Sunday, April 25, 2010

Everywhere You Need to Spy On

A friend of mine submitted to the NSA a FOIA request for information relating the activities of an institution and the National Security Agency.  Below is a credit card form included in that response. It seems America's largest and most secret intelligence agency sticks with VISA. A good choice given VISA is everywhere you want to be and life doesn't take American Express. Apparently, neither does the NSA cafeteria. I thought it was amusing plus between my headache and work, I  cannot muster the will to conjure up a better post.

NSA Credit Card Form

Sunday, April 18, 2010

FOIA Follies IV- The FBI Math FAIL

After my tirade yesterday about the FBI FOIA Office’s idiocy, I had intended to turn my ire on the CIA today. However, before I finish cobbling together my diatribe regarding the CIA’s capricious system, I rummaged through my records and found the below posted letter regarding another FOIA request submitted to the FBI. The rank fail contained inside spawned a shelving of my CIA rant and the creation of this one.

FBI FOIALetter Fee Idiocy

This FBI letter informs me that they have found records responsive to my FOIA request. The combined fees of my request (search and duplication) amount to $24.30. Just a sentence prior, the FBI states that it is the FBI “notifies when anticipated fees exceed $25.” Fine, but as you can see the letter stated that the fees would be “”24.30,” which is pocket change less, but still less, than $25. Two sentence later, it is revealed that, “this is only an estimate, and if some of the pages are withheld in full pursuant to FOIA/Privacy Act exemption(s) or are, determined to not be responsive to your request, the actual charges could be less. So, not only is the estimate below $25 to start, the fees might be reduced even further. Nice.

Worse yet, when I submitted this FOIA request, I informed the FBI that I was willing to pay fees up to and including $25. I have previously paid for records released through FOIA, so the FBI knows I am good for it. I also requested that the FBI call me if they had any questions regarding my willingness to pay fees or reduce the scope of my request.

However, as someone who works in special education, I am aware that praise should accompany criticism whenever possible. So, I would like to thank the FBI for getting my name right on this FOIA request. I would also like to point out that they corrected the typo regarding requester response time that I railed about in my previous letter. Now, lets work on the FBI’s our math concepts such as greater and less than and the sequence of numbers and brush up on reading for comprehension skills.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

FOIA Follies III- FBI Response Time Confusion

Writing a thesis on a domestic terrorism in America requires a lot of FOIAs to the FBI. Besides requests for the famous groups like the Weathermen or famous attacks like 9-11, you have to submit requests on all the terrorist organizations operating in America. Needless to say, I have interacted a lot with the FBI FOIA office. Honestly, I am not impressed.
Response times are horrible, even when FOIAing for files that are frequently requested and require little searching. Staff can be snippy and bitchy about answering basic questions. Not to mention, they destroy files with little public notice or apparent rhyme or reason. On a more basic level, they cannot keep their policies straight on simple policy matters like how long a requester has to respond to a letter or query from the FBI FOIA office.

Below is a letter I received from the FBI regarding a FOIA request. On one hand, it informs me that I "must notify us [FBI] in writing within 60 days from the date of this letter of your willingness to pay." However, by the next-to-last-paragraph, I am informed that "if you fail to notify us of your willingness to pay [and/or] we do not hear from you regarding your willingness to reduce the scope of your request within 30 days from the date of this letter, your request will be closed."

Do I have 30 or 60 days to which to respond to this letter? It is unclear from this muddled missive. Given that this is a form letter and the minor nature of this gaffe, thousands of people have received this letter and I doubt anyone has informed them of their mistake. Most likely, they laugh, maybe mock the FBI amongst their friends and then pay the fee or reduce the scope of their request within 30 days.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Secret Files of Rudy Giuliani

Below is the finding aid for the classified files from Rudy Giuliani's reign as Associate Attorney General. They are housed at National Archives II in College Park, MD.  A kind NARA staffer provided me with this copy, which I have finally scanned and published online.

The Secret Files of Rudy Giuliani

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

Criminal Division-Dominica Gov't Overthrow
Homosexuality- FBI Policy
Libyan Explusion
Muriel [sic] [Cubans]
Tomahawk, Espionage, Poland

Also of interest is the fact that this finding aid is still not available in the finding aids for the records of attorney generals and their staffs in the main NARA II research room on the second floor despite a FOIA request by a classmate who received this exact same finding aid. In fact, few of the finding aids for classified files are available for researcher use.  This is not accidental. As I was told, if you do not know that this finding aid and the others like it for other attorney generals exist and that they are FOIAble, you will not ask for them or, more importantly, the files they list.

If you conduct research using Department of Justice Files (RG 60) at NARA II, there are five black binders which contain the finding aids for the Attorney General's Office, the Attorney Generals, and their staffs. Classified finding aids are rarely there. If you look through the binders, you'll notice that there is often a receipt noting that NARA received them, but no finding aid. If you want to see the finding aid, either ask an archivist. If they like you, ifit's uncrowded, and you've been an okay researcher, they'll either get them for you or instruct you how to FOIA for them. Otherwise, just mail in a standard FOIA request to NARA.