AM Posters 2009 START Conference Manager    

The Appraisal of FBI Records: Random Destruction of Evidence or Statistically Valid Sampling Method?

Craig Blaha

(Submission #9)


With “over six million criminal, civil, security, applicant and administrative case files” (Bradsher 1988, 53) in 1979, the FBI faced not only the challenges of access to legal records and the determining which records may hold historical significance, but a problem faced regularly by Archives; the problem of space. A lawsuit titled American Friends Service Committee v. Webster, was brought in 1979 against the FBI and the National Archives. The lawsuit accused the FBI of destroying valuable records with the consent of the National Archives and Records Service (NARS). Judge Harold H. Greene responded to the suit by imposing a ban on the further destruction of any FBI records until the NARS had appraised the records and determined which records should be kept and which should be destroyed.

The NARS committee used a combination of probability and non-probability sampling. First selecting cases at random and then augmenting this sample with files selected using the “fat file” method. The “fat file” method looks for files of with multiple sections which presumably indicate a higher likelihood of historical significance and retain those records.

Was the sampling method employed by the NARS during the appraisal of the FBI case files effective in achieving the goals set out by the committee? In this paper I will evaluate the statistical methods used by the NARS to appraise the FBI records and determine whether the selected approach was accurate and appropriate.


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