FOIA Update
February 1, 2023

WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on January 31, 2023, seeking records to shed light on the actions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, pdf) and the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (DOJ-OIG, pdf).

One FOIA request seeks documents relating to the FBI’s retaliation against Special Agent Stephen Friend for his protected disclosures about the FBI’s failure to follow its regulations and normal protocols in the sprawling investigations related to the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot. According to Friend’s disclosures, the FBI’s overuse of SWAT teams led to unnecessary risks to public safety, and its centralized control of cases without proper documentation led to inaccurate statistical reporting on the actual level of Domestic Violent Extremism around the country.

The second FOIA request seeks documents from the DOJ-OIG regarding its initial decision not to investigate Special Agent Friend’s underlying allegations. It is not clear whether DOJ-OIG will investigate the retaliatory security clearance investigation against Friend as a result of his whistleblowing.

In September 2022, the FBI suspended Special Agent Friend’s security clearance immediately after his legally protected disclosures of FBI misconduct. He made these disclosures to his supervisors at the FBI and DOJ-OIG, and to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and several Members of Congress. Friend sent his complaint to both Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Senator Durbin did not respond to the complaint.

In its FBI FOIA request (pdf), Empower Oversight is requesting, among other documents, all communications between and among FBI personnel related to Special Agent Friend’s protected disclosures to officials in his supervisory chain on August 19 and 23, 2022, and September 1, 2022. It also seeks all internal FBI communications relative to its decision to suspend his security clearance in lieu of pursuing traditional disciplinary actions, which afford employees more meaningful due process rights to challenge erroneous or unfounded grounds for a suspension. The FOIA request also seeks records of the FBI’s investigation of the alleged basis of the suspension, records of approving the FBI’s use of SWAT teams in Florida, where Friend worked, and records of other potential deviations from the FBI and DOJ policies.

In its DOJ-OIG FOIA request (pdf), Empower Oversight seeks all communication within the DOJ-OIG regarding Special Agent Friend’s allegations of the systemic abuses at the FBI, any investigative activities taken by the DOJ-OIG, and its rationale for failing to conduct any substantive investigation of the underlying allegations.

“Special Agent Friend did exactly what he was supposed to do when he witnessed the FBI’s improper deviation from its normal procedures and its excessive use of risky SWAT teams for what he believed were non-operational reasons,” said Jason Foster, Founder and President of Empower Oversight. “Not everyone has the courage to blow the whistle when they encounter wrongdoing in government. Those who do deserve to be protected, not punished. These disclosures ought to be impartially investigated by the Inspector General, and Special Agent Friend should be treated fairly by the FBI.”

If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.