Instruction Manual Not Included

How to get your FBI file

I’ve always been a little paranoid. But, like the popular shirt says, “You only have to be right once to make it all worthwhile.” And so, last year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation asking for my FBI file.

I fantasized about what would come back. Did they know about the protests I attended during college? What about the prank calls in high school? I knew I shouldn’t have egged that old man’s house …

Here’s how I did it:

1. File a Freedom of Information Act request. There are several sites that give you the basic format, but use the FBI’s own form. Basically, you have to formally request your file and then give several pieces of identifying information like your Social Security number, birthdate and last few addresses.

2. Sign, date and put a stamp on it. E-mailed requests are ignored.

3. Wait. And wait. And wait some more. I waited close to five months. Use that time to read up on famous people’s FBI files. Did you know Dezi Arnaz, of “I Love Lucy” fame, had a file? So did Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

4. Don’t get your “hopes” up. Despite what your crazy college roommate might tell you, the FBI (officially) does not keep a file on every U.S. citizen. That being said, who knows what you’ve done that they know about.

After several weeks, a thin envelope will arrives.You’ll probably rip it open, half-expecting it to be a handwritten note asking you to meet an agent on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for “some questions.” But, alas, most likely, you’ll receive a single sheet of paper, simply stating: “No records responsive to your FOIPA request were located by a search of the automated indices.”


5. Try to avoid attracting any more attention. Now you know the FBI isn’t interested in you. Keep it that way.