FOIA Request Overview
On November 14, 2017, Muslim Advocates submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request to the FBI regarding a presentation its Behavioral Analysis Unit-3 for Crimes Against Children had conducted around Countering Violent Extremism programs or CVE. The presentation, entitled “Behavioral Assessment of Violent Extremists,” occurred at the Mid-Atlantic Intel and Law Enforcement Training Seminar in June 2017. News reports indicated that the presentation described “multiple influencing factors that could take someone from a regular youth, to a radicalized individual, to a person mobilized to commit violence.” Some of these factors included constitutionally-protected activities, such as “paying off debts” or having personality traits such as being “open, introverted, conscientious, stable, and agreeable.” Given the history of similar CVE programs using such factors to focus on and target the American Muslim community, Muslim Advocates filed a FOIA request to learn more about the presentation and what, specifically, was taught and to whom.
On December 29, 2017, the FBI denied Muslim Advocates’ request entirely by simply stating that it had conducted a search but found no records “in their expected location.” Muslim Advocates appealed the denial, arguing that the FBI had failed to demonstrate that it had conducted an adequate search for the information sought. To justify such a denial, Muslim Advocates argued, the FBI needed to show that relevant requested records had (a) already been produced; (b) were unidentifiable after an adequate search; or (c) were wholly exempt from FOIA disclosure requirements. The FBI had failed to make any such showings, instead offering a wholly inadequate cursory denial. At a minimum, Muslim Advocates argued, the FBI should specify where it searched, who was responsible for the search, the procedure for the search, and whether it fulfilled its duty to search places other than the “expected location” that could be reasonably calculated to contain relevant documents. And because the basic facts of the Behavioral Analysis Unit’s presentation were already public through news reports, the FBI clearly possessed sufficient information to undertake a more thorough search of places where relevant records are likely to exist, such as the files of officers involved in the presentation.
Muslim Advocates filed this appeal at the end of March 2018. On July 19, 2018, the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy affirmed the FBI’s denial, stating that the FBI had conducted an adequate search but could not find the missing records.
Date filed: November 14, 2017