QUESTION: FOIA for 1970s org that was under FBI surveillance?

question / pregunta: 

Hello, and thank you in advance for your help!

I am writing a history of the prostitutes' rights movement of the 1970s. (Today, some prefer to call it the sex workers' rights movement.) The national movement launched in San Francisco, 1973, by Margo St. James and COYOTE, and then took off in cities across the country. I am focusing, in particular, on PUMA, the Prostitutes Union of Massachusetts, in Boston, which was active under that name roughly from 1975 to 1984.

I have interviewed dozens of women from the movement in the course of my research, and many believe that they were under FBI surveillance. However, I have filed two FOIA requests and have been repeatedly informed that there are no records related to my search terms (prostitutes' rights, prostitutes, Margo St. James, PUMA, etc). I have sent my requests to the local FBI office in Boston and in DC.

Can you please help me figure out what I'm doing wrong, and how to craft a better request letter? I saw the awesome DIY FOIA letter on your website, but perhaps there are other federal organizations I should be requesting from? Or different search requests? I want to cast as wide a net as possible, but I truly have no idea how the bureaucracy works.

Thank you again, I wish you a peaceful new year.



This would be a very challenging job of investigative reporting, and indeed might win a prize for someone who succeeded in proving (to most people's satisfaction) who actually planned the attacks. The very widespread and varied media outlets made possible by the Web also partly work against pinning down such evidence, because they greatly multiply the potential for misinformation as well as for finding actual facts.

You can start with news databases such as Proquest National Newspapers (US only; in many large public libraries), or LexisNexis Academic (in large academic libraries) which lets you limit to Non-US as well as US sources; for example, if you wish to get perspectives possibly not at all shared by our own official sources. Limiting LexisNexis Academic to "Non-US Newspapers & Wires" gets 146 hits for the search: anthrax attacks and 2001 and theories. You can also skim through much larger sets, using LexisNexis' "Expanded List" display to show the hightlighted search words ("Key words in context") in sections from 25 articles at once; for example, the 589 hits for the search: anthrax attacks and 2001 and question. You can try to verify who might have reported a particular theory; for example 14 hits for: anthrax attacks and 2001 and "patriot act" - but bear in mind, that could include any mention of the FBI pursuing suspects using the powers granted to them by that act; conspiracy by either supporters OR opponents of the act, etc.
Compare also the 80 hits in "US Newspapers & Wires" for the search: anthrax attacks and 2001 and "patriot act". Proquest Newspapers seems to get fewer hits: 12 in "Citation and Document text" for the search: anthrax attacks and 2001 and question*, 7 for: anthrax attacks and 2001 and theor*. It would be tempting to look at all 502 for: anthrax attacks and 2001. But unfortunately, Proquest does not have a "Key word in context" brief display - you have to look at full text to see highlighted words.

Related Question

QUESTION: More anti-rioting questions

question / pregunta: 

Thanks for answering the first question about the 1968 Federal anti-rioting law USC Title 18, Chapter 102 18USC102. The question is How many unduplicated prosecutions and/or investigations have the FBI done using this code. I was told by a lawyer the information maybe available in the Library of Congress or through some data on crime statistics that the FBI keeps.

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