FOIA

Government Creates a Fake Expert, Won't Release Files on Him Because Privacy

In search of Guy Sims Fitch

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USIA

"Guy Sims Fitch" was a persona created by the U.S. Information Agency in the early Cold War era. Various people on the agency's payroll would write articles on economics under Fitch's name, and those pieces then appeared in news outlets around the world. It would be nice to know who exactly was writing those articles, and it would be nice to know if those pseudonymous scribes were writing under any other names as well. But when a reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request for more info on the Fitch program, the government told him he'd first have to get permission from the writers involved—that is, from the very people whose identities he was trying to uncover. Alternately, he could prove that they're dead.

"Under the Freedom of Information Act," Gizmodo's Matt Novak explains, "federal agencies are required to take into consideration the privacy rights of living individuals. Dead people don't have privacy rights under US law…[b]ut Guy Sims Fitch can never die, because he was never born." So when Novak asked the Central Intelligence Agency for its Fitch files, this happened:

They've asked that I submit verification of identify for the editors and journalists who wrote under the name Guy Sims Fitch in the 1950s and 60s, along with documents showing that those people consent to having their information made public. And in the case of any editors who wrote under Guy Sims Fitch who might be dead, I'm supposed to submit proof of death. Unfortunately, I don't have a list of government agents from the 1950s that wrote under the name Guy Sims Fitch. I was kind of hoping that the CIA would fill me in on that. Or, at the very least, tell me a bit more about why they were using fake people to support causes that presumably real people could have written about.

Remember: The federal government has no trouble redacting information that it doesn't want to reveal. It would not be terribly difficult for it to release these documents with the names of any still-living figures blacked out. That could still provide plenty of useful data about where the articles were placed, what they said, what other people were involved, and perhaps even whether any parallel programs were underway.

This is a program that began more than half a century ago. The agency that spearheaded it doesn't even exist anymore. There should be tons of information whose release would not violate even the most absurdly stringent conceptions of privacy rights or national security.

But then, we aren't exactly living in an age of maximum federal transparency. This isn't even an age of moderate federal transparency. This is an age when "FOIA Denial Officer" is a job title. Novak is appealing the decision, but there's no guarantee that common sense will prevail. Could someone please send the Guy Fitch files to WikiLeaks?

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87 responses to “Government Creates a Fake Expert, Won't Release Files on Him Because Privacy

  1. Strange. So they just want to find out who wrote this stuff? Seems like examining the articles written by “Guy Sims Fitch” and what they argued or advocated is more intriguing. You know what was the Government or CIA’s agenda in these works, as opposed to what was the name of the CIA desk jockey who spent late nights at the typewriter.

    1. Novak presumably wants to know everything, but the names are what are producing the catch-22 situation. (Also, we know more about what “Fitch” was writing just because those articles were published, though obviously it’s not easy to track them all down.)

      1. I feel ya, the Catch-22 situation is telling; just seems like the meat of the story is in the actual articles that were fabricated.

        It’s interesting though, I can’t think of any example yet of when a request through the Freedom of Information Act has produced anything close to damning for the Gov or even eye brow raising. I know I’ve seen a lot of attempts to request potentially credibility damaging information through the act, but correct me if I am wrong in assuming that only the benign requests for information have made it through the system thus far?

      2. The way I read it too was that Novak is trying to find out if the program was more widespread than just “Guy Sims Fitch”.

    2. I bet the real issue here is the guy making the request isn’t a lawyer, so wasn’t able to make the request as carefully and legalese as needed to avoid these kinds of opportunistic and contrived excuses to refuse.

  2. We have found the first Sim. This goes deeper than we dared to suspect.

    1. We tried to bring him in for an interview and all we got was “Depwa spanewash depla blah.”

  3. “The agency that spearheaded it doesn’t even exist anymore. ”

    Wait what?

    A government agency went away?

    1. Doubtful. Merged into some other agency?

      1. Yes. for instance, the War Department no longer exists.

        1. If you ever hear of an agency being closed, I think you can safely say (paraphrasing Mark Twain), “The report of that agency being closed was an exaggeration.”

