Last month, Barton Gellman published an explosive story in the Washington Post about the NSA's widespread privacy violations, based on documents he obtained from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Gellman also wrote a companion piece to his main article that serves as a fact sheet highlighting his efforts to obtain comment from the NSA for his story. Gellman noted that the NSA made its director of compliance, John DeLong, available for an interview and they spoke for 90-minutes. Naturally, I was interested in what DeLong had told Gellman about the NSA's surveillance programs so I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of the transcript, audio or any notes pertaining to Gellman and DeLong's discussion.
Government agencies routinely maintain transcripts of significant interviews whenever their top officials speak with reporters. Granted, the NSA is a highly secretive agency and its officials rarely grant interviews to the media about its classified programs. But the revelations contained in the documents Snowden provided to Gellman and reporter Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian changed that as the numerous statements and speeches on its website show. Wouldn't it make sense that the agency would keep an internal record of such a high profile interview?
Responding to my FOIA request, Pamela Phillips, the head of the NSA's FOIA office, wrote on September 11, "We have consulted with the appropriate NSA/CSS [Central Security Service] organizations and were advised that there is no recording or transcript, or [sic] and no notes were taken during the Gellman-DeLong interview. Therefore, no records responsive to your request were located."
That's odd. Here's what Gellman wrote on August 15 about his dealings with the NSA, specifically the agency's response to his interview with DeLong:
The Obama administration referred all questions for this article to John DeLong, the NSA’s director of compliance, who answered questions freely in a 90-minute interview. DeLong and members of the NSA communications staff said he could be quoted “by name and title” on some of his answers after an unspecified internal review. The Post said it would not permit the editing of quotes. Two days later, White House and NSA spokesmen said that none of DeLong’s comments could be quoted on the record and sent instead a prepared statement in his name. The Post declines to accept the substitute language as quotations from DeLong. [Emphasis added].
How was the internal review of what DeLong told Gellman conducted if the NSA did not maintain any written or audio record of the interview?
Who knows. But I intend to file an appeal challenging the veracity of the search for responsive records in hopes of finding out.