Circular and Kafkaesque: FBI Cites National Security Threat For Declining To Explain Why Compliance With FOIA Requests On Protesters Would Pose A National Security Threat

Abby Zimet

Using what critics call "an especially circular and Kafkaesque line of argument" based on Cold War-era doctrine, the FBI says they should not have to release 350,000 pages of documents under the Freedom of Information Act requested by MIT academic Ryan Shapiro because Shapiro's  research on FBI investigations of animal rights and other activists constitutes a threat to national security - though they can't explain why in open court because that, too, would threaten national security. Citing the chilling implications of the FBI challenge, open-government advocates have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Shapiro, an activist-turned-academic whose doctoral work on FBI investigations of protesters has made him the most prolific FOIA requester ever. The feds charge that Shapiro's many requests constitute a "mosaic" of information whose release could have "significant deleterious effects" on the bureau's "ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism." Shapiro says he wishes he was surprised by the FBI stance and secrecy, but given its history, he isn't.

"Since its earliest days, the FBI has viewed political dissent as a security threat...The FBI considers it a national security threat to make public its reasoning for considering it a national security threat to use federal law to request information about the FBI's deeply problematic understanding of national security threats."

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