Friday, December 11, 2015

$1400 for 'Sanitized' FBI File on Peter Seeger?

After legendary folk singer and leftist political peacenik Pete Seeger died in in 2014, I filed a FOIA request for his FBI file and it was routed through the National Archives and Records Administration. It was projected that federal review of Seeger's file would take 24 months before some of the records might be released.

This week, NARA contacted me to say a "sanitized copy" of several thousand pages was available for public inspection at no-cost at their facility in Maryland or a disc of those records, for a few, could be mailed to me.

I replied asking for an estimate of the fee, since I was across the country and unable to visit Maryland, and received this info:

(Click to enlarge.)

Rather than pay $1,400 to view this sanitized version of Seeger's FBI file, I'm pushing NARA to make it available online for the great number of people who are interested in reading any documents the government kept on Seeger.

Let's hope NARA does the right thing and publishes whatever it has ready for public inspection on Seeger to the web, by the end of January if not sooner. Here's the entirety of the response yesterday:

Dear Mr. Petrelis,

I just wanted to give you an update on your FOIA request RD 42423 for FBI Headquarters case file 100-HQ-200845 on Pete Seeger. We are currently awaiting instructions from other government agencies regarding their release determinations pertaining to classified documents found in the file. We cannot proceed further with processing until we receive these responses. Unfortunately, whenever we are in a "consultation" phase of our FOIA processing, we are at the mercy of outside agency queues and timetables. I would love to give you an estimate as to when we will hear back from the agencies, but the truth is there is just no way to tell. As soon as we receive all agency responses, we will release as much as we can based on agency guidance and finish our processing of your FOIA request.

Until that time, we have a sanitized copy of file 100-HQ-200845 with all classified documents withdrawn that is available for free if you or a designated representative visit our facility at College Park, Maryland. If you plan to visit, please notify me at either or at (301) 837-1999 at least a week in advance of your arrival. If I do not acknowledge your notification of arrival within 48 hours, then contact our office at either or at (301) 837-3190. A digital copy of the file will be loaned to you on DVD in our 4th floor research room (room 4000) where you will have the option to either burn a copy to your own DVD, download a copy to a flash drive, upload a copy as an attachment to an e-mail, or download a copy to your laptop if it has a CD/DVD-ROM drive.

There is also the option of having us mail you an electronic copy on CD or DVD, but standard reproduction charges will apply and you will be charged $0.80 per page. The 2,500 pages initially cited to you was a good faith estimate based on the maximum number of pages designated to be in one of our standard record center boxes. The actual page count is 1,761 pages. If you would like to receive a copy of the file in the mail, just contact me, and I will send you an official price quote for reproductions.

At some point in 2016, we plan to have a copy of the current version of file 100-HQ-200845 made available to view for free on the internet. I do not have an estimated time when it will be placed online as there is a backlog of digital files waiting to be uploaded to our servers. In the future after we receive all agency consultation responses, which will presumably allow us to release more information, an updated final version of 100-HQ-200845 will replace the obsolete one online.

A line-by-line review was completed of file 100-HQ-200845 and information exempted from disclosure under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552) has been redacted. For your information, 321 pages have been sanitized and 92 pages have been withdrawn in full. The redactions have been applied under the following exemptions and reasons:

(b)(1)-To prevent the disclosure of classified information
(b)(3)-To prevent disclosure of information exempted by statute; the specific statutes for this case are 50 USC 3024(i)(1)/50 USC 403-1(i)(1) which protect intelligence sources and methods.
(b)(6) and (b)(7)(C)-To prevent an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
(b)(7)(D)-To prevent the disclosure of the identity of a confidential source or informant
(b)(7)(E)-To protect techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations

You have the right to appeal our decision to restrict access, either in whole or in part, to any document over which this agency has release authority within 60 calendar days of receipt of this e-mail. Your appeal can either be submitted in writing and addressed to the Deputy Archivist of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, Room 4200, College Park, MD 20740-6001, or sent by e-mail to  Depending on how your appeal is filed, please cite case number RD 42423 and “Freedom of Information Act Appeal” on either the envelope or in the subject line of the e-mail.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions pertaining to the processing of your FOIA request. You will hear from us again once we receive all agency returns and complete the processing of your case.

Mark Murphy
Special Access/FOIA Staff
National Archives and Records Administration

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