With voracious campaign reporters and now Hillary Clinton herself demanding to know when her emails will finally be made public, deep within the State Department lies a small factory of workers tasked with sorting, reading, redacting and reviewing paper copies of what now amounts to hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.
The unenviable task falls to the State Department’s Office of Information Programs and Services and its lawyers, better known as the FOIA office -- which stands for Freedom of Information Act.
They’ve established a full-time staff, with one project manager, two case analysts, nine FOIA reviewers and a slew of additional information analysts who have been working since April.
The text they must analyze includes 55,000 pages encompassing more than 30,000 emails from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account, spanning from 2009 to 2013.
They’ve also been tasked with first finding and then reviewing any all documents and communications from all of 2011 and 2012 authored by or sent to 10 separate senior State Department officials having anything to do with Libya (and not limited to Benghazi).
The first painstaking request was made by Clinton herself, when in the wake of revelations that she had used a private email server during her time as the nation's top diplomat, she handed them over to the State Department and requested that it release all of them.
The second data mining operation comes via Rep. Trey Gowdy and the Select Committee on Benghazi, which has recently demanded to see the documents as part of its year-old investigation into 2012 terror attack. He also requested, and has already received, 300 emails from Clinton specifically regarding Benghazi, but he has chosen not to make any of that information public.
But getting the rest of the work done is far from over for the State Department.
In court papers filed Monday concerning a FOIA lawsuit over Clinton’s emails, John F. Hackett, the head of the State Department’s FOIA office, explained to a federal judge exactly just how labor intensive the work has become.
First, Hackett notes that when Clinton handed over the emails, her office provided them in paper form -- 55,000 pages to be precise.
“The documents were provided in twelve bankers’ boxes (approximately 24” x 15” x 10 ¼” in size) with labels placed on the outside of the boxes that corresponded approximately to the timeframe of the documents within a given box,” Hackett wrote in the court papers.
He said the first task was to organize the records to standards provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, and then to sort out the emails -- which were personal in nature and therefore not relevant to public disclosure.
“Each page of the 55,000 must be individually hand-processed in order to ensure that all information is being captured in the scanning process,” Hackett wrote in the court papers.
He goes on to say that each scanned page comes with a five-step process involving “barcodes,” “separator sheets,” “manually input bibliographic coding,” and other tedious data entry tasks. “This process was made even more complicated by the fact that some, but not all, of the paper records that the Department received were double-sided,” Hackett said.
State Department officials also point out one of the more devastating hurdles of all. The Benghazi committee has specifically stipulated that the researchers are not allowed to simply “key-word search” the documents. Everything has to be read over. And if they’re doing their jobs well ... they’ll probably read it more than once.