FOIA Discovery & How Nautilus Got the Story

FOIA Discovery & How Nautilus Got the Story


In 1984, Peter Hayes was doing background research for what later became Pacific Powderkeg: American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea. In a keyword search of the US Defense Technical Information Service, the citation for the JASON study caught his eye. He promptly filed a US Freedom of Information Act request on the Pentagon for the study. Other than a pro forma reply, the Pentagon simply failed to respond over the years. However, Nautilus viewed the request to be active as the Pentagon never closed the file. In 1988, Nautilus re-filed the request to keep it current.

In 1999, Nautilus reactivated the request again, referring to the earlier requests as active. This move led to a more vibrant correspondence with the Pentagon, assisted by the specialists on moving responses associated with the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In August 1999, Nautilus was told that only one more review and clearance (from Department of Energy) was required before release. Moving at typical FOIA response speed, DOD forwarded the document to DOE the following summer 2000. In February 2001, Nautilus called DOE asking them to move the document. In December 2001, DOE said that they had sent it back to DOD after reviewing it.

In April 2002, DOD informed Nautilus that they had held up the release of the JASON report although all legally required review had been completed due to the post-9/11 Bush Administration memorandum calling for further review (in this case, by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency) of any documents relating to weapons of mass destruction. Nautilus waited until July 2002 and finally appealed DOD’s de facto denial of the document, after 18 years of waiting. We provided DOD with a statement from Freeman Dyson, one of the JASON authors, stating that there was nothing in the report that should lead it to be denied.

In November 2002, the pace finally picked up. The DOD FOIA officer handling the request clearly wanted to make the system work, so we elected to wait rather than to act on our appeal.

The document finally arrived on December 4, 2002, nineteen years after the first request.