When the DEA Went to Burning Man, Shit Got [Redacted]

What did federal agents do on the playa? If only we knew.

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Apr 27 2015, 4:02pm

Image: Jennifer Morrow/Flickr

A Freedom of Information Act request asking the Drug Enforcement Administration for "investigative files concerning the Burning Man Festival 2011-2015" is a great idea—after all, any neo-hippie-desert shantytown gathering is going to have as much drug use as it has nudity, and Burning Man is known for epic portions of both.

The results were rather disappointing, however. The FOIA-requesting/distribution site Government Attic just posted the response to​ the request this morning, and you're welcome to check them out if you're the type of weirdo who is really into blank pages of redacted information.

The request was sent down to the Las Vegas Field Office, where it brought up a hefty 43 pages alluding to the DEA's work at the festival. Most of the material was redacted to protect the privacy of individuals involved and to obscure the exact techniques used by law enforcement.

"On August 29, 2013, Detectives of the Department of Public Safety, the Bureau of Land Management and other local law enforcement agencies worked as a narcotics task force at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, Pershing, Nevada," the first page opens tantalizingly.

But instead of account after account of people trading mushrooms for beads outside the Slut Olympics—source material for a surefire comedic hit starring Will Ferrell as the uptight Agent Johnson—what follows is blank page after blank page.

Specifically, the exemptions are in the name of protecting against invasions of personal priv​acy; protecting information "which would reveal techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions or that would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions;" and protecting "law enforcement information which could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual."

The documents reveal that the DEA conducted investigations in 2012 and in 2013. The agents from DEA and their collaborating agencies were on the playa just after midnight in August of 2012, and "working in an undercover capacity."

One investigation led to a heavily redacted case that was "prosecuted at the state level" in 2012. "DEA retains no evidence or arrest responsibility for this investigation," the DEA investigation report says. "The case is administratively closed." However, there are no details on what the case was about.

Still, the few details provided may open the door to other FOIA requests, which hopefully will have more fruitful results. It also gives a place for the imagination to run wild.