BuzzFeed News hires 'FOIA terrorist' Jason Leopold from Vice News

BuzzFeed's legal team has helped reporters pry more than 70,000 pages of documents from government agencies with FOIA requests.

That number is about to increase in a big way. On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News announced the hiring of investigative journalist Jason Leopold, who has made a living — and eked out tons of scoops — by deluging the federal government with Freedom of Information Act requests.

Leopold, who currently works for VICE News, is a self-styled "FOIA terrorist," and has the distinction of triggering a flood of stories after suing for Hillary Clinton's State Department emails. Leopold has brought more FOIA lawsuits by himself than any other news organization except The New York Times.

In a memo to BuzzFeed's staff, Investigative Editor Mark Schoofs said Leopold was attracted to BuzzFeed by its legal team, which has "set aside formidable resources to help Jason continue his strategy of aggressive FOIA litigation."

As we enter a new and uncharted era in covering the federal government, Jason will build on that track record here with us. Indeed, Jason came to BuzzFeed News in large part because of our own Nabiha Syed, who has set aside formidable resources to help Jason continue his strategy of aggressive FOIA litigation. Watch out, Washington!

Leopold, who will be based in Los Angeles, will have free rein to cover a wide variety of topics for BuzzFeed News, but he will likely pay close attention to national security during his tenure. He will join an investigative team that now has 21 members around the globe, with journalists based in the U.S. and U.K.

In the wake of the presidential election, Leopold's scrutiny of the federal government will be more important than ever, Schoofs said.

"We had begun talking to Jason before the election, so we didn’t know it would end up," Schoofs told Poynter. "But obviously having someone like Jason, with his expertise in FOIA is a huge asset. And we are thrilled to have him now more than ever."

Here's Schoofs' memo:

I am thrilled to announce that we've hired Jason Leopold, ace reporter and FOIA Jedi warrior.

Over the last 15 years, Jason has brought more FOIA lawsuits than any news organization except for the entire New York Times. His suits have caused the FBI and Defense Department to change their FOIA policies, and he’s won various honors, including being inducted into the National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame.

As we enter a new and uncharted era in covering the federal government, Jason will build on that track record here with us. Indeed, Jason came to BuzzFeed News in large part because of our own Nabiha Syed, who has set aside formidable resources to help Jason continue his strategy of aggressive FOIA litigation. Watch out, Washington!

Jason comes to us from Vice News, where he’s worked since 2014. Before that he was at Al Jazeera America and co-founded The Public Record. His relentlessness has made him one of America's foremost national security reporters. Out of the clenched fist of the government, he pried loose the unredacted manual on how Guantanamo prisoners were force-fed, the NSA’s talking points on the Snowden revelations, and the CIA's legal justification for killing an American — Anwar al Awlaki — suspected of engaging in terrorism. He got his hands on internal CIA documents showing how the agency worked with Hollywood to produce Zero Dark Thirty, which led to legislation cracking down on how intelligence agencies collaborate with the entertainment industry. And after our very own Ali Watkins helped break the story that the CIA was spying on the US Senate, Jason obtained documents that allowed him to delve deep into how the agency came to take that shocking and extraordinary step.

He doesn’t only use FOIA, of course. After pursuing for ten years (!) the diaries of Abu Zubaydah, the guinea pig for America’s torture program, Jason finally got a source to turn them over. After Jason secured an interview that would go on to be nominated for an Emmy with psychologist James Mitchell, an architect of the Bush administration’s torture program, Jason got Mitchell on the record saying that he himself had helped waterboard al Qaeda suspects.

Jason's reporting efforts range far and wide. It was Jason, of course, who sued for Hillary Clinton's emails, leading to an avalanche of stories. And it was Jason who discovered that the Department of Homeland Security wanted to "plug" agents into the Ferguson protests to gather intelligence and that the DC police were using special “stingray” technology to monitor cell phones.

Oh, and Jason has an eye for the quirky and funny, revealing how the CIA helped produce an episode of Top Chef and how Attorney General Eric Holder used Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s birth name for his official email address.

Jason, whose Twitter handle is @JasonLeopold, will work out of Los Angeles. He will join us for our investigations confab in January and officially starts work on February 6.

Please roll out a hearty BuzzFeed News welcome to Jason!

Mark

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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