Investigative Reporters and Editors has named the U.S. Navy and the governors of Oklahoma and Missouri as winners of its second-annual Golden Padlock Award recognizing the most secretive U.S. agency or individual.
The U.S. Navy FOIA office was named a winner for blocking access to records about a deadly shooting rampage in Washington, D.C. that killed 12 people last year. After the September 2013 massacre at the US Navy’s Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the Navy circled the wagons, especially when WRC-TV reporter Scott MacFarlane submitted FOIA requests for images, videos and security-related memos. The Navy not only blocked the request but Navy FOIA officer Robin Patterson, in an internal memo, detailed an elaborate plan to stymie MacFarlane’s request and others. The memo, which was accidentally released to MacFarlane, triggered an onslaught of media coverage, a written apology to MacFarlane by a Navy supervisor, a lawsuit against the Navy FOIA office and an internal Navy review of the agency’s FOIA procedures. But to this day, the Navy has still not responded to MacFarlane’s FOIA despite numerous requests.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon were co-winners for secrecy around state executions. After Missouri announced last year it was making the state's execution drug supplier a legally protected secret, officials began redacting all identifying information in response to freedom of information requests. When journalists eventually learned the name of the hidden supplier, they reported the company was not licensed in the state, had been cited in the past by regulatory agencies and was paid thousands of dollars for its services in cash deliveries by a high-ranking state official. Rather than embracing greater openness and transparency following the revelations, the state again shrouded its new, unknown execution drug supplier in secrecy where it remains today. In April, following a botched execution in Oklahoma, journalists were stonewalled by a law preventing the public from learning the name of the physician overseeing the execution, the supplier of the drugs and the credentials of the medical professional who may have improperly inserted a failed IV line. Under the law, details that could explain the gruesome last minutes of the inmate's life and seek accountability remain hidden from public knowledge.
"Being named the most secretive government agencies amid competition this fierce requires an unwavering commitment to undermining the public’s right to know," said IRE board member and Golden Padlock committee chair Robert Cribb. "The creativity and innovation behind their cloak and dagger efforts have distinguished them for this unique honor."
IRE invited a representative from the winning agencies to attend and receive the honor. No response was received.
To learn about the 2014 finalists, click here.