(CN) - Jason Leopold knows a thing or two about the Freedom of Information Act. Buzzfeed's senior investigative journalist currently has about 2,000 outstanding FOIA requests with federal agencies -- 150 of them submitted this year alone.
He says that while he found the penchant for government secrecy to be "really bad" under the Obama administration, things have gotten worse since President Donald Trump took office.
"I have seen across the board with all agencies, an aggressive effort to withhold records," he said recently. "I see this as a radical change in just three months compared with what happened under the Obama administration."
Leopold began his journalism career in 1992, but did not start using the public records law aggressively until 2009, after a bad experience with an anonymous source.
While working for Truthout, the nonprofit news website and daily newsletter, Leopold relied on false information from the source and wrongly reported in 2006 that a grand jury had indicted Karl Rove for lying during a federal investigation of the public identification of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.
"It was a horrible, terrible error which I regret," he said.
The mistake nearly killed his career and reputation, but he decided to try and rebuild both by making hefty use of the Freedom of Information Act.
He soon discovered that prying loose government documents can pack a powerful reporting punch.
In 2011, the Air Force removed slides used to train officers on the ethics of using nuclear weapons after Leopold reported for Truthout that they had cited the New Testament and an ex-Nazi.
He also obtained the secret diaries of Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah from a U.S. intelligence official after failing to obtain them through the FOIA. Zubaydah, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, was deemed a "high value detainee" after his arrest in Pakistan in March 2002. The diaries served as the foundation for an exclusive series for Al Jazeera.
And in 2016, top senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee included an amendment in a spending bill that required the Director of National Intelligence to detail how intelligence agencies interact with Hollywood after Leopold reported that the CIA had played a role in Hollywood productions.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law in 1966 to give citizens the right to access previously undisclosed federal government documents, like those Leopold obtains.
The law contains nine exemptions that allow agencies to protect information from disclosure, but Congress reformed it last year to close some loopholes agencies abused to obstruct disclosure.
The most abused exemption, Leopold said, is a discretionary one that covers attorney-client privilege, attorney-work product privilege and deliberative process, which allows federal employees to communicate candidly without fear of public exposure.
Agencies also regularly abuse the national security exemption, Leopold said.
"What I've found from certain records I've obtained after appeals, there's no national security risk," he said. "There's mostly embarrassment."
One time, Leopold found a letter among 300 pages of documents the CIA disclosed to him stemming from allegations that the agency had hacked into the Senate Intelligence Committee's computers during its investigation of the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation program - a euphemism for the torture program.