Male infertility: Varicocele embolization consultation, with CT scan

This is an ongoing series about my journey with infertility. I was diagnosed with a varicocele, which is likely responsible for poor sperm quality. It's something present in around 15% of all men, but in upwards of 40% of all infertility cases. Start here for the background and what we've done so far.

Varicoceles don't only affect fertility (and don't always lead to infertility). Apparently, they can be very painful; mine doesn't hurt at all. I have, over the past few weeks, noticed occasional soreness in my left testicle, but that's really only been since the urologist told me varicoceles are often painful, so it may be primarily in my head. Who knows how long I've had this issue, with no pain?

When a physician's assistant asked, "On a scale of 1-10 (10 being excruciating), what's the pain like?"

"Two to three," I said.

"What do you do when you feel the pain?"

"Nothing. When you get older your knee just hurts a little bit sometimes? It's kinda like that."


I had a consultation with the physician's assistant for an interventional radiologist who would perform a varicocele embolization.

This is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure. They're so confident in the procedure not producing issues that they don't even follow up with patients to see how they're doing a few days later.

I have a CT scan scheduled. This will show a map of my arteries and veins, give the doctor an idea of whether he'd go in through my neck or my leg (more in a minute) and whether for some reason I might not be a candidate for the procedure.

The alternative is a surgical fix, called a varicocelectomy, performed by a urologist, which comes with as much as six weeks of recovery time.

Now, some of this is recap from the first installment, but here's the skinny. We don't know why varicoceles occur (we know how they occur, but not the underlying cause). After being corrected, they can return. Once detected, we have no idea how long they've been there (we might assume mine's been there at least 19 months, since that's how long we've been trying to have a child). The urologist told me both the varicocelectomy and the embolization have a success rate of around 90% (that's success in eliminating the varicocele), and in case that the varicocele is eliminated for fertility purposes, about half of couples conceive naturally.

Sperm take about three to four months to develop; sperm I might ejaculate today started forming sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2017. That means we won't find out if my sperm quality improves until four months or so after the procedure. We do that by a seed test, which is essentially me masturbating in a cup in someone else's bathroom (again, see the first installation for a deeper description).

Back to my consultation.

The procedure goes like this. You get an IV with an anesthetic (a name I wouldn't know) and a pain killer (fentanyl). In theory, just enough to keep you sedated, but a lot of people fall asleep. Then they take a catheter, put it into a vein in either your neck or your leg (you're facing away from the procedure, with a nurse monitoring vitals in your field of vision, if you're awake). Once the catheter is in, you get either some tiny metal balls or some tiny metal coils to break up the varicocele and hopefully prevent from happening again.

They pull the catheter out, remove the IV, monitor you for a couple of hours, put you in a car (preferably one driven by someone you know), and send you a bill at some point.

My next step is the CT scan. Results from that usually take about two days, so unless something comes up, that'll be the next installation.

Male infertility: A journey begins

There don't seem to be many stories of male infertility online. If you want to know anything about any complications for women, there are lots of stories available. Some of those stories are self-authored, some are reported in magazines or newspapers, and some of them are from the husband's perspective.

That's not to say there's nothing out there. Most of the reader comments about male infertility here are from women, but here's a story from a guy who felt guilty about his infertility, but he and his wife got pregnant after a couple rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Then there's a story from a man who didn't want to use a sperm donor for IVF, so his girlfriend broke up with him.

There's a book written by a woman about how there's just not that much out there on male infertility.

I did find one story detailing several types of male infertility.

There is a forum for male infertility, though a lot of posts in there are from women.

I decided to start writing about my journey for two reasons: (1) It's how I work through things, and (2) maybe it will help others share, or at least feel better.

