Monday, March 29, 2010

Gay Angle to FBI Opening
'Special File Room'

The Boston Globe today published a fascinating story about an anonymous FOIA requester, who helped bring a huge ray of transparency to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This story is of interest to me simply because it's about FOIA and I'm always keen to learn how other sunshine advocates use FOIA to pry loose government records and information, but the icing on the cake is the gay angle to the article.

Let's start with what the feds are opening up:

It is the FBI’s “special file room,’’ where for decades sensitive material has been stored separately from the bureau’s central filing system to restrict access severely and, in more sinister instances, some experts assert, prevent the Congress and the public from getting their hands on it.

Established in 1948 under the reign of notoriously secretive FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, it remains in use today at FBI headquarters in Washington to safeguard what the bureau considers its most highly sensitive information.

But now, for the first time, the FBI has opened its doors — at least a crack — by releasing hundreds of pages of memos outlining why bureau officials have deemed certain information too hot to handle even for most top-level officials. [...]

Here is what the Boston Globe reports on an early gay rights org and other files related to homosexuals:

Others were more questionable in nature, such as numerous files from the 1950s and 1960s detailing the FBI’s spying on early gay rights groups such as The Mattachine Society, which in one 1958 memo was categorized under “internal security.’’

Homosexuality, in fact, was for a lengthy period an obsession of the bureau and the focus of multiple domestic intelligence operations, the memos show. Another file was spirited out of the regular bureau filing system because it involved “allegations of homosexuality of some very prominent individuals.’’

It added: “In view of the obscene nature of the allegations and the prominence of some individuals mentioned, therein, it is felt that this file should be retained in the Special File Room.’’ [...]

It would be a boon to government transparency and a better understanding of the full scope of the harassment, surveillance and discrimination gay Americans have endured over the decades, if every scrap of paper in the FBI's Special File Room were publicly available on the web.

The Boston Globe further reports on a divisive tactic used on African American radical organizations, a tactic I wouldn't be surprised to learn was also used against gay radicals by either the FBI or local law enforcement officials:

Other files on domestic spying that were routed to the special file room involved “black nationalist extremists.’’ There were also files about an “extremely sensitive counterintelligence technique’’ called snitch-jacketing, which apparently involved the FBI spreading false information that members of a targeted group were government informants in order to sow conflict within their membership.
Like me, I imagine this is also the first time you're reading about snitch-jacketing. Better to know about these terms and tactics, and I hope this story leads more citizens to file FOIAs.

Visit these free letter-generating sites to file a FOIA or two. Get My FBI File will walk you through the steps to make a request for your own file, and Get Grandpa's FBI File for similar steps to make a FOIA for any deceased individual.

Let the sunshine in!


Anonymous said...

The Special File Room file itself can be downloaded at

Aaron Gay said...

If the truth be known there are files of such a sensitive nature as to shock alot of Americans if they came to light. For decades the FBI was a great american power unto itself. What you see as some transparency now is nothing compared what they still have in lock-up!