When I was shown I Write Like - a service that lets you see which famous author a given piece of writing resembles - I immediately knew what it was destined for: helping shed light on on the literary influences of the mysterious FOIA offices we deal with on a daily basis.
Honestly, I thought we’d see more Joyce and Faulkner, but I suppose that would require releasing voluminous amounts of material. Instead, I humbly present textual analysis of some of our favorite government agencies to FOIA.
Bureau of Prisons keeps requesters in suspense
With the Private Prison Project, we’ve been filing a lot of requests with the Bureau of Prisons. Bureau of Prisons’ FOIA office is interesting because they automatically respond to every single email they get with the same, long form letter that states up top that you might not receive any further response to your request if they don’t like it. Fun trivia: In MuckRock’s early days, these long auto-responses would, after a little back and forth, get so long that they’d crash our site as we’d try to process emails that were 30 megabytes of just text.
With a 186 day average response time and a 20% success rate, prying information out of them can be a scary ordeal. So when we analyzed the text of a rejected request, it’s not a huge surprise Stephen King would fit right into their FOIA Office. There was no happy ending to that story.
CIA rejections are an eldritch horror
There are few agencies that are as daunting to file with as the Central Intelligence Agency, an almost black hole into which requests go in but rarely come out un-rejected (A notable exception: CIA Cafeteria Complaints). The agency is so clandestine that they won’t even accept email, meaning we have to rely on ancient dark magyk known as a “fax machine” to send our entreaties.
Not a huge surprise then that when we analyzed the rejection of a request for documents related to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the language resembled the supreme chronicler of dark forces: H.P. Lovecraft.
Department of the Interior‘s poetic sadness
The Department of the Interior was the literary giant of the bunch, though the responses still had a touch of fear: analyzing their cover letter to a request for materials regarding paid leave policies, we found it most resembled Edgar Allen Poe. Quoth the Raven, b(4)?
New York Police Department‘s ancient conspiracy of silence
The New York Police Department occasionally has to be reminded that, however much they try, they are a police force and not an intelligence agency. Given their grand ambitions and fascination with spycraft, it’s probably not surprising who their literary doppelgänger is: Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci code and other fun, if slightly convoluted and paranoid, thrillers.
For this agency, we analyzed their rejection of training materials for their Demographics/Zone Assessment Unit. We can’t quite understand why ancient vow of secrecy prompted this rejection, but are looking forward to Tom Hanks someday cracking the code.
NSA‘s FOIA responses imitate art
Back in 2013, we filed a request to see the “Snowden effect” on the NSA’s FOIA office. The results were astounding: NSA FOIA requests were up 1,054% over the year before, showing what appears to be a much wider interest in how American surveillance peaks at its own citizens.
One ceaseless chronicler of surveillance creep, on both the website BoingBoing and in novels, has been Cory Doctorow. His novels Big Brother and Homeland chronicle life in a near-future America with almost unchecked surveillance powers given to the government. How well does Doctorow capture the surveillance zeitgeist? Well enough that he was the match when we ran through the successful response to our request for the Snowden FOIA files.
It was a lot of fun, though of debatable utility, to see which famous authors our favorite agency FOIA offices wrote like, but this is just five of the almost 5,407 agencies in our database. Feel free to browse around and see which writer an office you are interested in writes like, and if you find something that seems like a particularly good match, let us know, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter or on Facebook.
Image from The Shining, courtesy of Warner Bros.