CIA wants records requesters to print out and mail obituaries of famous people

Agency’s fax-based FOIA policy strikes again

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Michael Morisy

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali died earlier this year at the age of 93. It was a fairly big deal, with his passing commented on by publications around the planet.

However, nobody seems to have told the CIA.

After Boutros-Ghali’s death, MuckRock user Mike Best filed a request with the CIA for their agency files on him, particularly his efforts to combat the Rwandan genocide. Though he noted that the death had been widely reported, he also included a link to the CNN article for reference.

Three months later, the agency responded: not good enough

Yes, in keeping with the CIA’s established policy of vigorously defending the privacy rights of the deceased, the agency does not accept links as proof. And since the CIA insists on still using a fax machine for FOIA, the only way to get the agency the proof they so badly need - a print-out of the article in the link - is to send it via snail mail.

Why does the CIA still insist on using a fax machine in 2016? Great question, please direct it to the agency’s FOIA Feedback department, pictured below:

To add insult to injury - another of the CIA’s long-established policies - the agency claimed that the request was too broad to process in its current form, and asked Best to narrow further. To be fair, they did offer some useful suggestions …

Such as narrowing the focus to the Rwandan genocide, which Best already did in his initial request.

As unhelpful as that advice was, it did raise one Schrödinger-ing quandary - how can the CIA know enough about Boutros-Ghali to offer suggestions about what records to ask for, while at the same time not knowing if he’s alive? The agency seems to be taking this whole “need-to-know basis” thing a bit too literally.


Image via Wikimedia Commons