FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT AND FBI "FILES": THOUGHTS, ATTEMPTS AND PROCEDURES [HUNTER GRAY 12/29/02]
Note by Hunterbear:
This post outlines basic procedures in attempting to secure one's "files"
from, say, the FBI. I'm keeping the names of the individuals involved in
The Freedom of Information Act process is obviously under heavy attack
[administrative, foot-dragging, statutory thrusts] from the Bush/Ashcroft et
al. forces -- and certainly doesn't seem to be getting any substantive
defense from the Democrats. Much of the "mechanism", however, is still
intact and the basic "request process" isn't that complex. Fairly
frequently these days, I'm asked to outline the basic process in getting
"files" from FBI via FOIA/PA or, as in this instance here, I go ahead and
indicate the possibility to people who are seeking various data sources. In
this case, this is my very recent response to the daughter of a prominent
Canadian Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers leader --a vigorously committed
labor activist who worked very effectively over a period of many decades. He
passed away a number of years ago and, as such, anything FBI might hold on
him is now in the public domain. Some formal indication of his death is
necessary in the initial letter to FBI -- newspaper clipping, obituary, etc.
In the case of a living person, anything held by FBI is not in the public
arena -- can legally be released only to that individual -- but the person
seeking information on himself/herself will have to give [if they possess
it] their Social Security number [along with the other personal
The United States and Canada have often systematically blocked their borders
to radicals [and all sorts of "others" as well.] A number of Canadian and
United States leaders in the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter
Workers [Mine-Mill] were thus victimized during the Red Scare [as were, for
example, Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois.] This person's father was among
those prevented from entering the U.S. Although Mexico has never been
nearly as sensitive to United States pressure as Canada, the US itself has
obviously been blocking all sorts of access at its southern border.
The material this person is seeking is obviously historical in nature.
Relatively contemporary stuff, in the context of a multitude -- and an
obviously proliferating one -- of direct and collateral "investigations" may
be presently tough for individuals to secure. But the effort could be worth
making and, if non-productive at this point, can be made again and again.
My FOIA/PA documentary take from FBI stops in 1979 -- and I'm planning to
make another foray soon. -- Hunter [Hunterbear]
It is good to hear from you. I certainly appreciate your kind words.
Although from Arizona, I certainly know of your father and his very good
work over a vast period of time -- very effective and courageous work in the
face of rapidly mounting challenges. I don't know if you got to the end of
our website -- it does, I admit, go on forever -- but I posted my long
essay/review of Mike Solski's book, which appeared initially in the major US
labor history journal, Labor History. Anyway, just fyi, here is the link to
that. It may load a little slowly, but it's all there. Mike -- and Terry
Binnersley [the Steel Rail editor] -- liked it very much.
The Red Scare -- late '40s through the '60s [and probably, however covert it
became after that, never really ended] -- was obviously designed to smash
militant labor, destroy systemic socio/economic/political radicalism, and
establish a network of essentially reactionary controls. I know that the
situation in Canada came to pretty much parallel that in the 'States.
Obviously, we all are in a period increasingly similar to that grim era.
You might consider making a Freedom of Information request to the
Federal Bureau of Investigation for anything it might have relating to your
dad. Even in somewhat more "relaxed" times, such as the '70s and '80s, it
took a long time to get documents -- and much was always blacked out and
some withheld in their entirety -- and it's even tougher now, with
Bush/Ashcroft doing their best to knife the FOIA process. But it would be
worth trying. If you went this route, my suggestion would be to have a good
civil liberties/rights lawyer at Winnipeg work with you on that -- since
it's "international" in nature and that may be more complex now than, say,
even a year or so ago. It wouldn't generally take a lot of lawyerly work --
and you could even test the waters quite effectively just on your own [with
a lawyer as possible backup, should hassles develop.]
RCMP et al have, I'm sure, all sorts of comparable things -- which you have
likely mined or will. But FBI could easily have much in its own right. The
basic US statutes are FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] and PA [Privacy
The basic process is not in itself all that complicated. You would write to
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Attn: FOIA/PA, Washington, DC 20530.
Give your name, address, telephone number. Indicate the subject of your
inquiry is your father -- full name, date and place of birth, date and place
of death -- and that you want all documents held by FBI relating to him and
that you are willing to pay copying costs for those. You will need to
provide something -- news clipping, obituary, etc -- that indicates your
father has passed away. Included in the letter should be his basic activist
biography [doesn't have to be long] with at least some dates and with
emphasis on why you think FBI would have material on him: Canadian
Mine-Mill, the International Union as a whole, US/Canadian border blockage,
political affiliations, Paul Robeson etc. The initial request letter must
be notarized -- but succeeding correspondence need not be.
If it's becoming too difficult to do this across international lines -- and
Bush/Ashcroft are jamming the works as much as they can on all of this --
you could have a known and trusted friend in the 'States make the request
for you. Until someone has died, his/her material can only be released
directly to them -- but, after their death, it's public domain.
You may already be on this FOIA trail -- but, on the chance you aren't, it
is worth the effort. My youngest daughter turned 23 yesterday. On
Christmas night, 1979, while she was being born in a small New Mexico
bordertown adjoining the Navajo Reservation, I chain-smoked and wrote out my
FOIA/PA request with an ink pen on a yellow tablet. A hospital officer
notarized it for me. It took until the end of the 1980s decade or so for me to get
everything FBI would give me, covering the latter '50s to 1979: over 3,000
pages [much blacked out] -- and there are still several hundred pages they
won't give me short of a Federal court fight. I was listed on several high
priority agitator lists: Section A of Reserve Index/Security Index and
Rabble Rouser Index. [Me -- once a leading Explorer Scout in Monsignor
Albouy's troop!] But, more to the point, it can take awhile. You could,
however, find some very interesting things in the FBI documents.
I've always liked Winnipeg. Although an Arizonian, I did wind up living in
Grand Forks, ND for a number of years -- and got up to Winnipeg every now
and then. Can't say I miss the North Dakota winters one damn bit. We left
in the Summer of '97, after the Flood, and returned to the Mountain West.
But I do like Winnipeg -- and, actually, have many more relatives from both
the Native and Scottish sides of my family in Canada than I do in the
All best wishes. In Solidarity -- Hunter [Hunterbear]
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings. Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]