Mudcat Café message #2219093 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #106931   Message #2219093
Posted By: Joe Offer
19-Dec-07 - 02:37 PM
Thread Name: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
Subject: RE: Review: Phil Ochs and the FBI
There are two laws that apply in this instance: the Privacy Act of1974 and the Freedom of Information Act of 1966. In general, the Freedom of Information Act requires the release of U.S. Government information unless the Government can prove a darn good reason for not relasing it. The Privacy Act protects individuals, limiting the information the Government can collect on individuals and allowing an individual to review the information collected. You can find detailed information about these two acts here (click) at the U.S. Department of Justice.

I did government security clearance investigations for 25 years. Every time I contacted someone for information, I had to give a Privacy Act statement:All of our investigations were done with the permission of the applicants - but if the applicant didn't give permission, he/she didn't get the job. There is some provision that allows heirs to review information on someone who is deceased, but I don't know much about that part of the law. Investigations conducted before 1974 were done with the implication that the information was collected in confidence, so the names of sources of information in pre-1974 investigations are blacked out if the file is requested.

I requested my own files - they were pretty routine, but it was interesting to see what people said about me. One former boss said, "Joe has one speed: S.L.O.W." - but he liked me, and he liked the quality of my work. The boss's name was blacked out, but it was pretty easy for me to figure out who he was.

The FBI did an investigation on me once for impersonation of an FBI agent - some old lady got confused and thought I was from the FBI. I tried to get a copy of that investigation, but they said they couldn't find a record of it. Lots of files get destroyed if there's nothing to them.

It was really sticky when I had to collect psychiatric information on a security clearance applicant. I had to have a release from the subject of the investigation, addressed to the mental health care provider, specifically allowing release of medical/psychiatric information. I had to advise the provider that the subject had access to the file, but that psychiatric information could be withheld if the care provider had reason to think that release of the information would harm the subject in any way. I never had a provider put any restriction on the release of information to the applicant.

I think we did a pretty good job of protecting the privacy of the people we investigated. Sometimes, our managers went to ridiculous extremes on this, and their paranoid restrictions and Catch-22's drove us working stiffs crazy. No government manager wants to deal with a Congressional Inquiry, so the bosses did their best to ensure that the people we investigated did not have reason to complain to their Congressmen.

One other thing: as part of our security clearance investigations, we had to contact the FBI to see if they had anything on file on the subject and on the subject's family members and associates. And yes, we quite frequently got reports that so-and-so's car was parked outside a place where a "known Communist cell" was meeting. There was one very popular professor in our area who was listed as a reference by countless applicants, and every report included a summary of the professor's "Communist" activities. We stopped getting those spooky files in the early 1980's or so, and I understand that almost all of those FBI surveillance files were destroyed. For a short time after that (until the bosses found out and cracked down on them), we did have a couple of right-wing investigators who consulted with a private organization that had surveillance files on suspected Communists. It might surprise you to know that a majority of our investigators seemed to be to the left of center. Our right-wing yahoos were a very small minority.

Oh, something else - in 25 years of doing investigations, I had only one applicant who was suspected of left-wing political activities. He made a trip to the Soviet Union for political reasons. I had a good number of applicants who were involved in suspicious right-wing activities.

-Joe Offer, retired investigator-
U.S. Office of Personnel Management