FOIA Request Message Board: General Zodiac Discussion: FOIA Request

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Thursday, July 05, 2001 - 07:10 pm:

In an attempt to learn whether the FBI provided alibi evidence regarding Kaczynski (or any other recent suspect) to California authorities, I've submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, which has been catalogued and assigned a file number by the agency.

This is my third attempt at acquiring information under FOIA. The first two efforts failed ostensibly because I requested specific documentation pertaining to Kaczynski himself, which is available only with the permission of the individual about whom information is being sought.

This latest request was stated in far more general terms, i.e., a request for official correspondences between the FBI and the California agencies regarding the Zodiac case from 1996. At the very least such documentation should include the correspondence regarding Kaczynski's fingerprint and handwriting specimens, and even if the names are redacted it should be obvious from the context of the documents which individual they refer to.

By Peter H (Peter_H) ( - on Thursday, July 05, 2001 - 09:57 pm:


Special July 4th greetings!

What legislation did LBJ sign into law on that date in 1966?

Welcome to the wonderful word of the tension between FOIA and the "Privacy Act", and all the other exceptions to the disclosure obligations of the "Freedom" of Information Act.

Hint: "I requested specific documentation pertaining to Kaczynski himself, which is available only with the permission of the individual about whom information is being sought." Mmmmmmmmm . . . maybe. Lesser Hint: What are you asking the feds for that TK provided voluntarily?

Your requests -- including your latest -- may have been too broad/too narrow. Absent litigation, the Feds can safely deny the request on either basis. The stone wall itself implies what lies behind it.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Saturday, July 07, 2001 - 09:22 am:

Peter--I agree, but it's worth a shot.

By Peter H (Peter_H) ( - on Saturday, July 07, 2001 - 03:51 pm:

It sure is. I would suggest that it is also worth some fine tuning of the request. There is an art or at least a fairly well developed body of skills to successful FOIA requests, some of which has to do with working the maze of Privacy Act and other exceptions and objections. For examp[le, the mere fact that you ask for specific info concerning TK does not mean its protected from FOIA disclosure. In fact, if the denial of the FOIA request states only that and does not citre the specific exception or exemption on which the denialis based, its likely vulnerable to challenge. So the question then becomes, if its worth a shot is it worth following up on the rebound?

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Saturday, July 07, 2001 - 03:58 pm:

I think so. Let's see what they have to say.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 02:54 pm:

I just received my reply from the FOIPA at the FBI. It reads as follows:

Dear Requester:

This acknowledges receipt of your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

In reference to your request for documents on the Zodiac Murder covering the years 1996 through the present, please be advised that the only material available covers the time frame of 1969 through 1992. These documents have been previously released to other individuals and total 956 pages.

To receive these documents .... etc., etc.

Sincerely yours,
John M. Kelso Jr.
Section Chief,
Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Section
Office of Public and Congressional Affairs

This of course has got to be bull, because in 1996 the SFPD (and who knows what other interested agency) placed a formal request for fingerprint and handwriting specimens taken from Kaczynski, and the request was granted. I find it difficult to believe that no record was ever made of the request or the transaction.

By The Fife (Thefife) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 03:41 pm:


I think the operative word here is "available." It is common when requesting classified documents that if they don't want to release something because of classification or need-to-know, that they will just say such material is not available. It's not lying and it avoids admitting to its existance.

I've got that sort of language out of the DoD only to have a SPO officer show me the very thing a month later.

Tom F

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 05:08 pm:

Interesting, Fife. Why would this material fall under the heading of "need-to-know," I wonder? Any thoughts?

By Classic (Classic) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 05:19 pm:

Doug, Some time ago I saw a website about noah's ark. The guy who ran it had trouble getting foia requests answered,but he finally figured out the system. You really have to jump thru hoops if you want anything important. He asked for military airial photos of the ark and the coordinets. The response said that it did not exist and no photos were taken at..and then gave the exact coordinates. Obviously they had the photos but didn't want to part with them. Eventually he got the photos. He details everything he did to obtain them on the website. It might be worth checking into. His name was Chess or Porsche..something like that. If I get time I'll try to find it. Classic

By Tom Voigt (Tom_Voigt) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 05:23 pm:

I ran into similar roadblocks when I attempted to obtain Allen's 1974-1977 Sonoma County file. However, I managed to get the whole thing, unredacted.

Persistence wears down resistance.

By The Fife (Thefife) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 05:50 pm:

Tom V,

When you got Allen's Sonoma County files did you go there in person and finally get it, or did they break down via correspondence?

Tom F

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 06:26 pm:

Thanks for all the tips. I suppose this is just the beginning, but I think my next move is to reply to Mr. Kelso with some photocopies of the Bay Area press and A.P./Reuters stories about the SFPD fingerprint/handwriting requests. That should at least prove to them that the documents in question exist--unless the FBI doesn't keep records of such things, which I strongly doubt.

By Tom Voigt (Tom_Voigt) ( - on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 07:11 pm:

First I got them excited about helping me, then I visited in person.

By Peter H (Peter_H) ( on Tuesday, July 24, 2001 - 06:30 am:


The advice on asking for all materials "in existence" rather than "available" is sound. In addition, I note that you asked for Zodiac materials. The SFPD 1996 request was for Kazinski material and likely did not even mention Zodiac. SO FBI has it as TK material, not Z. As I have said before, and and recent posts from others have confirmed, there is an art -- which you are learning -- to making and pursuing a FOIA request. It includes, BTW, being prepared for litigation. If the feds smell any hesitancy it file an action, don't expect any cooperation.