Before we get going, you should be aware of a couple of things. Links (none of those above, but going forward) might have instructive images. By that, I mean pictures of penises and testicles. Also, I'm going to be me here, which means that I'll use both correct language and slang (read: I'll write both "scrotum" and "ball sack" and I might drop a cuss word or twelve). I'm not going to pull punches. I won't be gratuitously graphic, but if something's pertinent, it'll be here (if you're my mother or my sister, you might want to stop reading, since this might get uncomfortable for you). Finally, we're in a discovery phase at this writing, so this really will be an ongoing story, perhaps for months or a year or however long it takes.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm 41 years old, a few pounds overweight but a regular exerciser and distance runner. I live in Savannah, Georgia. My parents call me "Mr. Excitement" because it's typically difficult to read my emotions. I'm an introvert, which means not that I'm shy or afraid of sharing, it just means I charge my energy by being alone, which makes writing a great outlet for me.


I have what's called a varicocele. It's reasonably common; about 15 percent of men have them. They don't always lead to infertility, but in cases of infertility or subfertility (which I guess is what I have, technically), they appear in upwards of 40 percent of cases. It's probably hard to nail down a good number on who actually has them, since most people don't just go get tested for them.

Essentially, it's a varicose vein in a testicle. It's most common on the left side, which is where mine is.

The way my urologist explained it to me, we don't know why it happens, but we do know how. Veins have a flap that acts something like a railroad switch in them, which allowing blood to flow online in one direction. When that flap fails, blood pools and the veins become swollen, which means the veins leading to my left testicle are too big, and it's harming my sperm (more on that later).

Now, let's get into how we got here.

In August of 2016, my wife and I decided to start trying to have children. We started off "normally," just having sex as often as we were up to it. Over the ensuing months, that turned into an ovulation thermometer and ovulation strips. Her periods are slightly irregular, varying by a few days each month, so it was difficult to track any other way.

A year later, we decided it's been a year, let's get checked out. My wife is "mostly fine;" one of her tubes is blocked but that doesn't stop her from releasing an egg each month, and her ob/gyn says that's not going to impede pregnancy at all.

I scheduled my first seed test around the same time. Read: they test semen.

A seed test goes like this.

First, you're abstinent for a minimum of three days and a maximum of five. They want you rested, but not dusty.

I went to a an office in a local hospital's "professional building" and sat in a chair in a waiting room. It appears that most of the patients are couples; one woman was there with someone I assumed to be her mother.

Eventually, someone came to lead me out the door and down the hall. She handed me a piece of paper, a pen, and a cup, then told me to mark the time when I'm done, put everything in the carousel, spin it, ring the doorbell, and leave.

In other words, please don't check in again. We all know you're in here masturbating and we don't want to see you right after you finish.

The bathroom they sent me into was bizarre. There's a toilet, of course, and a sink. And a chair with one of those pads on it people leave on the floor and hope their dogs pee on. There's a TV/DVD player combo above the toilet and a pile of magazines hidden inside blue folders that probably haven't been updated since 1996.

There's a note to not use lube or soap or anything, since that can taint your sample.

I provided my sample, put the cover on the cup and put it in basically a bank safety deposit box, rang a doorbell and got out of there.

Since the order for the test had come through my wife's ob/gyn, they called her first with the results. "Low sperm count, low motility and little chance of pregnancy."

No details, no explanation of what that translated to, no next steps. So, we basically tried to figure out what we could do and how.

We knew some of the risk factors. Tight underwear. Bicycles. Saunas. Hot tubs. Alcohol. Caffeine. Being 40 years old. Being overweight.

I maintain that boxer briefs are fine. My wife wanted me to wear boxers. I refused, but as a compromise I mostly stopped wearing underwear except when I'm working out or running. I've stayed off my bike, out of the sauna and out of the hot tub. I cut back from 5-6 drinks a week to 3-4. I cut back from a pot and a half of coffee a day to a cup every couple of days, with a cup or two of tea every day replacing all the coffee. I couldn't do anything about my age (in fact, I had another birthday, making it worse), and I didn't manage to lose any weight — that's really difficult when you're cutting back on stimulants.

I asked my physician for an order to get another test. He gave me one, I went back in December to jerk off in a cup again, and waited. I got a call a couple of weeks later from my doctor's office with just the information that the test was abnormal, and I should go see a urologist (he sent over a referral). Again, no details.

So I went to the urologist, and he spelled everything out for me.

