MuckRock's year in FOIA: 2017 Part 1

MuckRock’s year in FOIA: 2017 Part 1

A look back through some of the stories FOIA helped tell this year

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

This year saw our 10,000th completed FOIA request, a grant that allowed us to finally hire our founders full time, and the release of millions of pages of Central Intelligence Agency records as a result of our lawsuit. Here are the stories, big and small, you helped uncover this year.



  • FBI cites six different exemptions in its file on former WikiLeaks director Gavin MacFadyen.

  • Vanessa Nason reveals how little we know about about how little we know about gun violence.

  • Private prison in New Mexico responds to Lipton’s request for grievance logs by charging $78 for 78 redacted pages. “How obviously bad this is,” Lipton says to herself. “Don’t people understand how bad?”

  • Best uncovers a list of journalists that composed the CIA’s secret press pool in the ’60s. That “in the ’60s” part doesn’t quite grok for some folks, leading to several #MAGA tweets demanding @realDonaldTrump investigate people that have been dead for decades.

  • Nathan Lawrence uses FOIA to get a copy of surveillance camera footage from the roof of the Smithsonian building on inauguration day, finally ending the debate over crowd size. Haha, just kidding - debates don’t end in 2017. Everything is forever.

  • After “neither confirming nor denying” the existence of its highest security biolabs, the Centers for Disease Control confirms they just don’t have a list, which is significantly less comforting.

  • To celebrate the Run the Jewels show in Boston, Lipton pens a public records breakdown of Killer Mike’s “Reagan”. While MuckRock staff is not invited onstage to rap about the prison-industrial complex, we do get a retweet, which is pretty much the same thing.




  • Best asks: is the CIA improperly withholding information to avoid embarrassment, or is it hiding illegal methods? Turns out it was both - they were stealing Jane Fonda’s mail.

  • And the award for Massachusetts police department that’s the worst at transparency goes to - what’s this? A CHALLENGER APPEARS!

  • Emmanual Noriega dies, leading to brief mainstream interest into that time the CIA worked with Reagan’s White House to kill probe into Noriega’s drug trafficking activities.

  • Lipton makes a trip to private prison mecca Florence, Arizona, and discovers that the computer terminals that she was going to use to look up court records on had been down for about two years. She’s then confronted by a security guard who thinks taking pictures is illegal, and had somebody call in the police on her for “suspicious behavior.” It’s the nicest vacation she’s had in years.


  • Lipton profiles the board of directors for private prison giants CoreCivic (former CCA) and GEO Group, which features former heads of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service. Which funny enough, happen to be two of the industry’s best customers. “Wait ‘till they hear about the blackface thing,” says Lipton, who will never feel surprise by the awful behavior of her fellow human beings ever again.

  • Brown, stop trying to make Paul Krugman’s FOIA selfies happen. It’s NOT going to happen!

  • Fun fact: Steve Jobs’ FBI file contains an actual phone.

  • While not a police department, Fall River Municipal Court makes a solid contender for rudest Massachusetts agency.

  • Alec Shea uncovers a CIA memo from 1951 outlining 33 similarities between U.S and Soviet Propaganda.

  • Best begins her epic 14-part saga documenting the CIA’s 60-year war with the Government Accountability Office.

  • Brown finds a CIA memo on the right way to staple. “This is also important,” Brown says to nobody in particular. “Isn’t it?”

  • The MuckRock community celebrates the successfully completion of its 10,000th public records request. As of writing, MuckRock is nearly a quarter of its way to the next 10,000th - and it’s all thanks to you, and the FOIA officers who literally make this possible. In a moment of wall-breaking sincerity, thank you, truly.

Read Part 2 here.

Image via National Archives Flickr