Throughout the decades I have filed hundreds of FOIA requests, some of the them have led to exciting and beneficial information, some have been denied or are still being processed, I have five that have taken over ten years to be processed with no end still in sight. Even with the changes mandated for FOIA, through the passing of The Patriot Act, one of the biggest downfalls a researcher can have when submitting a request to the government is an incompletely written request. Most government agencies expect the general public to NOT know what words to use and they count on us to ask in an incorrect manner for information so they can deny our requests. A poorly written FOIA request such as, “Please send me all documents on UFOs” or “Send me stuff about the Philadelphia Experiment” will quickly be tossed in a trash bin and also tie up the system for people who have submitted requests after you. Below you will find an example of a FOIA request that has worked for me for years. Please feel free to copy and paste it, use it in your next FOIA request, it works for me and hopefully it will work for you.
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
I request a complete and thorough search of all filing systems and locations for all records maintained by your agency pertaining to and/or captioned ____________, including and, without limitation, files and documents captioned in, or whose captions include _________________.
This request specifically includes where appropriate “main” files and “see references,” including but not limited to numbered and lettered subfiles, 1A envelopes, enclosures behind files (EBFs), bulky Exhibits, “JUNE” files and control files. I also request a search of the Electronic Surveillance (ELSUR) Index, or any similar technique for locating records of electronic surveillance and the COINTELPRO index. I request that all records be produced with the administrative markings and all reports to include administrative pages. I wish to be sent copies of “see reference” cards, abstracts, search slips, including search slips used to process this request, file covers, multiple copies of the same documents if they appear in a file, tapes of any electronic surveillance, photographs, and logs of physical surveillance (FISUR). Please search, “DO NOT FILE” files, SAC safes, special file rooms, and offices of officials. I request copies of all pages regardless of the extent of excising, even if all that remains are the stationary headings or administrative markings.
In order to help to determine my status to assess fees, you should know that I am a representative of the news media/press and this request is made as part of news gathering and not for commercial use.
The maximum dollar amount I am willing to pay for this request _____ Please notify me if the fees will exceed ____ or the maximum dollar amount I entered.
I request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in my commercial interest.
Please place missing documents on “special locate” and advise me that you have done this.
I wish to make it clear that I want all records in your office “identifiable with my request,” even though reports on those records have been sent to headquarters and even though there may be duplication between the two sets of files. I do not want just “interim” documents. I want all documents as they appear in the “main” files and “see references” of all units of your agency
If documents are denied, in whole or in part, please specify which exemption(s) is (are) claimed for each document denied. Give the number of pages in each document and the total number of pages pertaining to this request and the dates of the documents withheld. I request that excised material be “blacked out” rather than “whited out” or cut-out and that the remaining non-exempt portions of the documents be released as provided under the Freedom of Information Act. Please send a memo (with a copy or copies to me) to the appropriate unit(s) in your office to assure that no records related to this request are destroyed. Please advise of any destruction of records and include the date and authority for such destruction. As I expect to appeal any denials, please specify the office and address to which an appeal should be directed.
I can be reached at the phone number listed on the letterhead. Please call rather than write if there are any questions of it you need additional information from me. I expect a response to this request within the mandated time as provided in the Freedom of Information Act.