The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is “Australia’s national science agency.” Between 1952 and 1989 the CSIRO maintained files on the topic of UAP; e.g. National Archives of Australia (NAA) file series A9778 control symbol M1/F/31 (date range 1952-1957) and NAA file series A8520 control symbol HM1/30 (date range 1959-1989.)
Freedom of Information request
On 29 August 2022, I submitted an FOIA request to the CSIRO, as follows:
“I seek all emails, sent to/from or cc’d, CSIRO staff, including any attachments, for the period 1 June 2021 to 29 August 2022; which contain keywords “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena;” and/or “UAP” and/or “UAPs” and/or “Unidentified Flying Object” and/or “UFO.”
A response letter, dated 20 September 2022, FOI 2022/46, included the following reply:
“CSIRO’s FOI team has conducted internal enquiries to ascertain how many potentially relevant documents CSIRO might hold that relate to your request and the work required to search for, identify and collate those documents, prior to reviewing them and preparing a decision in response to your request.
Given the amount of work we estimate that would be required, I have decided that I need to send you this notice of an intention to refuse access to the documents you have requested…
The results of our searches todate indicate that CSIRO is likely to hold at least approximately 22,500 items including emails and attachments, that may be relevant to your request…
I estimate that we would need to review at least 22,000 documents before a determination could be made regarding relevant documents that fall within the current scope of your request. I estimate that this would mean CSIRO would need to dedicate at least 80 hours to process your request…
In accordance with s24AB(6) of the FOI Act, you have 14 days from the date you receive this notice to either:
a) withdraw your request
b) make a revised request (amend the scope of your request), or
c) indicate you do not wish to revise your request…”
This is the first time, in my years of using the Australian FOIA, that I have received an FOIA request response which looked to refuse access to documents based on the fact that my request would “substantially and unreasonably” divert the resource of an Australian government department or agency, from its other operations.
Given the nature of my request, I was totally surprised that in a 14 month period, the CSIRO might have 22,500 items relevant to a request about UAP. I can’t imagine how one government agency, which overtly has nothing to do with UAP, could accumulate such a large number of items. However, the FOI response, in short, was that I was not going to be able to view any such documents.
So, on 20 September 2022, I decided to reduce the scope of my request, to a much simpler one, namely:
“Copies of any internally generated CSIRO research/discussion papers, on the sighting of, and/or nature of; and/or origin of, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena between 1 June 2021 and 29 August 2022.”
In a response letter dated 28 September 2022, CSIRO advised that “Searches were conducted by relevant CSIRO staff in Space and Astronomy as well as staff within CSIRO’s Records Department and Library, and it was confirmed that CSIRO does not hold any documents relevant to the scope of your request.”