So Bloomberg finally received the documents that one of their reporters, the late Mark Pittman, requested 20 months ago, to identify the $301 billion in Citi-owned securities that were guaranteed by the government, Bloomberg reports, But the documents are pretty much useless now.
The 560 pages of emails weren’t what Pittman asked for, and most of the text in them has been redacted anyway.
Pittman’s news agency, Bloomberg, thought they’d won their battle when a Second Circuit Judge demanded the Treasury turn over the requested documents, until they received the records.
They were so heavily redacted that most of what’s left are everyday messages such as “Did you just try to call me?” and “Monday will be a busy day!” None of the documents answers Pittman’s request for “records sufficient to show the names of the relevant securities” or the dates and terms of the guarantees.
Here’s a brief timeline of what happened:
- Pittman asks the Treasury for details about guarantees it provided on securities held by Citigroup, AIG and BofA in September 2008.
- Responding in December 2008 that AIG and BofA didn’t take part in the Asset Guarantee Program (AGP), the request for information is “granted in part and denied in part.”
- The Treasury withholds 2810 pages because they contain trade secrets, personnel rules and practices, memos subject to attorney-client privilege and apparently would also violate personal privacy laws. The letter to Pittman from the Board explains that while the “board strongly supports transparency,” the country is “facing an unprecedented crisis” and it would be “a dangerous step to release this otherwise confidential information.” (Go to Scribd for the full response > )
- Treasury denies another FOIA request on Citi’s segregated bad assets based on the trade-secrets exemption. 73 of 104 pages are redacted except for headings. Only the cover, contents page, a list of legal disclosures and a section titled “FOIA Request for Confidential Treatment” (in total, six pages) are left completely intact, according to Bloomberg.
The Treasury told Bloomberg in an email the bank is under “no obligation to explain how much of Citi’s recommendations we accepted and in what ways we decided to differ.”
So basically, the whole notion of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seems honorable and useful if:
A) You’re not asking for information about the bank bailout.
B) You’re happy to wait years for the requested information.
C) You don’t mind if the requested documents are 95% blacked out when you finally get them.
This is our recommendation to Bloomberg, since it looks like traditional investigative reporting isn’t going to cut it in this case – try to convince Wikileaks that its next big drop should be about the bank bailout.