Given the dramatic nature of the 2013 Aquadilla UFO footage, not to mention its subsequent forensic analysis by an independent team of researchers, De Void decided to informally query some flacks in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office about it. The 162-page report was released online on Aug. 11, and the feds at least deserve the opportunity to tell their side of it, right? After all, they’re the ones whose thermal camera recorded the small UFO as it hurtled above a coastal residential neighborhood in Puerto Rico before breaking the waves and – according to the ad hoc Scientific Coalition for UFOlogy (SCU) investigators – averaged more than 80 mph underwater before splitting into two separate flying objects.
Once it became clear CBP wasn’t going to bite, De Void filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a government copy of that video. It was apparently leaked to researchers by Customs insiders and had been lighting up the Internet a year or so before the SCU issued its report. “It’s not like they can deny it,” says SCU co-author Robert Powell. “We’ve got radar records showing their plane in the air at that time.” Still, it seemed important to officially verify the provenance of the controversial clip. The ensuing brushoff a couple of weeks ago, slugged “Final Disposition” and tersely worded as a “full denial based on exemptions,” came as no surprise. But its crimes against coherence were abominable.
“CBP has determined,” stated the online rejection notice, “that the responsive records are partially releasable, pursuant to Title 5 U.S.C 552 and have applied the appropriate exemptions.” De Void followed that link to a list of nine itemized potential “Exemptions,” accompanied by three other separate speedbumps beneath a category called “Exclusions.” The range was eclectic; it covered everything from protecting “trade secrets” to “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Unfortunately, the verdict failed to specify exactly which “Exemption” or “Exclusion” the CBP employed to justify its rejection of De Void’s FOIA. Furthermore, whatever the censors deemed “partially releasable” is nowhere in sight.
CBP evidently located what it called a “responsive record” to De Void’s query because it admitted there was “one item found.” Beneath that little glimmer of hope were links to “Export options” via CSV/Excel formats. De Void clicked on both of those separately and in both instances got a “Stripes validation error report” header with this alleged explanation, verbatim, in toto:
Here’s how it is. Someone (quite possibly the Stripes Dispatcher) needed to get the source page resolution. But no source page was supplied in the request, and unless you override ActionBeanContext.getSourcePageResolution() you’re going to need that value. When you use a tag a hidden field called ‘_ sourcePage’ is included. If you write your own forms or links that could generate validation errors, you must include a value for this parameter. This can be done by calling request.getServletPath().
Who writes this crap? Superman rival Mr. Mxyzptlk? Pretending to be helpful, this “Final Disposition” included yet another link, to a Department of Homeland Security “FOIA Contact Information” page, with a listing for a Customs & Border Protection FOIA Officer. De Void dialed the number and listened to the recorded message urging me to pursue more online options, but if I needed to talk to a human being I should press 1. When De Void pressed 1, it disconnected the call. De Void called back twice more and got the same results – two more disconnects.
Hang on a minute – I think I feel a sneeze coming on.
Of course, this isn’t about De Void or Aguadilla. During Sunshine Week last March, the Associated Press released a study detailing the disgraceful state of America’s FOIA laws. Despite President Obama’s inauguration-day executive orders calling for more federal transparency, bureaucracies under his administration have actually set a record for censorship, with a backlog of more than 200,000 FOIA unanswered requests in 2014, up by 55 percent over 2013. In its assessment of 100 federal agencies, the AP discovered a 4 percent drop in processing public inquiries from 2013. Maybe that’s because, in 2014, government agencies received a record 714,231 FOIA requests; maybe it’s because – as the logjam kept piling higher – those same agencies pink-slipped 375 employees charged with processing FOIAs full time, or 9 percent of the workforce.
Either way, the forecast for accountability and transparency looks like rain. Which – bottom line – means De Void is thankful for receiving abstruse gibberish instead of being ignored altogether.