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Today I received a very odd response from the DEA to a three year old FOIA request – a denial, but one that makes no fucking sense whatsoever.  The people responsible for enforcing drugs on America are refusing to release any more of their contracts with Hollywood producers because somehow, between 2018 and now, they’ve become exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

In September 2021 I put in a request with the DEA saying:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. In response to a prior request (18000374-F) you released copies of contracts signed between the DEA and producers of films, TV and documentaries. I can provide you with some of these documents if necessary for clarification purposes.

I request that copies of the equivalent documents for the period 2018 to 2021 be released to me.

The prior documents, which you can download at the foot of this article, detailed the restrictions producers have to work under in order to gain DEA production support.  This includes not portraying wiretaps and electronic surveillance, just as with FBI support to Hollywood.  There was one major absence from the documents – Breaking Bad, a show that credits the Drug Enforcers on dozens of episodes but about which the DEA claim to have no records whatsoever.

DEA letter denying FOIA request

DEA denies my FOIA request

Today, over three years after I filed my followup request for the more recent contracts, I got a response – a full denial, based on exemption (b)(4), which is basically commercial confidentiality.  The exact definition of what falls within commercial confidentiality and what does was defined in the Argus Leader case (see here, the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy outlines it with surprising clarity).  Essentially:

  1. The material must be submitted by a private entity to the government who customarily treats the information as confidential
  2. The material is either usually kept confidential in the normal working practice of things OR
  3. There has been an explicit or implied assurance of confidentiality when the submitter submitted the information

Of course, none of this applies when, three years prior to my September 2021 request, the DEA released a bunch of the exact same sorts of documents to me covering the period 2011 to 2017.  Once you’ve set the precedent that something isn’t commercially confidential, then the Supreme Court makes the definition of ‘commercially confidential material’ even narrower than it was before, you can’t turn around and claim that the same material covering 2018 to 2021 has somehow morphed into something to which this exemption now applies.

But, this is what the DOD have been pulling with me since at least 2020, and despite winning numerous appeals (often winning them so strongly that the DOD were supposed to give me a new and full response within 20 days, according to their own lawyers) many of those requests and appeals remain unanswered.  Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that ball-less bureaucracts at the DEA are pulling the same shit, and I’ve already appealed their response.

The increased use of the commercial confidentiality exemption, despite it actually being made weaker by the ruling in the Argus Leader case, is one of those signs that the delays and diversion tactics that became more common under Trump have got even worse under Biden.  Curiously MuckRock, who are very useful in terms of FOIA tools but have a horribly liberal, pro-Democrat bias, are not drawing people’s attention to this like they did when it happened under Trump.  They recently denied any such bias in their email newsletter, but I can guarantee that despite senior people there following this site that they won’t be discussing Biden’s FOIA record in the same ‘OMG what a fascist!!!’ terms as they did his predecessor.

Once more, politics gets in the way of good government.  Shoot em all, let God sort em out…

DEA Contracts with Hollywood

DEA Production Assistance Agreements 2011 to 2017