Public Enemy #1
A couple months ago, I decided to write the FBI and request a copy of my file to be used later for a Grimerica blog. I don’t want to say I’m running out of ideas here, but I knew the process of requesting said file was fairly easy and would take a bit of time. Sooner or later, it would pay off and I’d have all the material for a blog post literally delivered to my door step. I imagined one of two outcomes being possible…
Either there would be something…or there would be nothing.
And hey, if there was nothing then I could write about that too. Sure it would give the blog post an anti-climatic flare, but even if I played the whole thing off like Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone’s vault, at least I’d get something out of it. It’s not like there’s ever been any kind of standards or expectations around here.
My journey started over at Google, which quickly led me to www.getmyfbifile.com. I entered in some basic personal info and they were kind enough to generate a ready to print and mail letter that I sent off later that afternoon. The website can generate query letters for several different government agencies, so just for shits and giggles I fired one off to the CIA too.
A quick story about my one and only run in with the FBI (up until this point)…
One afternoon, I was hanging out at a buddy’s house when we noticed this dude in a suit outside going through the mail. My friend lived on the first floor of a three-flat, and the mailboxes for all the units were located just outside a picture window next to his front door. So my buddy goes out there to see what the deal with this guy is, and the man identifies himself, badge and all, as an FBI agent. He asks my friend if he’s ever known a man named Eduardo Sanchez (made up for the sake of this story) and does he live at this address. My buddy doesn’t know an Eduardo Sanchez, but funny you mention it, we get that guy’s mail all the time. The G-Man then tells us that that’s because there is no Eduardo Sanchez and someone in the area is using that name and this address to create a false identity. The man then thanks us for our time, takes the mail addressed to Sanchez and fucks off to whatever rock he crawled out from. We go back inside, minds totally blown.
I tell that story to illustrate a point; there are several ways in which our lives can intersect with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in non-felonious ways. Maybe at some point our next door neighbors were drug dealers, or our coworkers were committing credit card fraud. I half expected the file to come back looking something like a high school scrap book. Remember this guy? Remember the time we did this? Remember signing this petition on your way home from work that day? And then…several weeks later, a letter came in the mail addressed to me from the FBI itself.
They said they were unable to identify any main file records responsive to my request. It then mentioned, however, that this neither confirms nor denies the existence of my name on any watch lists, but assured me that this was a standard notification given to all requesters and should not be taken as an indication that these records do, or do not, exist. Single page letter typed, not even suitable for framing.
I was satisfied, a little bummed maybe but honestly what did I expect? I’ve never been in any serious legal trouble. Never served in the military, or held a security clearance. Truth be told though, it was kind of a blow to my ego.
Except it really shouldn’t have been. I mean, rationally speaking there was never any reason for there to be a file in the first place. It was the irrational part of me, the conspiracy loving nut job part of me that just expected there to be one. Surely, I must have done something over the past fifteen or so years to invoke the ire of the Men in Black. What about all those Snowden files? Aren’t we all being watched anyway? I quickly realized that I had been living most of my life under a thin veil of counter-culture induced paranoia, one that was possibly unfounded.
So, that was it. The letter came back from the FBI, limp and boring, but it was still something I could get a couple thousand words out of. About a week later I finally sat down to write this post, and then something funny happened. I got a second letter in the mail, this time from the CIA, and this time straight up denying my request.
Once again they say they can neither confirm nor deny any records exist, but then it goes on to say…
“Consider this portion of the response a denial of your request pursuant to FOIA exemptions (b)(1) and (b)(3), and PA exemptions (j)(1) and (k)(1)”
So what’s the deal with those FOIA exemptions? Well, they were kind enough to include a second sheet that gives you explanations for all those exemptions.
(b)(1) exempts from disclosure information currently and properly classified, pursuant to an Executive Order.
(b)(3) exempts from disclosure information that another federal statute protects.
(j)(1) exempts from disclosure certain information maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
(k)(1) exempts from disclosure information properly classified, pursuant to an Executive Order.
I read this, re-read this, read it again, and then Googled the shit out of all this stuff. I’m still not sure what it all means, but I missed the initial melancholy the letter from the FBI gave me. The FBI search turned up absolutely nothing, and this letter felt slightly more that nothing, but less than something. It leaves me feeling like there should be a next step – although the real question is in what direction?
The general consensus is that nowadays all the ABC agencies are so inundated with these requests, that they fire off their pre-generated letters almost automatically. From what I’ve read online, some people do get more of a response, legal records and credit scores, military records if applicable, but not everyone. If that’s the case maybe the fact that I got nothing back maybe does actually mean something…or maybe not, but now we’re treading back towards the topic of paranoia.
And paranoia is like a fire, it’s all consuming. Its very definition is worrying too much about what other people are doing. It’s walking around hyper-focused on other people and fearing the world around you. Whether or not a file exists is really inconsequential, it’s the power we give that file that hold all the cards. I could write more letters, scream louder and harder than I ever have before, and what would that accomplish? Maybe I’d get access to some papers telling me shit about myself I already know?
I also started to question why the hell this ever seemed like a good idea in the first place. It almost made me wish I was married so I’d have a wife at home to run ideas like this by before I do silly shit like write letters to the Central Intelligence Agency. Like seriously dude, who does that? What did I expect to find, and did I ever stop to honestly consider the emotional impact those findings might have on me?
And so what about the findings? Inconclusive at best. Probably nothing, possibly something, but in the end I think I realized I don’t really give a shit either way. The very fact that I’m writing this for a website affiliated with a podcast should prove I’m not really a private person anymore. Most of us aren’t.
How bizarre is it that a culture can be so obsessed with reality TV and social media, yet so terrified at the prospect of cameras in public and government surveillance of the internet? We thrive on selfies and sharing our thoughts on twitter, we place a value on our individual worth on how many followers we have or have…just as long as one of those followers isn’t law enforcement. I mean, I get it, no one wants to party with your parents. It’s like drinking with your cousins at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving, everyone is laughing and having a good time, then one of your aunts walks over and everyone shuts the fuck up, just waiting until she leaves.