the FOIA requests on this matter.

"We are happy to work with you to determine the most efficacious and efficient search for responsive records to be made available to the public and look forward to your initial search responses."

So it appears from this document, and from Ms Verheyden-Hilliard's summary of her conversation to which it refers, that DHS is actively negotiating with at least one of the organisations that submitted the FOIA request, to narrow the scope of what the FOIA will compel the agency to reveal. This letter appears to confirm that DHS is arguing to limit the reach of the entities' FOIA request: DHS is asking that the request only apply to "senior staff", which would allow DHS to conceal the involvement of any number of officials and agents below senior levels. They are taking this position rather than simply turning over the initially requested documents. If Mr Holland were right, that DHS had no involvement in the crackdown, they would have no disincentive to do so. For Holland not to have made any such an enquiry – and then to conclude that the crackdowns were merely a result of local policing and local politics – is, in my view, seriously inadequate reporting.

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