FOIA’ing the FBI

Well, today I’m getting my FOIA requests in order, one of which is being sent to the FBI. They’re the government agency crowned with George Washington University’s National Security Archive’s “Rosemary Awards” this past March for “outstandingly bad responsiveness to the public that flouts the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA).  The press release about it is here.

I guess it really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise- I mean, look at how their website looks, using Safari as a browser on a Mac.

Picture 1

Here’s the Attorney General’s memo that tells the FBI to shape up. Unfortunately, there’s no deadline. It sort of seems to be lip service to Obama’s January 21st mention of FOIA failure… and just this month, The FOIA Blog reported that U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the FBI’s FOIA search system was still “devoid of the necessary elements” set forth by FOIA case law standards.

It makes me shudder to think that their agency is worse than the Department of State, who have been sitting on a bunch of my requests for over a year now. History of Phone Phreaking has a nice breakdown of how the FBI filing systems work- and how to interpret  your documents, that is, if you ever get them.

At your wits’ end? Calling FOIA officers and establishing relationships with them is super useful. I haven’t done this yet with the FBI, but it’s worked well with the DOS.

FOIPA Public Information Officer (PIO)
David P. Sobonya
Phone: (540) 868-4593
Fax: (540) 868-4995
Please call this number to talk with the PIO about the status of an existing FOI/PA request, or other FOIPA matters. Our PIO cannot answer questions about Name Check requests, all calls received for Name Check information will be referred to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
FOIPA Public Liaison Officer (PLO)
Dennis J. Argall
(540) 868-4516
Please call the PLO number if you have concerns about information received about the FOIPA after contacting either the RSC or the PIO.

Wanna know if the feds have a file on you? You can FOIA your own FBI records here– or those of your family members.


Flight of Procrastination

I’m supposed to be editing, doing another few passes through those same 80 pages. The latest in procrastination methodology? Capturing benign little yellow warblers acting viciously towards one another.

Sure, they look cute…



My boyfriend, also a photojournalist, just looked at me and smirked. “What, now you’re a nature photographer?”

Nope.  Art photographer, maybe?


Anybody wanna buy a birdfight print? I swear, some are even in focus…

Self-imposed Isolation: Gualala Writing Retreat

So I’m off into the relative wilderness (ok, so that’s a stretch, but there’s no cell service!) of Gualala, California for awhile, with the goal of whipping 80 pages of writing into decent shape. Gualala is in Mendocino county,three hours north of the Bay Area. Here’s where I’ll be in lockdown:


Unfortunately, here’s what’s outside:



Invited to PDN 30

I’ve been invited, for the second year, to apply for the PDN 30. I’m not sure who nominated me, but I’d bet it’s the good folks over at Redux. Check out the full gallery from 2009 here.


Last year, I passed on sending in work. Since I was just embarking on a year of grad school, the timing didn’t seem right. I’m sort of on the fence about submitting again this year, but I guess I have until October 16th to make up my mind.

Latest Tear: New York Times

Finally, I’m finished with grad school and back to work! My first assignment back in the photo world was for the New York Times last month.  I met NYT reporter Jim Dao in Santa Clara, California, to work on a piece about Vietnam veterans from the 11th Armored Cavalry’s Alpha Troop. Alpha Troop was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation at a banquet on the Sunday of that weekend, September 12, 2009.


One of the experiences I was able to listen to was that of 58-year-old Ray Moreno, an Alpha Troop vet. During the second day of the assignment, I stayed in the room alongside Jim while he recorded the interviews that went into the final multimedia package. Some of the stories were, expectedly, heartbreaking. The final multimedia piece can be seen and listened to on the NYT site here. The editors combined my pictures and pictures from Vietnam to make the end product, a series of slideshows that play while audio from each A-Troop vet recounts their experience.


Overall, it was a great assignment. The 11th Cav guys were a boisterous and hospitable bunch, and I felt blessed to be able to bear witness to one of their reunions. I left with a notebook packed with names, email addresses, and instructions from various vets regarding where and how to email them photos. Many of the guys there weren’t exactly fans of the “liberal” New York Times, and told me I should get a better job working for Fox News. It was also the first time I’ve ever been photographed while taking pictures- kind of amusing.

I left wondering about all the stories that will be taken to the grave by the thousands of vets who- like some members of the A-Troop- came home to shame and stigma, drowning memory in silence.