FOIA Responses: FBI File 203A-WF-210023 and Tom Lantos

The FBI confirmed it has 3429 pages potentially responsive to my FOIA request for records and references re: FBI File 203A-WF-210023, including Tom Lantos. Then in a subsequent letter it said, “the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of records which would indicate whether an individual or organization is or has ever been of investigatory interest.”

According to this January 20, 2008 article, FBI denies file exposing nuclear secrets theft:

[Sibel Edmonds] says the FBI was investigating a Turkish and Israeli-run network that paid high-ranking American officials to steal nuclear weapons secrets. These were then sold on the international black market to countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

One of the documents relating to the case was marked 203A-WF-210023. Last week, however, the FBI responded to a freedom of information request for a file of exactly the same number by claiming that it did not exist. But The Sunday Times has obtained a document signed by an FBI official showing the existence of the file.

Edmonds believes the crucial file is being deliberately covered up by the FBI because its contents are explosive. She accuses the agency of an “outright lie”.

“I can tell you that that file and the operations it refers to did exist from 1996 to February 2002. The file refers to the counterintelligence programme that the Department of Justice has declared to be a state secret to protect sensitive diplomatic relations,” she said.

For more info on this ring, see the Sibel Edmonds profile at HistoryCommons.org

January 12, 2011, I emailed a FOIA request to the FBI for any and all records and references re: FBI File 203A-WF-210023 and Tom Lantos, a deceased Congressman (D-CA) who features heavily in Sibel Edmonds’ allegations. Below are summaries, in chronological order, of my correspondence with the FBI regarding this request. To see the letters I’ve received from the FBI, click here.

A January 14, 2011 FBI letter to me acknowledged receipt of my request, “Subject: FILE NUMBER 203A-WF-210023 IN REGARDS TO TOM LANTOS ET AL,” and stated it had been assigned FOIPA # 1160194-000.

A January 20, 2011 FBI letter to me, re: FOIPA # 1160194-000, “Subject: FILE NUMBER 203A-WF-210023,” stated, “We have located approximately 3429 pages potentially responsive to your request.” This letter informed me of potential fees in connection with the request, and of the possibility of faster processing if I would reduce the scope of the request.

A January 24, 2011 FBI letter to me acknowledged receipt of my request, “Subject: LANTOS, THOMAS PETER – REFERENCES,” and stated it had been assigned FOIPA # 1157063-001. FOIPA # 1157063-000 was assigned November 17, 2010, when I first requested all references to Tom Lantos. According to FBI’s January 3, 2011 denial letter, I had not provided enough specific information, such as events and dates.

January 28, 2011, I faxed a letter to FBI stating I wanted the records on CD, agreed to pay the fees, and was interested in reducing the scope of the request. In this letter I requested additional information that would help me make an informed decision.

A January 31, 2011 FBI letter to me re: FOIPA 1157063-001, “Subject: LANTOS, THOMAS PETER – REFERENCES,” stated “Please be advised that your FOIPA request has been closed administratively. The subject of your request shares the same investigative file. The material responsive to this request will be processed in conjunction with your request for records concerning FOIPA number 1160194-000.”

A March 21, 2011 letter from FBI indicated my FOIPA request # 1160194-000 was being denied. It stated:

Please be advised that it is the FBI’s policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records which would tend to indicate or reveal whether an individual or organization is of investigatory interest to the FBI. Acknowledging the FBI’s interests invites the risk of circumvention of federal law enforcement efforts. Thus, pursuant to FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552 exemption (b)(7)(E), the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of records which would indicate whether an individual or organization is or has ever been of investigatory interest.

5 USC 552 (b)(7)(E) exempts:

records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.

I am currently working on an appeal. It appears FBI’s interpretation of the exemption is overly broad, or unreasonable. DOJ publishes a FOIA guide which summarizes and references court decisions in various cases. Click here for Exemption 7 (PDF).

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