Help Needed on ACLU Dossier Story:
I'm trying to make sense of this New York Times story by Eric Lichtblau on FBI records about the ACLU, but I'm having trouble with it. I was wondering if any VC readers who understand FOIA have any insights.

  The Times story makes it sound like the FBI is keeping dossiers on the ACLU, Greenpeace, and other groups:
  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected at least 3,500 pages of internal documents in the last several years on a handful of civil rights and antiwar protest groups in what the groups charge is an attempt to stifle political opposition to the Bush administration.
  The F.B.I. has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace, an environmental group that has led acts of civil disobedience in protest over the administration's policies, the Justice Department disclosed in a court filing this month in a federal court in Washington.
  The filing came as part of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act brought by the A.C.L.U. and other groups that maintain that the F.B.I. has engaged in a pattern of political surveillance against critics of the Bush administration. A smaller batch of documents already turned over by the government sheds light on the interest of F.B.I. counterterrorism officials in protests surrounding the Iraq war and last year's Republican National Convention.
  F.B.I. and Justice Department officials declined to say what was in the A.C.L.U. and Greenpeace files, citing the pending lawsuit. But they stressed that as a matter of both policy and practice, they have not sought to monitor the political activities of any activist groups and that any intelligence-gathering activities related to political protests are intended to prevent disruptive and criminal activity at demonstrations, not to quell free speech. They said there might be an innocuous explanation for the large volume of files on the A.C.L.U. and Greenpeace, like preserving requests from or complaints about the groups in agency files.
  I spent some time this afternoon trying to figure out what to make of the claim that the FBI has all of these documents "on" the ACLU and other groups. I was able to figure out that the source of the figures is a paragraph in this 50-page DOJ court filing arguing against the ACLU's motion to expedite its FOIA request. The key paragraph appears on page 37:
  The biggest volume of the pending requests involve plaintiffs ACLU, ACLU Foundation, and Greenpeace, as well as records related to the NJTTF. For records related to the ACLU and ACLU Foundation, the FBI has identified approximately 1173 pages to review – a medium queue case for which the FBI will need eight months, or to March 1, 2006, to complete processing. Hardy Decl. ¶ 36 (Chart). The FBI estimates that it would require until June 1, 2006 to complete processing of records related to plaintiff Greenpeace, which total approximately 2383 pages – another medium queue case. Id.
  Here's my question for any FOIA people out there: Was it fair for the New York Times to present these numbers as the number of pages that the FBI has "on" the ACLU, Greenpeace, and the like? I don't know how the FOIA process works, so I can't tell if the documents that the FBI has to review are fairly presented as documents "on" these groups — or if they merely are documents that mention them, contain the name of the group for other reasons (e.g., case names of ACLU litigation), or merely might do so. If you happen to know, I'd much appreciate it if you could leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The New York Times ACLU Story Begins to Look A Bit Fishy:
  2. Help Needed on ACLU Dossier Story: