Exclusive: FBI drags feet on releasing 1,000 pages on late Sen. Helms
WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation may have more than 1,000 pages in its files on the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, but federal officials haven’t released a single document more than a year after a San Francisco blogger filed Freedom of Information Act requests.
San Francisco-based blogger and gay rights activist Michael Petrelis sent the FBI a Freedom of Information Act request for information on Helms shortly after the senator’s July 4th, 2008 death. The FBI restricts third-party access to information about individuals while they are still alive, but makes it possible for people to request copies of someone else’s FBI files after they have passed away.
The FBI’s records management division staff sent Petrelis a letter in October 2008, informing him they’d located 1,082 pages that may mention Helms, but that it could cost Petrelis $98.20 to get copies of all the documents. The first 100 pages of FBI records requests are provided for free, but people are charged for copies beyond 100 pages. Petrelis agreed to pay the fee, but nearly a year later has yet to receive a document.
“We’ve been waiting more than a year to get ANYTHING out of them and we know they’ve got all those pages,” Petrelis told Raw Story, adding that he was able to receive information about threats against former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney–while both were still in office—less than seven months after requesting the information.
“They’re in office and they’re alive and one is the sitting president and we’re talking threats, and the FBI is able to find and release something,” Petrelis said. “But with Jesse Helms, we’re more than a year after our initial request and we still don’t have anything.”‘
FBI spokesman Bill Carter told Raw Story “it does take time to review documents and determine under the law what can or can’t be released.”
“There’s no time frame you can really give, it all depends on the number of documents we are dealing with,” Carter said.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, was not available for an interview Monday, but has said in prior interviews with Raw Story that the FBI often takes years to respond to requests.
“Standard operating procedure there is to file a FOIA request and wait three to five years,” Dalglish told Raw Story.
Petrelis said he was interested in the Helms case because he’d been part of protests at the late senator’s home and office.
“There were six or seven of us that did a sit-in, a kiss-in, in his office, to call for gay rights and better AIDS treatment programs in the early ’90s,” Petrelis said. “I’d be curious to know if that event was in these files.”
Helms himself once focused on getting the FBI to release files on a late icon: civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
The late senator claimed one reason he opposed giving Martin Luther King. Jr. his own national holiday in 1983 was because the Senate rejected his amendment to unseal the FBI’s files on King. Helms said he believed King’s advisers included communist sympathizers.
Correction: RAW STORY mistakenly identified the late Sen. Jesse Helms as a South Carolina Republican. Helms was from North Carolina. RAW STORY regrets the error.