Thursday, July 23, 2009

FBI File Requests

Another person has asked me how I go about requesting FBI case files. So I’d thought I’d post my method which is basically by the book of how the FBI tells you to request files. If you go to it’s an abundant source for doing research with the FBI. If you’re interested in case files, you'll need to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Now the first thing to remember is that if you’re interested in current case files you may be out of luck. Much of that information is still sealed. I have an interest in crimes that occurred in the 1920’s and 1930’s when the FBI was the Bureau of Investigation so it’s easier for me to get records if they still exist and have not been destroyed.

I usually just use the FBI FOIA request form and send it to the field office where the case originates. This is an important point. If you make your FOIA request directly to the headquarters in Washington, DC (FBIHQ) they will search for your records by consulting an FBIHQ list of files they have. The only problem with this is that the more obscure the person or crime you are looking for the less likely they are on the HQ list. If you are looking for information on Dillinger, you will not have a problem (except for getting access to a file that hasn’t been “redacted”). If you contact the field office first, because that’s what the rule says you should do, the field office will send your request to FBIHQ and they will do a more thorough search. I usually write on my request to search all medium available paper files, microfilm, and microfiche. I don’t know if the FBI stores anything on microfiche, but just in case. You can find the field offices on .

After where to send the initial request, the next most important thing is how to ask for the file. As with any confidential information there are rules as to what available to you. Also, never take for granted that the FBI personnel know your subject. The person involved must be deceased (death is assumed if 100 years have passed since birth). Information about an individual may actually be in a case filed under the crime itself, or the leader of the criminal gang and not the individual’s name. If you have the file number (lucky you), include it. Sometimes I’ve included old newspaper clippings that demonstrate that the FBI was active in investigating the crime. Whatever you have that will help them find your info include.
Now if you’ve included everything and you still get a letter saying that the FBI doesn’t see any reason why they would have ever done an investigation on your subject—DON’T GIVE UP! I always take that letter to mean that they don’t think I’m serious about getting the information. You have the right to appeal so do so. Something tells me that there is some ‘Public Information Officer’ at the Dept. of Justice who got a chuckle when I sent in my appeal for the Cherryvale Bank Robbery file because I said I was appealing because I didn’t think they looked for it hard enough! If you get a letter back saying the files have been destroyed that’s when cussing is allowed. How about going to the National Archives first? Don’t unless you know that the file you want is already there and what it’s filed under and if that’s the case make arrangements for the file to be waiting at the archives for you when you visit so you don’t have any nasty surprises.