Spring Cleaning at the FBI

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The FBI maintains a total of 300,000 cubic feet of historical documents and records, in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts.

But apparently, freedom of information is also subject to spring-cleaning.

Among the guidelines for determining documents worth hanging on to is the “fat file theory,” positing that heft is somehow correlated to importance.

Cases not categorized important enough for a permanent status are reevaluated at 25 years—their fates determined by the whims of internal FBI agents, not trained archivists.

As long as they’re trying to make space in cramped government buildings, maybe someone should let the FBI know that they can condense behemoth files down to merely 3 cubic feet of storage space, enough for the hard drives needed to store the data they’re deleting.

But, whoops, I guess that could mean easy public access to information.

—Joyce Tang

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest