MuckRock’s year in FOIA: 2017 Part 2

MuckRock’s year in FOIA: 2017 Part 2

A look back through some of the stories FOIA helped tell this year II: Look Back Harder

Written by
Edited by Beryl Lipton

Read Part 1 here

MuckRock published over twice as many articles in 2017 as we did last year, which necessitated breaking this Year in Review into two parts. Let’s pick up where we left off, just in time for FOIA’s 51st birthday.


  • JPat Brown celebrates the occasion (which happens to fall on the rather obscure holiday of Fourth of July) by showcasing new releases from his collection of presidents with cake. “This is a worthwile use of my time and resources,” says Brown, an adult.

  • Grace Raih obtains emails exchanged between Department of Homeland Security and Portland Police, which show how law enforcement is increasingly treating protests like war zones.

  • Emma Best uncovers the Central Intelligence Agency’s list of 126 excuses it can use to censor information because it’s classified, only to find that the list has been censored because it’s classified.

  • Beryl Lipton talks FOIA appeals with the winners of FOIA March Madness 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is revealed that the SEC FOIA office celebrated their win by fashioning a literal rock into a trophy called “The MuckRock,” which is the most adorably dorky thing.


  • Thanks to a generous grant from the Kindle Project, MuckRock is able to expand its work investigating the Trump administration and the private prison industry.

  • Best introduces us to the greatest spy you’ve never heard of: Robert Blum, the man who shaped the world.

  • King is told by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that in order to produce its records on sexual assault in prisons, we’d need to cough up a little over a million dollars in processing fees. Opposite-of-Fun Fact: Texas holds the unenviable title of “prison rape capital of the U.S.”

  • Evan Anderson uncovers a trove of emails sent to the city of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, urging them to reject a monument to satin. “Don’t you mean Satan?” you ask. “That’s not what the email says,” we respond.





  • With headlines reminding us that they are indeed still a thing, Waltman dusts off his Cell Site Simulator Census.

  • Lustig ends her internship at MuckRock with the launch of a project on maternal deaths in rural hospitals. “I need a vacation,” she says, wearily. The rest of the staff laugh, very bitterly.

  • MuckRock co-founder Kotler has his request for CIA’s collectible card game fulfilled in a matter of months. “Wow, this FOIA thing is super-easy,” he says. The rest of the staff laugh, very bitterly.

  • Best reveals that the FBI might have considered prosecuting her for her FOIA work involving dead Bureau officials. “Can you believe the FBI would do this?” says person on the internet. The rest of the staff laugh, very bitterly.

  • Brown writes about the CIA’s release of the full manual on “Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare” created for the Nicaraguan Contras. In a morbid twist, the manual frequently points to the example of the Hukbalahap in the Philippines … a guerrilla movement destroyed with the assistance of the CIA.

On a personal note, looking back at the year’s worth of stories, it’s hard for me to fathom how much we’ve managed to cover. Just a few years ago, we struggled to put out three articles a week. Now, we’re averaging three a day, and (hopefully) making the case for just how versatile public records reporting can be. I am unbelievably proud of our team for punching so far above our weight class and humbled by the people that we have in our corner. Nobody knows what next year will hold, but there’s no other work I’d rather be doing, and nobody else I’d rather be doing it with. On behalf of myself and the entire MuckRock staff, thank you.

P.S. I am never doing this again.

Image via National Archives Flickr