Operation Ghost Stories (U.S. Department of State)

Emma North-Best filed this request with the U.S. Department of State of the United States of America.
Tracking #


Est. Completion None
Awaiting Appeal


From: Michael Best

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

Any and all records relating to Operation Ghost Stories, AKA the Illegals Program. Please see below for more details, as simply searching blindly for those words only would constitute a search carefully conducted to locate the minimum number of records possible, if not none. Please also note that I am NOT limiting my request to previously released materials.

According to the FBI (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/operation-ghost-stories-inside-the-russian-spy-case) Operation Ghost Stories was an operation that went on for over a decade, targeting Russian operatives in the United States. These have included but are not limited to Anna Chapman, Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov (Juan Lazaro) and Vicky Peláez, Andrey Bezrukov and Yelena Vavilova (Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley), Vladimir and Lidiya Guryev (Richard and Cynthia Murphy), Mikhail Kutsik and Nataliya Pereverzeva (Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills), Mikhail Semenko, "Christopher Metsos" (Pavel Kapustin) and Alexey Karetnikov. Note that their identities have been widely reported not only by the mainstream media, but by the government itself in various court filings (http://documents.nytimes.com/criminal-complaints-from-the-justice-department), press releases (https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ten-alleged-secret-agents-arrested-united-states), website postings (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/operation-ghost-stories-inside-the-russian-spy-case), FOIA releases (https://vault.fbi.gov/ghost-stories-russian-foreign-intelligence-service-illegals/documents), photographs (https://vault.fbi.gov/ghost-stories-russian-foreign-intelligence-service-illegals/images) and videos (https://vault.fbi.gov/ghost-stories-russian-foreign-intelligence-service-illegals/videos).

Please include all correspondence relating to this case, including negotiations relating to the associated prisoner swaps, plea deals, etc.

I am a member of the news media and request classification as such. I have previously written about the government and its activities for AND Magazine, MuckRock and Glomar Disclosure and have an open arrangement with each. My articles have been widely read, with some reaching over 100,000 readers. As such, as I have a reasonable expectation of publication and my editorial and writing skills are well established. In addition, I discuss and comment on the files online and make them available through the non-profit Internet Archive, disseminating them to a large audience. While my research is not limited to this, a great deal of it, including this, focuses on the activities and attitudes of the government itself. As such, it is not necessary for me to demonstrate the relevance of this particular subject in advance. Additionally, case law states that “proof of the ability to disseminate the released information to a broad cross-section of the public is not required.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep’t of Justice, 365 F.3d 1108, 1126 (D.C. Cir. 2004); see Carney v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 19 F.3d 807, 814-15 (2d Cir. 1994). Further, courts have held that "qualified because it also had “firm” plans to “publish a number of . . . ‘document sets’” concerning United States foreign and national security policy." Under this criteria, as well, I qualify as a member of the news media. Additionally, courts have held that the news media status "focuses on the nature of the requester, not its request. The provision requires that the request be “made by” a representative of the news media. Id. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(II). A newspaper reporter, for example, is a representative of the news media regardless of how much interest there is in the story for which he or she is requesting information." As such, the details of the request itself are moot for the purposes of determining the appropriate fee category. As such, my primary purpose is to inform about government activities by reporting on it and making the raw data available and I therefore request that fees be waived. Per DOJ guidance, I meet all three standards for fee waivers.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.


Michael Best

From: U.S. Department of State

A fix is required to perfect the request.

From: Michael Best

I have provided more than adequate references (names, case details, etc) for someone familiar with the case and the related programs to be able to locate the records. That is the standard for FOIA, and therefore I have adequately described the records. The non-State Department references were provided to aid you in locating the records, as above, and were clearly not intended for you to interpret those references to FBI documents and releases as requests for you to provide me with FBI materials.

Please proceed with processing my request as required by FOIA, as it has been adequately described and I am not seeking non-State Department records beyond those which you would ordinarily have to refer to Other Government Agencies as consistent with the FOIA statutes and caselaw.

Thank you. If I do not hear back from you within twenty business days, I will assume that you are agreeing to properly process my request as is and to locate the requested records.

From: FOIA Status

Dear Mr. Best

This is in response to your April 21, 2017 faxed transmission following up on your January 9, 2017 FOIA request.

I have forwarded you a copy of the Department's January 11, 2017 letter responding to your January 9, 2017 FOIA request, which closed the request as invalid due to a lack of information. That letter was digitally sent to requests@muckrock.com. The Department's January letter detailed the information needed to begin processing of the FOIA request. Additionally, the January letter informed you that some of the material you are requesting in your January 9, 2017 letter appear to be records under the purview of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As such, you were provided with the contact information at the FBI.

Katrina Wood
Government Information Specialist
U.S. Department of State
FOIA Requester Service Center


Please open the attached document. This document was digitally sent to you using an HP Digital Sending device.
Official - Transitory

From: Michael Best

I am appealing the State Department's statement that the records I seek are solely under the purview of the FBI, since the State Department's involvement has already been disclosed and acknowledged.

From: U.S. Department of State

A letter stating that the request appeal has been received and is being processed.