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Corruption Chronicles

FBI Blows Off Public Records Laws

Utilizing an outdated and deliberately limited search process, the Federal Bureau of Investigation fails to comply with two thirds of public records requests, far more than any other government agency.

Even scarier is that the FBI, responsible for protecting the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, uses the same faulty search process in its criminal investigations. This alarming information was revealed this week by the National Security Archive, a group that publishes declassified government documents mostly obtained through federal public records laws.

This week the group crowned the FBI with its annual dishonor—the Rosemary Award—for worst violator of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The award is appropriately named after the Richard Nixon secretary (Rosemary Woods) who accidentally erased a crucial White House tape recording when she stretched to answer the phone.

According to the National Security Archive in the last four years the FBI claimed that it couldn’t find records in 66% of requests (37,342 out of 56,530). In 2008, only 0.5% of requesters got what they sought from the bureau. The FBI knowingly uses a search process that doesn’t find relevant records, say archive directors. The same searches are used in its criminal investigations. 

This is simply the latest of many negative reports involving the notoriously troubled agency. In the last few years the ailing bureau has received dismal performance ratings from crucial entities such as the bipartisan September 11 Commission and the investigative arm of Congress known as the Government Accountability Office. 

Last year a Senate Intelligence Committee revealed in a lengthy report that widespread problems and weaknesses inside the FBI would prevent the agency from intercepting a future terrorist attack. A few years ago the agency came under fire for losing sensitive computer files and weapons and for failing to adopt adequate security measures to curtail espionage from within. 


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