All sorts of things get tested, but he was looking for three things:

1. Sperm count: About 50 million per milliliter is average, but 20 million is considered a minimum threshold for normal.
2. Motility: About 35% is normal.
3. Appearance: Average is 14% of sperm in one ejaculation appearing "normal," with 4% being a minimum threshold for effective.

In my first test, my sperm count was 19 million/mL. He said that might as well be 20 million. My motility was 27%, which means they were generally lazy. A big fat goose egg on appearance, though. Zero percent appeared normal.

My second test — the one for which I tried to eliminate as many risk factors as I could — looked somewhat better. My sperm count was 74 million/mL (overachiever!). My motility was 67% (ditto!). The appearance, though, had only approved to 1% appearing normal (yeah, I know that's an increase of infinity, but it's still not good enough to give me a good shot at getting my wife pregnant).

Now that we had an idea of what the problem was, the next step was to figure out why.

He ordered some blood work and an ultrasound. The blood work was easy. I have good veins for needles. I don't have a fear of them and the sight of blood doesn't bother me.

The ultrasound, on the other hand, was pretty awkward. And yes, it's the same procedure used to show pregnant women their babies.

I sat down in the waiting room, and a woman came out to get me. We got to her room, which consisted of an exam table, a chair, a sink and a computer desk. She handed me a rolled-up washcloth and a hand towel folded in thirds.

"You're going to lie down on the table," she said. "You can leave your shirt and shoes on, but pull your pants and underwear down to your knees. Put the washcloth between your legs to prop your scrotum up, and use the other towel to cover yourself. I'll be back in a few minutes.

You know how you don't take a toddler's pants all the way off to change a diaper? Like you just let the pants keep the feet together well enough to move everything around as needed? I was in that position, but squeezing a washcloth between my thighs. Of course, a toddler can look up at you and all that. She wasn't in the room, so I was just staring at the HVAC.

Finally, after what seemed like 90 minutes but was probably more like four, she came in and asked if I was ready.

Uh, ready? Sure. I'm lying on an exam table doing kegels with a washcloth and wearing the shortest skirt a grown man should ever wear.

She sat down, put on some gloves, jellied up her sound-camera-thingy, and reached up my towel-skirt.

"I know this isn't your whole day," I said, "but what's the conversation like when you get home? How was your day, honey?"

She smiled politely and said she'd been at this for ten years and didn't even think about it anymore, it's just part of the job. "At least I'm not starting catheters," she said.

After 10 minutes of drawing abstract art on the computer screen with sound waves, she told me she was all done, when she left I could get dressed and head on out, and they'd call me when the lab came back with results.

This freed me up to start doing some research.

It turned out there were two likely culprits: hormone levels and varicoceles.

Hormone levels could be adjusted with Clomid, which we think of as a thing they give women.

Varicoceles, on the other hand...

I didn't want to Google image search varicoceles, because, frankly, I didn't want a pile of dick pics in my face. Turns out they're all illustrations anyway, since the varicocele is inside the scrotum.

"Want to know what the surgery's like?" my wife asked.

"That depends," I said. "Do they cut open my ball sack and fix something, then leave me stitched up and bruised?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"I'll pass, thanks."

My hormone levels came back basically fine; he could find an excuse to give me Clomid if I wanted to, but really, the varicocele is most likely the problem.

It turns out there are two fixes for varicoceles. One is surgical, the other nonsurgical. They have roughly the same success rate (close to 90%), my urologist said, and successful correction typically leads to pregnancy about half the time, which is probably not that much different from "normal" couples.

In either case, there's a long waiting period to figure out if it worked. Sperm production takes about three months from genesis to ejaculation (so, sperm you ejaculate today started forming three months ago). They wait four months and then send me back for a seed test.

I've spoken to the urologist about the surgical version. He makes about a two-inch incision in the abdomen, goes in and drains the varicose veins, then fixes that little broken railroad switch. The recovery is 2-3 weeks of rest, then 2-3 weeks of light duty after that.

He also described the nonsurgical version, which is called an embolization, though I have an appointment set for next week with the interventional radiologist who would perform that, should I go that route. It involves going through my groin with a catheter, and putting a balloon up beyond the kidney (or something like that). The recovery is more like 2-3 days.

