FOIA requires that federal agencies make certain types of documents available in electronic format. This includes records that an “agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records.” Bigfoot collided with this requirement recently and, as a result, the FBI’s Bigfoot file is now available in the agency’s electronic reading room.
It was hard to go anywhere in the United States in the 1970s without encountering a local version of the Bigfoot legend. While attention was primarily focused in California and the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot (so named because of the giant footprints attributed to the creature found in 1958 in California’s Del Norte County) was a national sensation.
Given the public desire to prove or disprove the existence of a Bigfoot (also called a Sasquatch), it’s not hard to believe that the FBI would be called in on the case. And so it was that, in 1976, now-93-year-old Peter Byrne of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition in Oregon sent the FBI a sample of 15 unidentified hairs attached to a skin sample and requested that they be tested to determine if they came from a Bigfoot. Byrne told The Washington Post recently that he never heard back about the samples until recently when the FBI published its Big Foot file which contains the Bureau’s findings that the samples Byrne submitted were of “deer family origin.”
The Bigfoot file was published in the FBI’s electronic reading room known as the Vault, a repository of thousands of pages of previously released FBI records, all of which are both interesting in their own right and useful in guiding you as you draft and submit requests to the FBI.
The same holds true for other agencies: use already released records as a guide to agency language and document types when formulating new requests; learn these conventions by visiting an agency’s electronic reading room.