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Badge of Honor: Cato Designated ‘Vexsome’ FOIA Requester by FBI

Patrick G. Eddington

FBI

If government bureaucrats are internally describing the civil society organization you work for as “vexsome,” it’s a good sign you and your organization are doing a good job of holding a federal agency or department accountable for its actions or misconduct. Yesterday via X (formerly known as Twitter), we learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) views Cato’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program and related litigation activity exactly that way.

Today, John Greenewald, founder of the FOIA repository known as The Black Vault, posted that in response to a FOIA request seeking the latest version of the FBI’s FOIA “vexsome filer” list, the only organization publicly identified on the list is the Cato Institute.

Extract of BlackVault FBI FOIA showing Cato as FBI FOIA "vexome filer"

Source: The Black Vault.

As Greenewald noted in his post,

Intriguingly, the only entity clearly identified in this new release is the CATO Institute. The CATO Institute is a public policy research organization, or think tank, based in Washington, D.C. Known for its libertarian philosophy, it focuses on advocating policies that advance individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. The reasons for its explicit mention, while other names remain undisclosed, remain unclear.

The previous version of the FBI’s “vexsome filer” list published in 2016 contained no such redactions and included the names of prominent journalists and researchers, including Ken Klippenstein now at The Intercept.

This time around, the FBI has invoked FOIA exemptions b6 and b7C, which allow the FBI to withhold the names of individuals for privacy‐​related reasons. How that exemption could be lawfully invoked for public figures like journalists is indeed a mystery.

Since 2019, Cato has filed hundreds of FOIAs and dozens of FOIA lawsuits, many against the FBI. In every case, the FOIA or litigation was initiated to uncover information regarding questionable, or outright illegal, activities by the FBI, as well as to get a better understanding of FBI operations.

That the FBI keeps an internal, derogatory list of those persons and organizations that extensively utilize FOIA to conduct oversight of its activities speaks volumes about the Bureau’s organizational mentality.