Is the FBI “Blackballing” FOI Requests?

A provocative piece…

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.

The FBI’s practice of “blackballing” files has never been publicly disclosed before. With the exception of one open government expert, a half-dozen others contacted by Truthout said they were unfamiliar with the process of “blackballing” and had never heard of the term.

Trevor Griffey learned about “blackballing” last year when he filed a FOIA/Privacy Act request with the FBI to determine whether Manning Marable, a Columbia University professor who founded the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, sought to obtain the FBI’s files on Malcolm X under FOIA. At the time of his death last April, Marable had just finished writing an exhaustive biography on the late civil rights activist. Griffey filed the FOIA hoping he would receive records to assist him with research he has been conducting related to a long-term civil rights project he has been working on.

In a letter the agency sent in response to his FOIA, the FBI told Griffey that it could not locate “main file records” on Marable responsive to his request. Last November, in response to a FOIA request Truthout filed with the FBI for a wide-range of documents on the Occupy Wall Street, the agency also said it was unable to “identify main file records responsive to [our] FOIA,” despite the fact that internal FBI documents related to the protest movement had already been posted on the Internet. The FBI has been criticized in the past for responding to more than half of the FOIA requests the agency had received by claiming it could not locate responsive files.

 

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