It isn’t often you see a discussion FOIA, FBI, NARA, and Records Retention Plan and Disposition Schedules in the popular press. This article describes the frustrations of one researcher when he discovered that records had been destroyed by the FBI.
- The Department of Forgetting: How an obscure FBI rule is ensuring the destruction of irreplaceable historical records, By Alex Heard, Slate, June 24, 2008.
The system’s fundamentals make sense, I guess–very complicated sense–but to me the disturbing part comes at the end of the line. At some point 25 years after a case closes, a file that isn’t marked “permanent” gets pulled and looked at by one or two people inside the FBI. There are no “knowledgeable representatives of the NARA” monitoring this crucial moment. If it’s decided internally that the file isn’t important, it’s gone.
Michael Ravnitzky, an FOIA researcher based in the Washington, D.C., area, is no fan of the Records Retention Plan and likens it to an open-ended manual for strip-mining a priceless public record. “The FBI got a list of exceptional files given to them by historians, and they said, ‘We’ll keep that,’ ” he says. “We’ll keep large files. Smaller files, we’ll keep a sampling. Everything else gets tossed. That’s what the plan is.” Based on documents Ivan Greenberg obtained from the FBI, he estimates that 250 million pages were destroyed between 1986 and 1995.
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