I'm assuming there's a cost difference, since that second one sounds more difficult, but the recovery time is so much better.

I've called the insurance company, and they'll cover both equally.

What's Next

I have an appointment with the radiologist next week, to learn a little more about the procedure, hopefully figure out costs, preparation and recovery, and work toward making a decision.

After that, it'll be recovering, waiting for that next seed test, and seeing what happens from there.

I'll check back in sometime next week.

Taking a learning break…see you in the spring

Two of my favorite things to do are read and write.

While I've always found reading relaxing — thanks, primarily, to my parents, who, when I claimed boredom growing up, told me to go read a book instead of to go watch TV — I really love reading (and listening to) books for growth.

I write to make sense of things. To parse them in my mind. To explain difficult concepts to myself in a simpler form. Hopefully some of you have benefited from me doing that and sharing what I've learned.

I need a break to refresh that learning. The stuff I do here is what people often do on Sabbatical. So think of this as a reverse Sabbatical.

I also write to keep exercising my creativity muscle.

I have plenty of creativity to exercise scheduled in the next few months. I'm spending six months taking the Master Key Experience, which involves lots of reading and writing (and thinking). I want to pay more attention to the JKWD Podcast — it's really good and I think there's a lot of room for growth.

I have some thick books sitting on my shelf I want to get to, too, Antifragile and Tools of Titans (and I guess there's some new Tim Ferriss for me to track down, too).

I also want to learn some basic psychology. If you've got a recommendation, please pass it along.

And since New Year's is really an arbitrary date and you can start anything anytime, here is my annual posting of Doug MacLean's "Auld Lang Syne." Don't forget where you've been, but don't be afraid to leave it behind for where you're going.

Baby steps: The way back to creativity

If you've been listening to the podcast, you know I spend much of July dealing with some creative stumbling blocks. We even did an episode on it over at JKWD.

You'll notice the output didn't stop: A new JKWD every Monday. A new blog post ever Tuesday. A new Josh: The Podcast every Thursday.

Showing up and consistency are a large part of the battle against creative blocks. They're simple, but not easy.

Here we are, getting into August, and I have some thoughts coming back into my brain. It might be a month of short hits, much like Seth Godin posts about weekly (he blogs every day, but every now and then, a post is under 150 words — under 100, even — and brings a sharp jolt.

I'll be looking for more sharp jolts this month, and exceptionality as we move into fall.

Happy Tuesday.

Lessons from Everlast and Joe Rogan, with some Teddy Roosevelt tossed in

Two drunk/stoned friends after a podcast. @ogeverlast

A post shared by Joe Rogan (@joerogan) on

Everlast was back on Joe Rogan's podcast recently. It was another one of those podcasts that I expected to enjoy but instead learned a lot (see my notes from Bert Kreischer talking to Robert Kelly).

Everlast is a musician and rapper; if you're my age, you know him from House of Pain. Need a reminder? Have an earworm. He's been dead on the operating table twice. He has an artificial heart valve. He has a daughter with cystic fibrosis. He recently watched his mother slide downhill with Alzheimer's and then pass away.

Fame doesn't make you immune to the problems of the rest of us, is what I'm saying.

The followng video appears during the podcast. It's a better 2-minute clip to start things. The full podcast is at the bottom of the post.

There's some drunk babble. It kind of runs off the rails at the end. But there's a lot in here. You don't need to listen, but if these snippets move you, maybe at least hit play on that video at the bottom and give them a play.

• Be open to learning something new
• Culture is like an operating system; we gain perspective by loading new operating systems (visiting different cultures)
• Half-truths are turning people against each other
• Americans right now are part of the biggest reality TV show ever
• If you want to be a leader, you must let go of ego
• Sometimes you have to call out the bullshit
• It's easy to pick a team and then fight for it. It's more difficult — but more important — to find common ground
• Think for yourself
• Take a step back
• Be compassionate. Sometimes people need to feel whatever it is they're feeling
• There are injustices in the world
• Anger doesn't serve you
• Sometimes there's a glitch in the matrix and you just have to deal with it
• Your life is normal
• Some people fight battles you'll never see
• "Compassion is the thief of joy" —Theodore Roosevelt
• Get joy out of what you do
• Show gratitude to those who helped you become who you are
• Invite inspiration in
• We need community
• Be happy when others are successful
• Find people to push you to be better
• Respect those who paved the path for you to be able to do what you do
• Don't become old and bitter
• Let people enjoy what they enjoy
• Let art evolve
• The way we've always done things is not a good reason to keep doing them that way
• Whatever you do, do it your way
• Get out of your own way
• Manage your attention the way you have to manage oxygen on a spaceship
• If it's not relevant to your life, it's taking up too much room
• Don't focus on things that rob you of energy and time

