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FBI appears to have investigated – and considered prosecuting – FOIA requesters

December 20, 2017

Emma Best

12/12/2017

Source …..

A new FOIA release shows the FBI Director’s Office responded to FOIA requests for known files on deceased FBI officials by presenting options that seemingly included a law enforcement investigation/proceeding against the requesters, with one email calling the requests “SUSPICIOUS.” While the emails are heavily redacted to conceal the identities of the FBI officials involved in the discussions, the Bureau repeatedly left personal information of the different FOIA requesters unredacted, despite having clear guidelines and no privacy waivers.

The FBI’s Dead List, which compiles a list of FBI files on subjects the Bureau knows to be dead, can be a wonderful resource for FOIA requesters. The list confirms the existence of specific FBI files as well as the subject’s death, removing the need to provide separate proof of death in order to avoid unnecessary redactions. The FBI has recently begun claiming that they can’t locate the updated copy of the file, a claim that the Department of Justice has upheld on appeal. The most recently released copy of the Dead List identified approximately 7,000 deceased FBI officials on whom the Bureau maintained files. Due to the obvious public interest in these files, they were requested.

To accomplish this, the names of the subjects were extracted from the Dead List and a simple script written to submit FOIA requests for them. The requests were submitted on February 29th 2016, with the script and data made available online so that others could make their own requests and trigger the DOJ’s “rule of three” for frequently requested records, which would see the files posted online by the FBI. The FBI acknowledged a large number of them before they began ignoring them. Over a month later (after the Bureau had exceeded legal time limit), the FBI sent a letter stating that they had “received an exceedingly high volume of submissions” which they would not accept.

According to the Bureau, fulfilling the FOIA requests would have prevented the FBI from fulfilling FOIA requests. Their letter stated that the “manner of submission interfered with the FBI’s ability to perform its FOIA and PA statutory responsibilities as an agency. Accordingly, the FBI did not accept these submissions on February 29th, 2016.”

In response, a new FOIA request was filed for:

All internal memos, letters and emails relating to a voluminous number of FOIA requests that were submitted on February 29th, 2016 and all discussions of how to handle said requests. I also hereby request all email maintenance complaints, logs and other documentation of problems associated with the FBI email system for February and March 2016.

After ten months (again well outside the legal limit), the Bureau finally responded with 25 pages of heavily redacted emails. The FBI provided no records indicating any problems with their email system for February or March, and withheld no pages in their entirety. Since the FBI’s FOIA office is always thorough in their searches and acts in good faith for David Hardy, the FBI’s relevant Section Chief, is an honorable man, it might be safe to assume that these records do not exist. If they did, the Bureau would surely release them, if only to substantiate Hardy’s claim that the submission method caused interference for the FBI. Since the author’s free Gmail account was able to handle the number of emails involved, it’s hardly surprising that the Bureau’s system would be as well.

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