Wednesday, October 2, 2013

FOIA Dilemma: No Such Files Exist, but If They Did...

In 2012 I was conducting research which included submitting some requests for information to the Central Intelligence Agency under the Freedom of Information Act. It seemed to stand to reason that I might include in my correspondence a request under the Privacy Act that the Agency share any files it might have pertaining to yours truly.

I was thinking along those lines because my research, as regular readers are aware, came to include meeting and corresponding with individuals who are members of the intelligence community. I have posed many questions to such individuals, as well as shared circles with members of the UFO community who believed they had been placed under surveillance at some period during their ufological activities. I have also corresponded with numerous foreign individuals who share such interests and circles. Such international correspondence has become quite commonplace in this information age, whether or not the intelligence agencies seem to think so.

I long had suspicions that if one was placed under surveillance, then it was likely their contacts were subject to experiencing same, so I was not surprised when the public began learning more and more about the leapfrogging going on through the contacts of alleged individuals of interest. 'Friends of friends of friends' and all that. At any rate, I thought I would ask the CIA if they had any files on me so that when they told me, no, they did not, I could let go of that nagging feeling that I might be the guy bringing that cold bug into the office.

In August of 2012 I received a response from the CIA informing me that, as I expected, other than our obvious interactions pertaining to FOIA requests, there were no additional files. "We were unable to locate any additional information or records responsive to your request," the letter explained.

However, the response continued, “With respect to records that would reveal a classified connection to the CIA... the CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request. The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and related to intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure... Therefore, you may consider this portion of the response a denial of your request...”

Hmm. I kinda felt like I had gone to the doctor, asked to be tested for a communicable disease, waited for the test results and then was told, “No, you don't have it... but if you did, we wouldn't tell you.”

Nonetheless, I shrugged it off. I interpreted it to be a pretty standard form letter of a response that essentially said, “Files you requested either do not exist or are classified. Either forget about it or check back in a few years, at which time they might then be declassified – or may still not exist, because they never did.”

I actually empathize to certain extents with the policy of responding to requests in that manner. It could be argued pro or con, but it is what it is, and, believe it or not, it was rather direct as compared to some of the convoluted correspondence I have experienced with other agencies.

STARstream Research

Writer and researcher Gary S. Bekkum operates a virtual organization known as STARstream Research, a website and initiative in which he posts information about his interests in ufology, consciousness and related topics. That of course means the intelligence community, as well, and Bekkum has published a ton of research on the IC, the CIA-funded remote viewing initiative Project STAR GATE and similar subject matter.

Bekkum recently published an article about an FOIA request he submitted to the National Security Agency in which he sought files concerning data related to his activities with STARstream. Similar to my lines of reasoning last year, Bekkum explained in his article how he asked for the info due to the nature of his research endeavors and circles of contacts.

Bekkum explained in his article that he received a letter informing him that his request was denied. The NSA would neither confirm nor deny the existence of any such files as Bekkum requested, and he quoted specific parts of the letter in his article.

In recent weeks I, too, had coincidentally requested files that might be available for release from the NSA related to me and my activities. Similar to my initial correspondence with the CIA, my request to the NSA involved additional inquiries and seemed like a reasonable idea.

A few days ago I received a response that spent several paragraphs spanning multiple pages explaining policies and procedures related to the NSA/CSS (Central Security Service) mission, which, it was explained, "is to collect, process, and disseminate communications or signals intelligence information for intelligence and counter intelligence purposes.” Basically, an attempt was made to offset all the bad press.

The NSA response also stated, word for word as Mr. Bekkum demonstrated was explained to him, “Your request is denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter...”

The letter further stated, again just as Bekkum had also been informed, To the extent that your request seeks any information on you in relation to NSA intelligence programs, or in relation to any specific methods or means for conducting the programs, we cannot acknowledge the existence or non-existence of such information.”

Comparing the NSA response I received with the letter Bekkum received and subsequently posted for readers to view, I found entire paragraphs that were written verbatim. As was my experience with the CIA, I would again confidently suppose the NSA responses to be matters of standard procedure. This is not necessarily to suggest STARstream Research or any other website and researcher may not have inadvertently caught a cold, but, nonetheless, the letters apparently represent the standard response to requests for files that are either nonexistent or classified. 

Again, competent arguments can be made for and against the practicality and impracticality of public policy for handling information requests in such manners. But support it, oppose it or understand it or not, one thing's for sure: the IC is telling us it's none of our business whether or not they have files on us.

Take two aspirin and check back in a few years. 

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