The Mena Files
My Freedom of Information requests to the FBI pertain to two criminal
investigations. The first I filed was for records relating to
investigations of drug smuggling, gun running, or money laundering at
Mena, Arkansas. That was in 1995. A year later I was notified that the
FBI had been able to locate "no records pertaining to my
request." I knew that was not true, in part because five years
earlier the FBI had already notified the Arkansas attorney general, who
had submitted a similar request, that it had 60 documents containing 208
pages on Mena. The FBI had refused to release the files because, it told
the state’s attorney general, the case was still under investigation.
I wrote a column (which is posted on this site) pointing out that either
the FBI had destroyed some files between its responses to the attorney
general and me, or its response to one of us had not been the truth.
I continued to press my demand, and I began to copy my correspondence
to the Justice Department to the office of Congressman Snyder.
Eventually, I received a letter explaining that my request for
information pertaining to "gun running, drug smuggling and/or money
laundering at Mena, Arkansas" could not be properly processed
because the FBI files its records under the names of individuals or
corporations who figure in their investigations. If requiring subject
names is, indeed, the DOJ’s policy, that policy is not mentioned in
the department’s published
instructions for filing FOI requests.
They state that a request need only be "as specific as possible
with regard to names, dates, places, events, subjects, etc."
I amended my request, specifying that I wanted files on Rich Mountain
Aviation and Adler Berriman Seal. In 1997, I received approximately 34
pages of files pertaining to Rich Mountain Aviation. Those pages were
interesting on several counts. First, chunks of them were blacked out.
Second, they revealed that RMA, in rural Arkansas, was the subject of a
fraud investigation by the Department of Defense relating to aircraft
maintenance contracts on islands in the South Pacific. Third, the
records revealed that Seal’s activities at Mena were the subject of
"extensive Bureau investigation," beginning in October, 1983.
In one memo, the immunity he received for his narcotics trafficking
after his appearance before a Senate House Subcommittee was referred to
as "Seal’s ‘judicial blessing.’"
By now three years had passed since my Mena request was filed. As I
approached my publisher’s deadline for completing THE BOYS ON THE
TRACKS, Snyder’s office and I continued to press the FBI to release
its files on Seal. Just as the book was going into publication, I
received a box containing 488 pages of what the FBI said was a 721-page
file on Seal. Over the next several weeks, other pages trickled in. In
all of them, most names were blacked out, making the related information
worthless. The explanation given was that the deletions were to protect
the privacy of those involved.
Of greater concern to me were deletions--sometimes of several
pages--for reasons attributed to the needs of national security or of
the CIA. As I mentioned, I am appealing for release of all information
withheld for these two reasons.
My rationale is simple. It is summed up most succinctly in a memo sent from the FBI’s New Orleans
office in August 1983, on the eve of his move to Arkansas. The special
agent in charge wrote: "Seal controls an international smuggling
organization which is extremely well organized and extensive." A
memo dated the following October described Seal as "a documented
major narcotics trafficker...." In light of the remarkable
"judicial blessing" this international narcotics trafficker
received, it is not unreasonable for the American public to seek the
release of all records relating to him. What is unreasonable is for the
Department of Justice to try to withhold those records, based on claims
that such information might be harmful to national security or to the
The Henry-and-Ives Files
In 1997, I submitted another FOI request to the FBI; this one
pertaining to its investigation into the deaths of Don Henry and Kevin
Ives, the subjects of THE BOYS ON THE TRACKS. I made the request on the
tenth anniversary of the boys’ murders after a peculiar interview with
I.C. Smith, who was at the time the special agent in charge of the
FBI’s Little Rock office. Smith told me that the FBI
"probably" did not have jurisdiction to investigate the case;
that he was keeping control of it and keeping the file closed,
nonetheless; and that if I wanted to challenge that decision, I should
do so in an FOI request to FBI headquarters in Washington.
Not long after that, I received a form from the FBI stating that it
had located "no files" relating to either Don Henry or Kevin
Ives. (You’ll find these records posted.) No answers were offered to
my questions about the FBI’s jurisdiction in the case, considering
that no federal crime had been alleged. After publication of THE BOYS ON
THE TRACKS, however, another reporter contacted Linda Ives, the mother
of one of the victims, notifying her that he too had submitted an FOI
request to the FBI in the case, and--much to my surprise--he had been
provided with several documents.
I immediately wrote to both the FBI in Washington and the bureau’s
office in Little Rock, protesting my earlier notification that the FBI
had found "no records." Washington responded with another
form, stating that my FOI request had been received and assigning it a
new number, ignoring the fact that I already had a request on file.
I contacted Snyder, who again brought my complaints to FBI officials.
In response, I was finally notified in May 2000 that the FBI had located
records totaling almost 17,000 pages relating to Henry and Ives. Release
of all of them has now been requested.
Meanwhile, for anyone interested in the Seal documents, there are
hundreds of pages here for review. I post them in the hope that persons
who know more about some of these events than I will find information in
them that may have eluded me, or that, as other pieces of this puzzle
come to light, some of the pieces presented here may be seen in a
different light. Mostly, though, I post them because they are public
records, they are important, and they were so damn hard to get.