Haines, CIA historian, author, and member of a National Archives FBI task force, and Langbart, a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) archivist, have pulled off an information heist with this first comprehensive guide to the content, organization, location, and access to the records of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1980-81, by court order, experts from NARA systematically analyzed the FBI's records and record-keeping practices and made recommendations for retention and destruction of central and field-office files. Reviews were also conducted in 1986 and 1991 with future reviews to occur at five-year intervals. Ultimately, about 20 percent of all records will be transferred to NARA. The purpose of "Unlocking the Files of the FBI" is to provide researchers with a profile of the records
A detailed introduction apprises the researcher of the history of the bureau's recordkeeping from 1909 to the present and explains how to use the guide. The FBI's Central Records System utilizes a classification scheme to organize its files, with each category of records derived from a specific law. This same arrangement is used in the book, and entries appear for the 278 classifications, such as "Kidnapping," "Ethics in Government Act of 1978," "Toxic Waste Matters," and "Hostage Taking--Terrorism.
Each entry provides the classification number, title, background on when the category was established and changes over time, description of typical files, notes of unusual cases (e.g., in "Espionage," files on Errol Flynn and the Duke of Windsor), suggested research potential, the quantity of records, the date span, the location (central bureau or field office), and the NARA/FBI Task Force recommendations concerning retention or disposal. Each classification includes a statement about accessing the records; generally a researcher is advised to file a Freedom of Information Act request. The notes about related records are especially useful because many investigations are categorized in alternative classifications. For example, "Classification 49--Destruction or Overthrow of the Government" is handled mostly under "100--Domestic Security," "105--Counterintelligence," and "176--Antitrust Law." Forty-three classifications are labeled "obsolete," and information concerning 19 of the most recent were not available but were due for inclusion in the 1991 NARA update
Approximately 100 specialized indexes maintained by the FBI, from the general index to the Witness Protection Program Index, have been kept on 3-by-5-inch cards at the central office and at the field offices, which the authors describe in a separate section. A section called "Special Files" includes descriptions of high-interest files, such as J. Edgar Hoover's Official (O & C) File, Electronic Surveillance Files, and Japanese Activities in the United States. Twelve appendixes cover such topics as abbreviations and symbols, locations of foreign and field offices, and various matters pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act. A detailed name-subject index provides a key to the wealth of information in this volume
Haines and Langbart have added value to the information gathered by the NARA/FBI Task Force by pointing out the research potential of the records. For example, social historians will note the shift in emphasis over the years in cases classified in the "Involuntary Servitude and Slavery" category. Early cases concentrated on chain gangs and Jim Crow laws; in the 1940s and 1950s, focus was on exploitation of black tenant farmers; and in the 1960s and 1970s, Latin American workers in the U.S. were emphasized. Any reader or student interested in what the FBI does will treasure this guide; however, its price will preclude purchase for the merely curious. "Unlocking the Files of the FBI" will be most valuable to serious researchers, and it is recommended for academic and large public libraries.
A comprehensive detailed guide to the records of the FBI, for historians and legal researchers, explaining what kinds of documents the FBI holds, where they are located, and how to gain access to them. Includes descriptions of unclassified as well as classified records; FBI organizational charts; and an explanation of the FOIA, with a sample letter requesting access under the act. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)