Here's the full podcast:

Reminder: You’re gonna die

One morning, there was a dead frog in the driveway, missing a leg and a half.

Not as a threat. It was just there.

We've heard frogs from the drainage ditch adjacent to the property, and the evening before we'd had a torrential downpour. There were plenty of puddles. The ditch was probably flooding, the frog hopped up the drain on our side of the fence, and probably met one of the cats that runs around the property.

And then the neighbor probably drove off and the cat ran away and left most of a dead frog in the driveway.

This was the same day that, just an hour or so later, I was heading to the doctor's office to get a prescription for epinephrine auto-injectors, since my previous ones had expired.

It's nobody's best day if you need to use epinephrine. Here's a story of the time I found that out.

I guess I was pretty close to dead, if I was knocked out for a few seconds but it felt like 20 minutes and the awake people in the room were calling the paramedics (except for my wife, who was observing in shock and panic).

Maybe this next one's better.

"I'm talking to her, and she goes, "Daddy, does the earth go around the sun?" And I was like, "yeah." She goes, "does it do it all the time?" And I go, "yeah." She says, "will the earth always go around the sun forever?" And i was like, "Well, no, at some point, the sun's gonna explode." She's seven years old. Do you understand how horrible that is? She started crying immediately. Crying bitter tears for the death of all humanity. And here's how I tried to save it. I go, "oh, honey, this isn't gonna happen until you and everybody you know has been dead for a very long time." She didn't know any of those things, and now she knows all of those things. She's gonna die. Everybody she knows is gonna die. They're gonna be dead for a very long time, and then the sun's gonna explode. She learned all that in 12 seconds at the age of seven. She took it pretty well. I was proud of her."

Tim Ferriss speaks to several podcast guests about having memento mori around his home.

It's a reminder that death gets to everybody, so if you want to be remembered as someone who lived, get to living.

I have a hard time leaving dishes in the sink when I go to bed. Waking up to yesterday's dishes puts me in mind of yesterday, and, frankly, whatever happened yesterday can't be changed. It might be OK to reflect on it if doing so improves today, but why not just take the five minutes to do the dishes and not have the reminder — or the work — waiting for you in the morning?

Yes, I definitely leave some chores for the next day. Sometimes I'll wait until I go to bed to run the dishwasher or put the last load of laundry in the dryer. Maybe it's the fact that these are longer activities that cover an aggregate of days. Maybe it's the fact that when I have a new day, the dishes or clothes are newly refreshed.

Not yesterday's grimy mess come back to haunt me — the physical, mental and emotional.

The point, here, is, remember that you're going to die. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not for a century. But if you keep putting off stuff until tomorrow, eventually one of the tomorrows you've been waiting for isn't going to show up.

Because you'll be dead. It's just how things go for us. It's something GoogleXer Mo Gawdat — who lost his son during an appendectomy, is an engineer and wrote a book on happiness — discusses with Lewis Howes.

If you want to be remembered for something you aren't doing, now's a really good time to start. As Kelvin and I discuss in this episode of JKWD, once you're dead, your chances at success go down a lot.

Go. Do. Be. Love.

Consistency, taking advantage of technology and what happens when you leave?

It's amazing how easy it is for us to stay connected these days.

We're at a point in time when many adults in the workforce don't remember a time when the phone was on the wall and when you left the house, you were gone. If you didn't turn on the answering machine, you wouldn't even know if anybody called while you weren't home.

Even if you did remember to turn on the answering machine, if it was in a not-so-obvious place, you might forget to check it until bedtime or so.

