Using FOI on the FBI

Al’s Morning Meeting just featured a “how-to” for requesting FBI files on the famous and not-so-famous. WTTG-TV reporter Tisha Thompson is working on a series of reports involving the files and she shares what she’s learned so far.

If you want your file, you need to file a Privacy Act Request using the FBI’s form. You should put as much info that you feel comfortable giving out as you can to help them search for you: every name you’ve ever used (including maiden and nicknames), date of birth, Social Security number and any event you think the FBI would have interviewed or investigated you for.

If you want someone else’s file, you need to file a Freedom of Information Act request using the FBI’s form. Once again, put as much as you can on the form. If it isn’t someone super-famous (and I mean REALLY famous), you might want to include a copy of their obituary to save you about a month’s worth of time. Otherwise, they will automatically send you a letter asking you for the obituary.

Thompson also says you have to write a lot of letters – 56, in fact. Because the FBI organizes its files using an antiquated system, Thompson suggests you contact all the FBI field offices that might have the records you’re looking for.

And don’t be surprised if you get nothing for your efforts. According to Thompson:

The FBI says it has “no records” for 60 to 70 percent of the requests it receives. But critics, like the National Security Archive, say many of those files exist — the FBI just doesn’t want to work very hard to find them.


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