          Agencies and bureaus(bureaux?) are constantly being reorganized, renamed, spun of to other departments or spun of as brand new departments.

          1. If you ever hear of an agency being closed, I think you can safely say (paraphrasing Mark Twain), “The report of that agency being closed was an exaggeration.”

            Which was my exact point.

      2. Split into the Broadcasting Board of Governors (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other broadcasters) and the rest placed under the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in 1999.

    2. A government agency went away?

      That calls for a non-sarcastic shocked face.

  4. The government won’t turn loose of this information because it doesn’t know what you plan to do with it but it’s worried it’s something bad. They’re getting paranoid. This is not going to end well.

    1. I think it’s a just a general fuck you. If they knew they were going to get good press, they would do it. But otherwise it’s not worth the risk that somebody might get embarrassed.

  5. “Could someone please send the Guy Fitch files to WikiLeaks?”

    Invading Russia to hack us, are you?!

  6. “Diane Reynolds” and “Richard Windsor” approve.

      1. These euphemisms are getting weird.

  7. OT: Thought Walker would find this interesting. He’s the Interesting Topics Guy.

    The Weird Psychology Of People Fighting Those Who Resell Their Products

    1. Video games is another place where I see this pop up a lot (although only with the big-name publishers). OMG the GameStop cartel is reselling our products, how can we compete?

      Well,

      a) You already sold the product
      b) Lower the goddamn price

      1. c) Make games that are compelling and have enough replay value that by the time they turn up at Gamestop, everybody has moved on to the next shiny thing.

    2. I’m interested in the psychology of people who order an item for $60 via eBay that is readily available on Amazon for $40. Then I’m interested in the people who figured this market out, and just drop-ship items from Amazon for a 50% markup.

      The original seller freaking out about this might be the third most interesting tale in a three-party story.

      1. I’m interested in the psychology of people who order an item for $60 via eBay that is readily available on Amazon for $40.

        Part of it has to do with how people comparison-shop. someone shopping for something on ebay will often just choose an ebay-seller that happens to be offering ‘retail’ prices, because it just happens to be convenient for them while debating whether to go for that ‘used & battered’ version from the shady seller, or the ‘buy it now’ item from a more reliable one. They may not take the time to determine what the ‘average retail’ price is by going to 3 or more retail outlets, rather choosing to stay within the Ebay environment, and assume that’s a reliable reflection of the price-spectrum.

        I used to do retail behavior studies, and its not really all that different than how consumers will most often choose a product at ‘eye level’ rather than a cheaper one which requires bending over, or the one up on the top shelf. (regardless of the relative price-to-quality/volume-advantage those others might offer)

        Guess where the highest margin (for the retailer) products are usually shelved?

        1. “They… assume that’s a reliable reflection of the price-spectrum” is a good answer, thanks.

        2. Guess where the highest margin (for the retailer) products are usually shelved?

          Next to the register.

          1. true, tho i’m not sure impulse products actually are technically the highest-margin overall. probably close. I meant more, “within each category/aisle”, rather than store-wide.

        3. Guess where the highest margin (for the retailer) products are usually shelved?

          On the top where they’re hard to reach by poor, short minorities?

        4. The reason those women at the grocery store weren’t bending over or reaching up was because you were staring at them the way a lion stares at an antelope. Better to spend the extra 30 cents on pickles and get away from the creepy dude ASAP.

          And oggling chicks in the grocery store is not conducting “retail behavior studies”.

          1. Damn I’m glad I’m alone in the office.

            Otherwise I’d have to explain why I’m laughing so hard.

          2. oggling[sp] chicks in the grocery store is not conducting “retail behavior studies”.

            I HAD A CLIPBOARD AND EVERYTHING!!

      2. I’m interested in the psychology of the people that a) don’t check Amazon (and a couple other online sellers) in addition to Ebay b) will go on Ebay and pay $60 for a cat toy ‘because its the ‘original” (as if all the other weren’t resellers selling the original product anyway) and c) would pay $40+ for a fucking cat toy.