By this time, I've managed to spend the entirety of Trump's first 100 days in office without Twitter and Facebook on my phone.

I'm going all the way to zero for a couple of weeks. Email app? Gone. Instagram app? See ya.

In order for me to reach a point of moderation, I always have to go from wherever I am to zero — whether it's a change in the way I consume carbohydrate, alcohol or television.

I'll (most likely) be back in a few weeks with everything. While I haven't missed the idle checking I used to do of Twitter and Facebook on my phone, I do miss the ability to share a podcast from within the app or to share a thought in context (I suppose I could just log in on mobile web, but I always just put it in my notes app and wait until I get to a computer, and if I remember why I wrote the note, I'll share it).

We're in a time that demands consistency. I see it when I put the blog on hiatus, which is why I haven't done it in a while. Each time I disappear for a few months, the numbers drop off very quickly and it takes a really long time to build back up.

Fortunately, the Internet has figured out scheduling and feeds and such, so it's going to feel like I never left while I'm gone.

Apologies for my slow responses if you write, but I expect I'll be coming back with some fantastic stuff for you.

IN the words of a great bear, "TTFN."


There's a lot of stuff floating around in my head for more extensive blog posts coming up — I've done some deeper looking into our brains, I've recently read Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, and I didsome more window shopping at the library.

But I wanted to talk a bit about #TryPod this morning. It's a month-long endeavor to push podcasts as a medium.

If you're not on board with podcasts yet, give one a try. If you have a smart phone, you probably have a podcast app built in, and there are plenty more that are easily installed.

Here are a few to check out outside of the biggest mainstream ones:
Josh: The Podcast — That's my podcast. It comes out on Thursdays.
JKWD (Josh & Kelvin World Domination) — A podcast I do with the great Kelvin Ringold. It comes out Mondays.
Another Round — Tracy and Heben bring a whole lot for ignorant white dudes like me to learn
We the People Live — Josh Zepps talks politics with comedians and others
Pod Save America — Some Obama staffers offer inside-inside politics. It's slanted way Dem, but how often do you hear people speak who have worked on a presidential staff?

If you're already a podcast listener, what are some of your favorites?

Dining Savannah: Alligator Soul

Today, the 14th of February, marks the seventh anniversary of my first date with my lovely wife.

Valentine's Day. That should be easy enough to remember, right?

This year, we decided to celebrate at a Savannah institution, Alligator Soul. They had a New Orleans-inspired menu for Valentine's Day.

Let's start right off with this is a place that knows how to treat diners. They took our coats, sat us 15 minutes ahead of our reservation and brought us a little take-home gift with our names on the sticker.

Our server, Robert, knew both the food and drink menus.

I started with a Sazerac, my go-to cocktail when I'm at anew place. Not my favorite version in town, but it paired really nicely with the carving board we picked as a starter. [Robert also recommend a cocktail for the Mrs., which she enjoyed, but there's a story with it.]

We were treated to an amuse-bouche of cajun beans with dried chorizo, and here's where that cocktail story comes in. The cocktail itself was lemon and cherry and a booze or two, and milady tried it immediately after the very lively amuse-bouche. She said it didn't taste like anything, and she handed it over. I took a sip of water and tasted it, and told her she was out of her mind.

Lesson: Cleanse your palate. After doing that, she was quite happy 🙂

The carving board came with a bleu, a cheddar, and something Robert called "gruyere-style." All three cheeses were from Georgia, as were the meats — bone marrow (a first for both of us), some rich, creamy pork belly and an added alligator sausage. Mustard, balsamic, grapes, pear, honey and three kinds of bread (toast, lavash and papadam) accompanied the meat and cheese.

The Mrs. had a perfectly prepared bacon-wrapped filet (medium-rare), while I opted for the game bird special, a medium-rare squab. I was undecided between the squab and the duck, but I'm glad Robert recommended the squab, because, frankly, I can go to my local grocery store, turn on my oven and roast a duck. Squab is probably not going to be on very many menus I see in my life.

As we dove into dinner, Robert found milady a riesling (she's a white-wine drinker, despite the steak) that she was happy with, and I tried what they call a gentleman's flight — a rye, sour-mash and bourbon whiskey sampler.

