Post-it Notes. Ask Karlin Lillington about Post-it notes on FOI requests. She's seen a few that were for eyes only--not her eyes--because they mentioned her name as part of the personalised instructions given to the photocopy staff preparing FOI responses to the Irish Times. Karlin raised several effective FOIs with the Irish Department of Justice and tracked down anamolies about data protection, electronic surveillance and ministerial directives. Sometimes she got ideas for follow-on FOIs from Post-It notes that were photocopied as part of photocopies given to her. She wrote several front page stories about these topics.
In the Pentagon during the 80s, we used Post-it notes to guide telephone responses to difficult questions. We removed the notes after the phone calls. In the Old Executive Office Building, we kept a separate filing cabinet for binders holding the Post-it notes in cross-referenced folders. We received our guidance from the Chief of Staff and our compliance was audited by the Executive Office itself. Those Post-it Notes connected the dots to action agencies and program managers. This sytem evolved into a much more sophisticated office management protocol during the Bush Imperial Presidency. Without the Post-Its, you cannot cross-check double jobs, top-ups, or contract irregularities.
I don't know how an Irish FOI request can extend its reach into Post-It Notes. My belief is those tearaway notes are perishable. If they survive a change of officeholder, they get shoved into a banker's box and filed into historical archives. They might be uncovered decades later. In the case of WWII records in London, whole swaths of Neville Chamberlain's Post-It correspondence (my term, since his paper appendages were normally fastened by paper clip or folded record card) was removed by himself or his handlers, permanently skewering the record of the UK's entry to WWII.
Tissue Paper Co-ordination Copies. When dealing with important matters of State, many important documents provide a tissue paper copy of the original document. Ministers and appointed action officers scribble their comments on those tissue paper copies. By doing this, government ministers can say they don't remember seeing contentious material and FOI investigations or special prosecutors will show the original documents do not contain their initials. Since the tissue paper copies have no affiliation to the official co-ordination copies, they fall outside the purview of the administrative staff who are responsible for FOI compliance. If you want the tissue paper copies, you need to know how to access the records of the private secretaries. But first, you need to know who that person is and the bureaucratic affiliation of the private secretary may be outside the reach of the FOI request itself. Across Irish government, the real private secretaries are often family members of the elected politicians.
In matters relating to downsizing military bases, I would carry around two-inch thick documents and the tissue copies would comprise most of the brief. As an action officer, I could not permit anyone to photocopy the tissue copies but those were the ones that the senior civil servants and general officers wanted to read above all others.
Shadowberries. We all know about Blackberries provide an important electronic conduit for government officials. In Ireland, ministerial Blackberries connect staff to agenda items, calendar events, phone banks, and private information. And that's why some elected representatives have Shadowberries (Blackberries using different mail servers, separate electronic calendars and private access to encrypted documents). To access those devices and to see where they map their working materials means you need to get hands onto the devices themselves. That's not going to happen under either the US or the Irish Freedom of Information Acts.
I appreciate the hard work being performed by citizens and journalists in search of reasons behind how government works. But like every good story told anywhere, it's the rest of the story that often unveils the juiciest bits.