        Its a cat. Glue a laser pointer to a ceiling fan and BOOM! HACT (Highly Autonomous Cat Toy).

    3. OT: Thought Walker would find this interesting. He’s the Interesting Topics Guy.

      Ha?yeah, that’s definitely interesting.

      Once, when I saw that a book I wanted was being sold by a third party via Amazon, I noticed that the vendor had the same street address as a bookstore near my home. I dropped by the store, mentioned that I’d seen the Amazon listing, and asked if I could just buy the book directly from them. When I mentioned the Amazon operation’s name, the clerk got visibly nervous and started insisting the two operations had nothing to do with each other. No, they didn’t have it. I’d have to order the book, wait for delivery, pay shipping fees, etc.

      It was such a strange experience that I had to poke around some more. After finding some complaints online, I came to the tentative conclusion that the Amazon seller was basically an arbitrageur. The store wouldn’t sell me the book directly because they didn’t actually have it, and would have to order it from elsewhere.

      1. I saw that with some of my books, where associates listed it “used” or similarly when I’d sold exactly zero physical copies (the paperback is less popular than the ebook because the overhead makes the paperback pricier, so there are far fewer paperback copies floating around. So much smaller that I can almost track them)

      2. Most of the books I try to buy are snatched up by Mr. Norrell before I can get to the bookseller.

      3. And yet there’d be no reason for the store to deny that. They could have simply said they don’t have any in stock and would ‘special order’ it for you. Lying for the sake of lying.

    4. That is interesting.

      It just shows how brain-dead people are about things like “marketing and distribution”. Yes, they’re “losing” a tiny fraction of the final sale price = but that’s a sale they’d never have otherwise generated. That lost % is the marginal cost of marketing and distribution reflected in the resellers own operations, where they attract lots of eyeball traffic to your particular product simply by adding it to their theoretical inventory.

      there ARE some instances where controlling the channel-availability & pricing for your product is essential to maintaining the brand value = e.g. see luxury items – but that’s more of a threat from ‘discounting’ rather than pricing it up and collecting a premium.

  8. OK, so it’s obvious – the U.S. government doesn’t know whether the guy is dead or not.

    And you know what it means when the U.S. government doesn’t know when one of its former secret agents is dead.

    It means he’s alive, and one day he’ll show up when he’s least expected, and everyone would go, “but – but – you died!”

    1. The only other explanation is that the guy is dead and the U.S. government can verify this, but they just want to screw with reporters and suppress embarrassing information about government misbehavior.

      And that’s just tinfoil-hat talk!

      1. The third explanation is that multiple people wrote under this pseudonym – some of them are dead today, some of them are still alive, and it’s a big mess to figure out, so screw it, the FOIA guys are going out for a beer.

        1. Probably number 3

          1. And the FOIA guys get a good laugh over the Catch-22 situation while having said beer.

        2. I’ll take Door #3, Crazy Eddie.

          1. Crazy Eddie is dead, I’m just Eccentric Eddie.

        3. Option 4

          They have partial records at best of who wrote articles under that name and even finding those means crawling into ancient documents that only exist on microfiche and no one who works there has ever used a microfiche reader so they have no idea how to go find that list of people so they deny the request to avoid doing the work.

  9. Guy Sims Fitch can never die

    That which is dead can never die

    1. I’ve always hated this motto. It’s a blatant rip-off of Lovecraft, changed just enough to make no sense whatsoever. And there better be a kraken cameo at some point, otherwise the whole thing is pointless. And speaking of dumb heraldry symbols, where are there any lions in Westeros or Essos? Why would the Lannisters choose a lion when no one has ever seen one? Ok, rant over.

      1. lol

        i’m not the one to bitch to about GoT sillyness. I think the whole thing is a ridiculous Mad Libs-mashup of history/mythology/dungeons, jumbled just enough to be recognizable. Its like the offbrand cereal of Fantasy literature.

