CHICAGO (CN) – Pushed about the “Fun & Games” section of its website, the FBI gave a “misleading” answer, “divorced from reality,” a watchdog group told a federal judge.
“Fun & Games” appears on the top banner of the FBI’s website, alongside important tabs that lead to pages about the agency’s most-wanted suspects, its statistics and its job openings.
A visit to the page Wednesday shows interactive graphics of FBI gear and weaponry, avatars who discuss FBI careers, and games for kids to “help Special Agent Bobby Bureau get in disguise for his undercover assignment.”
The Better Government Association notes in a federal complaint filed Tuesday that it has been curious what this “publicly funded website devoted to ‘Fun and Games’ … has cost the taxpayers.”
Hoping to learn what benefits the page has produced, the group asked the FBI to produce “various cost-benefit analyses” and other records related to the Fun and Games section.
The FBI stonewalled the Freedom of Information Act request, however, by “refus[ing] to look for responsive records anywhere but in its central investigation files – a search that is nonsensical given the subject matter of the request and predictably yielded no results.”
In its recent responses to the Better Government Association, the FBI has allegedly asked for “additional information pertaining to the subject that you believe was of investigative interest to the bureau.”
For the association, this “request for more information appears to demonstrate that no human being actually read or intelligently considered the subject matter of the request and that the search performed was part of an automated process divorced from the reality of the request.”
“Clearly the FBI website and its Fun & Games character ‘Bobby Bureau’ are not subjects of an FBI investigation, and clearly records responsive to the request would not be found in the CRS,” the complaint states, using shorthand for Central Records System.
The Better Government Association further claims that, “as a seasoned FOIA requester, BGA is aware of what the CRS is and that FBI routinely conducts this sort of nonsensical search rather than individually consider where responsive records are likely to exist.”
Claiming that less savvy requesters might be misled by the FBI’s generic form letter that the central records system is only a subset of the agency’s files, the watchdog says the FBI’s answer implies that “nothing further can be done to search for records in other places.”
The complaint notes that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman recently rapped the FBI for not conducting a good-faith search for responsive documents in a suit filed by reporter Jason Leopold.
“FBI is well aware that its form response letters with regard to CRS and its refusal to search anywhere else unless specifically requested causes many requesters to abandon their requests without realizing that responsive records may exist elsewhere. Upon information and belief, this is the intended result of FBI’s FOIA response practices,” the lawsuit continues.
The Better Government Association wants the FBI ordered to produce the records.
It is represented by Matthew Topic with Loevy & Loevy, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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