Activist to press for release of Bush FBI files Wednesday in Washington;
FOIA attorney says FBI should likely expedite release
By John Byrne | RAW STORY Editor
A California activist will fly to Washington D.C. tomorrow to demand the release of President George W. Bush’s Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance file on the steps of the FBI headquarters in Washington Wednesday.
Michael Petrelis, who says he placed a Freedom of Information Act request for the President’s file July 6, says he has not received the file. He made a request that the request be expedited due to the presidential election, but it was denied.
The FBI confirmed to RAW STORY today that it had received Petrelis’ request July 28. In their letter denying an expedited release, the bureau said that the request had been placed in their regular processing queue.
The FBI would not confirm or deny whether they kept a file on Bush.
“Based on information you have provided, I have determined you have not demonstrated any particular urgency to inform the public about the subject matter of your requests beyond the public’s right to know about government activity generally,” wrote Records Management Division Section Chief David M. Hardy. “Accordingly, your request has been placed in our regular processing queue.”
The July 28 letter, in which Hardy said he thoroughly reviewed the request, did not state that the request was out of order. But a public affairs spokesman for the FBI told RAW STORY Tuesday afternoon that the bureau could not furnish a file on a living person without their consent. The FBI also states this on their FOIA website.
“You can’t put in a request for a living person,” the spokesman said.
FOIA attorney says FBI has responsibility to release, expedite files
Michael Fitzpatrick, an attorney for the advocacy group Public Citizen, calls the FBI’s statement an “oversimplification.” He notes that under the law’s exemption number six, documents are only withheld if disclosure would amount to an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
“It’s a balanacing test between the interest in personal privacy and the public interest in disclosure of government records,” Fitzpatrick said. “Certain kinds of records like medical records or the personnel file of a government employee, those are generally exempt. But information on individuals’ business activities or professional activies – those things are generally disclosed.
“When we’re dealing with a public official, the privacy interest is not as strong as it would be if we were dealing with a purely private individual,” he added.
Fitzpatrick also stated that Petrelis had a strong case for expedition of the documents’ release, but that part of the problem is that one needs to know what’s being requested before it can be expedited.
“Expedition is warranted when there is widespread media interest and the documents reflect on the integrity of the government,” he said. “I would think that most any records about the president that are not exempt from disclosure would meet that criteria.
“It is difficult to demonstrate why the documents meet the criteria before one knows what kind of documents are there, he continued. “It’s a little bit of a Catch-22.”
Petrelis said he wondered why the FBI didn’t state this in their July letter.
“Why wouldn’t the FBI explain this in their July letter?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t the FBI say that I need to get permission from the third party?”
I “believe that there still must be a public demand for his FBI file to be released,” he said. “If the White House responded to the pressure in February for his National Guard record, maybe they’ll respond to pressure if it’s created.”
Debbie Beatty, who works in the Historical and Executive Review Unit at the FBI and spoke for the FOIA office, stated the request was in the queue. She said that to her knowledge, no other media organization has requested Bush’s file.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Beatty said. “I supervise all incoming mail.”
Thousands of pages related to Kerry surveillance already released
Thousands of pages of FBI surveillance files relating to Sen. John Kerry’s anti-war protests when he was a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War have been released in the last decade. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI is obliged to release files on organizations, and can do so without the organization’s consent.
The FBI trailed Kerry in the early 1970s as he traveled the country, speaking out against the war and raising money.
Kerry, who obtained his personal FBI files years ago, knew of the surveillance, but the VVAW files obtained by a historian detail more extensive surveillance. Some of the files were stolen from the historian in March.
“It is almost surreal to learn the extent to which I was followed by the FBI,” Kerry said in a March statement. “The experience of having been spied on for the act of engaging in peaceful patriotic protest makes you respect civil rights and the Constitution even more.”
Petrelis has routinely championed causes that would have otherwise gotten scant media attention. He will be joined in Washington with his friend and fellow activist Wayne Turner. Both were members of the AIDS activist group ACT UP.
He organized boycotts against Miller and Marlboro because their parent company was the largest corporate donor to Senator Jesse Helms, and boycotts against Florida orange juice when growers hired Rush Limbaugh as a spokesperson, and the Coors Brewery for its donations to antigay think tanks.
In November of 2001, he and another activist were arrested for harassing the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Health Department with obscene and threatening phone calls regarding a proposed federal quarantine on people with AIDS.
All felony charges were dismissed in July 2003. Petrelis plead no contest to two charges of obscene phone calls.
Ultimately, Petrelis says he hopes Bush will agree to release his files. He noted that even candidate’s wives – Theresa Heinz Kerry – had begun releasing personal information. Heinz Kerry released her tax returns.
“The candidates have released financial and medical records to the press,” he said. “I think that’s good thing, and I think they should release their FBI files.”
“I would hope that the media scrutiny of the files would be equal to that on Kerry’s files,” he concluded.
For Immediate Release
October 19, 2004
Contact: Michael Petrelis
ACTIVIST DEMANDS F.B.I. RELEASE BUSH’S FILE;
F.O.I.A. REQUEST PENDING SINCE JULY
Washington, DC – Gay activist Michael Petrelis will hold a press conference at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s headquarters to demand the agency release all of its files on President George W. Bush.
WHAT: Press conference
WHERE: FBI headquarters
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
WHEN: October 20
TIME: 11:00 a.m.
A Freedom of Information Act request for the Bush file was made on July 6 to the FBI by Petrelis, who invoked the expedited processing clause of the act, given the urgency of the November election. The FBI has thus far not released a single page from Bush’s file.
More than 9,000 pages of the FBI’s files on Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War group have been made available to the public and media, which has extensively scrutinized Kerry’s dossier.
At the press conference, copies of the activist’s correspondence with the FBI will be distributed.
For more information about the effort to obtain Bush’s FBI file can be found on the web at: releasebushsfbifile.blogspot.com
# # #