8 Sample FOIA requests

Example 1

[type of documents]: All documents, related in whole or in part, [subject of request]: to the discovery of 72 foreign migrants found murdered in a mass grave at a Ranch near San Fernando in [location]: Tamaulipas state, Mexico [date of incident]: on August 25, 2010. [Background information]: The migrants are said to have been on their way to the United States, and it is suspected that the Zetas Cartel is responsible for the deaths. [Specific request for additional information]: This request also includes any information regarding an investigation into this incident. [Date range]: I am interested in all documents from August 18, 2010 to the present.

–This request could be sent to the Department of State and various components of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice. You could also file a request under the Mexican Freedom of Information law because it took place in Mexico.

Example 2

All information [subject of request]: about the meeting between President Clinton and Monique Mujawamariya, a Rwandan human rights activist, [date of incident]: in December 1993 [location]: at the White House. [type of documents]: This request includes, but is not limited to, briefing memos, briefing reports, memorandum of conversation, meeting agenda and notes, after action reports, summaries of meeting, meeting reports, and any follow-up conversations. [Background information]: Mujawamariya’s December visit was well publicized due to President Clinton’s efforts to locate her after the start of the genocide in April 1994. [Date range]: The date range of this request is November 1993 through February 1994.

–This request could be sent to the Clinton Presidential Library (operated by NARA, and has executive records) and the Department of State. It is a good strategy to request information about meetings between officials or important people, especially if you have an exact date of the meeting. You should ask for a window of time surrounding the meeting so that the request would include documents about the preparation before the meeting, and follow-up after the meeting. 

Example 3

All documents related to [subject of request]: the creation, policies and operations of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), and Operation Armas Cruzadas. [type of documents]: My request includes, but is not limited to, memos, reports, meeting agendas, memorandums of conversations, presentation slides, email communications, and memorandums of understanding with other agencies. [Background information]: BEST is a partnership among international, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that operate primarily on [location]: the southwestern border of the United States. The first BEST force was established in Laredo, Texas in 2005. It has since expanded to several others cities and states. One of the larger operations was Operation Armas Cruzadas which was implemented in [date of incident]: July of 2007 in order to identify, investigate, and intercept weapons smugglers and pursue criminal prosecution. [Date range]: I am interested in all information from 2004 to the present. 

–This request could be sent to various components of the Department of Homeland Security (ICE, CBP), components of the Department of Justice (ATF), and the Department of State, and possibly the Defense Intelligence Agency (if the U.S. also worked with the Mexican military). It might also be a good idea to submit a similar request under the Mexican Freedom of Information law because of proximity to the border. 

Example 4

All documents including but not limited [type of documents]: to memos, briefings, internal statements and memos, cables, working papers, etc. related in whole or in part to [subject of request]: the murder of three Mexican mayors (detailed below) in the past month. [Specific request for additional information]: This request also includes information about the U.S. response to the murders and policy briefings related to the murders. [Background information]: Details about the three murdered mayors: Edelmiro Cavazos, mayor of Santiago, [location]: in the state of Nuevo Leon was murdered on [date of incident]: August 15, 2010. Cavazos’s body was later found on [date of incident]: August 20, 2010. Marco Antonio Leal, mayor of Hidalgo, [location]: in the state of Tamaulipas, was murdered on [date of incident]: August 29, 2010. Alexander Lopez Garcia, mayor of El Naranjo, [location]: in the state of San Luis Potosi, was murdered on [date of incident]: September 8, 2010. [Date range]: I am interested in information from June 2010 through December 2010. 

–This request could be sent to the Department of State, and various components of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice. You could also file a request under the Mexican Freedom of Information law because it took place in Mexico.

Example 5

We are seeking all records [type of documents]: (including, but not limited to, written documents, files, electronic communications, records or reports of any sort) [subject of request]: describing or reviewing the placement of detainees in segregation (including both administrative and disciplinary segregation) [location]: at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, from [Date range]: September 2013 to the present. [Specific request for additional information]: This includes both notifications of initial placement in segregation as well as regular reviews performed in cases of extended segregation. We ask that documents be redacted to protect inmate privacy.

–This request would be sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Example 6

All copies of [type of documents]: Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) from [Date range]: November 1982 through January 1983 that mention [subject of request]: Guatemala. [Specific request for additional information]: This request includes, but is not limited to, information about a massacre on [date of incident]: December 6, 1982 in [location]: the small town of Dos Erres in Libertad, El Peten. Documents about this incident have already been made public, so I am seeking any additional information.

–This request would be sent to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, two agencies that produced information which were included in PDBs. Recently, the CIA has been preemptively releasing some of them. It is reasonable to have a broadly defined subject in this case because the type of document and date range is so limited. If the agency responds that this is overly burdensome, you can limit the date range further. 

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How to FOIA by Emily Willard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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