For dessert, the Mrs. opted for a chocolate parfait with amaretto creme, served in a champagne flute, while I went for the banana beignets, served warm over vanilla ice cream.

We were in a small room with several other couples, and we all got to talking, which, in my experience, is fairly uncommon at a restaurant of this caliber. Among other things, we discussed where everyone was from, eating something like squab, and my pants.

If you can fit it in your budget ($45 was a reasonable gratuity for our meal), I'd highly recommend a visit while you're in town.

My wife got me the best #pants ever ❤😀👍

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

How to get your FBI file

So here's a thing I did: Asked for my FBI file.

Certain kinds of government records are available to the public, but you have to ask. The types of records required to be made public are outlined in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Among those are certain types of investigations (the FBI handles law enforcement inside the United States; the CIA, by charter, is not allowed to operate within the US — I'm not so naive to think they might not be, but that's the way the agency was designed).

Some FOIA requests come in so often, the FBI has just gone ahead and posted them. You can just go read what the FBI has on Al Capone or Jackie Robinson or Martin Luther King Jr. or Marilyn Monroe, should you need a rabbit hole to go down for a few hours. Or a week.

You can request a file on yourself or any dead person. You need some law enforcement reason or court order to allow you to request information on another living person (for example, you couldn't ask for my file).

You can do so by letter or online — this page explains how.

They'll do two hours of research for free; you'll tell them when you submit your request the maximum amount you're willing to spend on the request if it takes longer than that.

The electronic request system is available Monday - Friday from 4am through 10pm Eastern.

I sent away electronically for my file on a Wednesday afternoon, and had a letter the following Monday saying the FBI had no information on me they were required to share under the Freedom of Information Act, but they could neither confirm nor deny there could be other records or investigations on me (no kidding).

Aside: I worked at a federally chartered bank from 1997-2000, so I know there's a folder somewhere with my fingerprints. I have no idea if there's anything else in that folder.

For fun, here's the letter they sent me. Emphasis (bold) mine; incorrect usages theirs.

Dear Mr. Shear,
This is in response to your Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOIPA) request.
Based on the information you provided, we conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA. If you have additional information pertaining to the subject that you belivee was of investigative interest to the Bureau, please provide us the details and we will conduct an additional search.
By standard FBI proactice and pursuant to FOIA exemption (b)(7)(E) and Privacy Act exemption (j)(2) [5 U.S.C. §§ 552/552a (b)(7)(E), (j)(2)], this response neither confirms nor denies the existence of your subject's name on any watch lists.
For your information, Congress excluded three discrete categories of law enforcement and national security records from the requirements of the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(c) (2006 & Supp. IV (2010). This response is limited to those records that are subject to the requirements of the FOIA. This is a standard notification that is given to all our requesters and should not be taken as an indication that excluded records do, or do not, exist.
For questions regarding our determinations, visit the website under "Contact Us." The FOIPA Request Number listed above has been assigned to your request. Please use this number in all correspondence concerning your request. Your patience is appreciated.
You may file an appeal by writing to the Director, Office of Information Policy (OIP), United States Department of Justice, Suite 11050, 1425 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20530-0001, or you may submit an appeal through OIP's FOIAonline portal by creating an account on the following web site: Your appeal must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within ninety (90) days from the date of this letter in order to be considered timely. If you submit your appeal by mail, both the letter and the envelope should be clealy marked "Freedom of Information Act Appeal." Please cite the FOIPA Request Number assigned to your request so that it may be easily identified.
You may seek dispute resolution services by contacting the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at 877-684-6448 or by emailing Alternatively, you may contact the FBI's FOIA Public Liaison by emailing If you submit your dispute resolution correspondence by email, the subject heading should clearly state "Dispute Resolution Services." Please also cite the FOIPA Request Number assigned to your request so that it may be easily identified.
Enclosed for your information is a copy of the FBI Fact Sheet and Explanation of Exemptions.
David M. Hardy
Section Chief,
 Dissemination Section
Records Management Division


Enclosed: FBI Fact Sheet, Explanation of Exemptions.