        1. Um, you might want to rethink that criticism. The Plantagenet Kings of England (you know, Richard the Lion Heart) used 3 lions as their heraldic symbol even though there are no Lions in England. In medieval Europe even stretching back to the Roman era Lions were known of among the educated and aristocracy and Peasants would likely have at least heard of them via the Bible (you know, Daniel and the Lions Den, kind of hard for the preacher to do that whole sermon without explaining what a Lion actually was).

          It would be entirely historically accurate for a great house of Westeros to use a Lion as a heraldric symbol, the animals in them were chosen for their mythological properties and not their local native affinity. So it makes perfect sense that one of the great houses would use a lion in their heraldry.

          1. There is no Africa equivalent in ASOIAF that people travel to on a regular basis. There is no mention of it anywhere in the books. The only landmass that could be purported to house lions would be Sothoryos, and no characters in the books have ever been there. May be the Summer Isles, but again no major characters have been there. You would think Tyrion would mention seeing or wanting to see a real lion at least once. But nope.

            In contrast, lions were known to Western culture since ancient Egypt.

            1. Lions inhabited the western hills of Westeros. In antiquity, lions made dens in Casterly Rock itself and some were owned by the Kings of the Rock.

              1. Citation?

                1. Ok, there is this:

                  http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Lion

                  I stand corrected.

                  1. I hit submit before linking. Derp.

              2. And lions inhabit the Dothraki sea.

                1. Aquatic lions? That’s dumb.

                  1. its like i walked into a Dork-Minefield.

                  2. The Dothraki sea is what they call the vast grasslands they live in.

      2. I thought the lion was Tywin’s patronus.

      3. The royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom has a Lion and a *unicorn*.

  10. A trillion dollar cash cow infinitely farmed from the wages of willing confiscation requires an extensive murky magic show.

    1. Excellent!

      By the way, I loved your video.

    2. Very nice.

    3. Agile demonstrates the old adage that the key to genius is prolificity.

      1. I thought the key to genius was to be really smart and stuff.

        1. Yes, there is a certain level of intelligence required as a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition.

  11. Brazil: we’re living it.

    1. I was thinking more like monty python in this case. Before you can see the records you must answer these three riddles.

      1. 1) What has the destructive power of a giant comet and the brain-power of a lobotomized rat?

        2) What is it that can see all, yet knows nothing?

        3) What do you get when you give psychopaths enormous power but little accountability?

        HINT: The answer to each question is the same.

    2. I’d really hoped the future would have more pneumatic tubes. I mean, there are some pretty cool modern uses for sure, but not having one at my desk is disappointing.

  12. Is this Sims Fitch any relation to Sidd Finch? Interesting coincidence.

    1. Would you believe, Captain (Acting Major) William ‘Bill’ Martin, Royal Marines?

  13. “The government told him he’d first have to get permission from the writers involved?that is, from the very people whose identities he was trying to uncover. Alternately, he could prove that they’re dead.”

    A blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.

    1. It’s sort of like being a Redskins fan.

      1. Did you mean to say a Redskins player?

  14. RE: Government Creates a Fake Expert, Won’t Release Files on Him Because Privacy

    Our country has an Information Agency?
    Perhaps this bureaucracy can tell me if the Dolphins will cover the point spread Thursday.
    I’ll wait.

    1. They can tell you, but only if you’re outside the U.S. It’s in their charter.

      Otherwise, we’d have an agency of the U.S. government propagandizing its own people.

      Which would be too creepy.

  15. So this is basically an American version of the Russian folk tale Lieutenant Kije.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieutenant_Kij?

    Great to know that bureaucracy has always been mocked no matter what culture you’re in.

  16. Well “Guy Sims Fitch” is an anagram of “Smug City Fish,” “Is such Gym Fit,” and “Ms Icy Fig Tush.” So I’m guessing he was a liberal gym-rat who identified as a fish (large mouth bass?), and some unspecified time later becamse a transgender with a cold wrinkly butt (Girl Fitch Sims?).

  17. They just don’t want you to know that the writers behind it are all Hollywood writers, and that all of the movies and TV shows that show the CIA and NSA in a positive light are actually government funded propaganda pieces.

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