50,000 FOIA Requests You'll Never Be Able to Make From the FBI



The indefatigable folks at MuckRock, a site dedicated to making freedom of information requests, has some bad news: A huge number of documents were permanently destroyed by flooding of the FBI building in Washington, DC last year.

"Last week, the FBI got back with their initial response, and it's disturbing, to say the least," explains MuckRock, which published their findings on Monday:

There's over five hundred pages, each listing fifty plus damaged/destroyed documents. And again, this is the initial response.

At MuckRock, we believe that digitization is an important component of promoting transparency, both in ensuring dissemination of information, and guaranteeing the long term survival of documents. Incidents like this—and the staggering loss to both history and accountability they incur—are regrettable examples of why. 

There were so many documents, it took almost an entire year to put the request together.

This flood took place last April. It's not the first time water damage has ruined FBI documents. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the FBI experienced what Salon described as a "huge and still unquantifiable loss of records" that "between 8,000 and 9,000 cardboard boxes, each capable of storing hundreds of documents from investigations and cases spanning at least two decades" were lost. 

You can click here for the 500ish page list, but it's not exactly light reading. 


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  1. And of course no one will face any consequences for this.

  2. There was a gun shop in my hometown that had most of its sale records destroyed in a fire in the ’80s or ’90s. Rumor was that the ATF had a shit fit and tried to shut them down because they couldn’t comply anymore with the requirement to keep sale docs for the required time. If only there were significant penalties for government agencies for not maintaining backups…

  3. I wonder if they kept their emails in those boxes?

  4. I’m sure they didn’t lose any documents necessary for their pet cases.

  5. So, question. I work for a mid-sized law firm. We have very strict procedures for document retention, including procedures to move documents in case of impending disaster. Our servers, with all of our online documents and e-mail, are physically located in a fortified bunker miles from any office we have. If we don’t do this, and we lose documents, there are potentially major consequences, both legal and otherwise.

    Why is the federal government not subject to the same rules? Is it really just the FYTW clause?


      1. I’m very naive sometimes, what can I say.

    2. How long have you been reading this sight?

      1. *cite, Jesus my brain sucks

        1. *site, Christ.

      2. Too long.

        It was more of a rhetorical question. Everything’s the FYTW clause.

    3. Forget about being a Law firm and just imagine if you told the IRS that you couldn’t prove all of your personal expenses on your taxes because your hard drive got scratched.

      Their response would be quite similar to Warty’s, with guns.

      1. “Fuck you, pay me”

  6. Why is the federal government not subject to the same rules? Is it really just the FYTW clause?

    Apparently, yes.

  7. wait, i thought it was superstorm sandy, not hurricane sandy. also, folks has some bad grammar? I could be wrong here, but I don’t think so.

    1. Really? This is just going to be left to sit there? “The indefatigable folks at MuckRock, a site dedicated to making freedom of information requests, has some bad news:”

      FOLKS HAVE. Not folks has. Subject verb agreement is important- though I guess your point is made and that’s all that matters. The indefatigable MuckRock has- but it’s folks have…

  8. Everyone knows the documents weren’t destroyed in a flood. They’re at Lois Lerner’s house. BA DA CHA!

  9. FBI files stored in the same place as IRS hard drives. Whoda thunk it?

    1. Another fake scandal!

  10. Since they were probably standard archival boxes, each would have been slightly over a cubic foot. 9,000 of those boxes would fill 20 dump trucks.

    Oops. We just lost 20 dump trucks worth of stuff.

    1. That is a rather large amount to lose in a “flood”. Pics or it didn’t happen.

    2. Perhaps the boxes were not stacked up? It isn’t like they could expect government employees to perform that type of manual labor. Boxes filled with files are heavy! True, it cost a fortune for the space to store them but it isn’t like it was their money!

      Just kidding! Of course, they just purposefully destroyed them.

    3. What kind of dump truck. One of these:

  11. Could we use FOIA to get the report that determined that each and everyone of these documents was destroyed in the flood, with the pictures and damage assessment of each individual document cited.

    1. Good point. No, FYTW.

      1. “that report while being written up was unfortunately lost in the flood.”

        -Official FBI response.

  12. Yeah, this strikes me as very convenient.

    First, that seems an implausibly large volume of documents to lose in a flood. Not impossible, as I’m sure they have some large storage rooms, and its possible they flooded to the ceiling in the basement.

    Second, this now presents them with a bulletproof excuse for denying FOIA requests that they just want to deny. A very convenient excuse. Too convenient, even.

    1. Yeah. I think the FOIA laws are too soft. From now on the percentage of FOIA requests you successfully completed last year is exactly equal to the percentage of your annual budget released to you by Congress.

  13. Hacker: Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?
    Humphrey: No, a marvelous winter, we lost no end of embarrassing files.

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