Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Nonexistent FBI File

Back in the youthful days of the federal Freedom of Information Act I submitted a written request to the FBI to see exactly what they had on me. I'd heard of people getting copies of their "permanent record" only to find that a bunch of things had been "redacted" for reasons of privacy or national security, even to the point of getting a dozen pages (which they had to pay for, by the way) of nothing but blacked-out type.

I was interested in knowing what they had, and I knew that they had to have something. My best friend at the time had been under investigation for several years as a "dangerous radical" and had been set up and busted on a phony dope charge by the local police who were working with the Feebs.

After his arrest, as soon as they got him into custody at the police station the Feebs took over and demanded to know his connection to something called "The White Panther Party" (this was shortly after the FBI raid on the White Panther headquarters in Portland OR) and interrogated him on the current whereabouts of Weather Underground fugitive Bernadine Dohrn.

It was a crazy time, and the Feebs, for all their vaunted "professionalism", didn't fuck around with the subtle niceties of the US Constitution. I guess he was lucky at that, since they didn't mark him for "special rendition" to some godforsaken third world country that didn't have any laws against torture.

So what makes me think that my relationship with this friend caused the Feebs to start a file on me?

Because we were roommates at the time, and this was not one of those thrown-together-in-a-college-dorm thing. We were active in the anti-war movement and living in a small "urban commune", and everyone else in the house was also followed and interrogated and hassled pretty much at the same time.

So when my FOIA request came back with the notation "could not locate records responsive to your request" I had my suspicions that they weren't being entirely forthright about it.

So now, some 35 years later, I ran across this article, Revealed: The FBI's Secretive Practice of "Blackballing" Files over at Truthout.org:

Have you ever filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI and received a written response from the agency stating that it could not locate records responsive to your request?
If so, there's a chance the FBI may have found some documents, but for unknown reasons, the agency's FOIA analysts determined it was not responsive and "blackballed" the file, crucial information the FBI withholds from a requester when it issues a "no records" response.
Okay, so there we go. My file, apparently, was of such a magnitude of a threat to national security that not only were its contents blacked out, but so was the entire file.

So I guess I'm also lucky not to have been "specially rendered" myself... I'm also lucky that I haven't shown up on somebody's "no fly" list.

I'd file a new FOI request, but at this point I don't think I can afford, at 25 cents per page, the cost of it. After all, I am an elderly shut-in on a fixed income these days.

1 Comment:

Trevor said...

It doesn't cost 25 cents a page. It costs 10 cents. And if you get the files on CD-ROM it's even less than that. Things are better today. You should consider requesting your file again, this time specifying that you want them to search both field office and headquarters files. Good luck.