Getting the FBI's files on Farouk
July 11, 2007
I filed a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act request (commonly known as a FOIA) for the FBI's files on Farouk in March 2006. The first stirrings of a response started coming in December, when I got a voice mail message from Peggy Jackson in the FOIA office in Washington, D.C. She said they were having delays in finding the files because of his name. The gist was that these Arabic names all get mixed up with each other. How reassuring in the midst of the alleged "War on Terror." This is despite the fact that I gave his eight-digit "Alien Number" and loads of other information and dates in my request.
But in March and April of 2007 my FOIA leaped ahead. Peggy handed me off to a Loren Shaver, and a two-week session of phone tag ensued. One of Shaver's voice mails mentioned "issues" with my request. I googled his name and found it on the website for the support of Leonard Peltier. It was satisfying to know that Farouk and I were in good company. But it was sobering to read that the government had been withholding "100 thousand" documents on Peltier from his defense team since 2001. In the ongoing battle for the Peltier files, Shaver has essentially played the role of the FBI's FOIA guardsman, a supplier of pretexts to deny the release of documents.
In the case of Leonard Peltier, Shaver had told the defense team that there were too many documents to produce and that he would provide summaries instead, which turned out to be useless. Great, so if the FBI decides to watch you like a bug under a microscope, it can claim it has too much information on you to tell you about.
I figured if I was about to face the dreaded Loren Shaver, I'd better get the best advice I could. I emailed the lawyer in charge of the FOIA issues for Peltier's team, Michael Kuzma. He responded right away, and after he'd generously shared his insights, I felt ready to deal with whatever mishegoss awaited me.
When I finally reached Shaver on April 26th (the fifth anniversary of Farouk's arrest), it was actually a cordial, low-key conversation. Shaver told me that they'd identified over 3,000 documents pertaining to my request, putting it in the "large" category. As Michael had explained to me, FOIA requests are fullfilled in three categories - Small (under 500 pages), Medium (500-2500 pages) and Large (over 2500 pages). (Though in the case of Leonard Peltier, there's apparently a fourth category, Too Large.) The larger the request, the more protracted the wait. "Large" entails a wait of months to a year (Too Large=Forever).
The first sign of trouble is that Shaver told me no records had turned up on Farouk dating after 1995. That would be interesting, since:
And the FBI is telling me now they have no records on any of this?
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