Anyone who uses the Freedom of Information Act to investigate the working of the U.S. government is likely to run into road block called “no responsive records.” For example, when I sued the CIA for the files of George Joannides, a psychological warfare operations officer, I was told the agency had no records responsive to my request and suggested I got to the National Archives.
Sometimes this boilerplate denial is a ruse, says Nate Jones, investigative blogger at the National Security Archive.
No, the agency doesn’t have any records that are responsive to your request. That’s not because the records don’t exist but because the agency has transferred them to a secret facility known as the Washington Records Center, located in the southern suburbs of Washington D.C.
In many respects, the Washington Records Center (WRC) is the real-life, US government equivalent to the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant is stored, never to be found again, at the end of the Indiana Jones film, The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Washington Records Center is located in a heavily guarded federal office park in Suitland, Maryland, encompasses 789,000 feet, and has the capacity to hold over 3.9 million cubic feet of federal records. Key government documents are stored in the difficult-to-access location, and the public –including many FOIA experts– doesn’t even know it exists.
And Jones has advice about how to make sure FOIA requesters can get access to these long-hidden records.