CIA Hit With Two New Lawsuits Over Its Hostile Response To Basic FOIA Requests

from the secret-agencies-don't-like-transparency dept

I guess it’s no surprise that the CIA would be institutionally against things like transparency and freedom of information. However, in the last couple weeks there have been two separate lawsuits filed by well known Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) activists over the CIA’s general bad behavior in response to FOIA requests. First up is Michael Morisy and Muckrock, who have sued over a variety of failures by the CIA to adequately respond to a long list of FOIA requests that really should not be problematic at all.

…the Central Intelligence Agency has a track record of holding itself apart from, and largely above, the Freedom of Information Act, consistently ignoring deadlines, refusing to work with requesters, and capriciously rejecting even routine requests for what should be clearly public information.

After listing out all of the FOIA requests that the CIA failed on that Muckrock is suing over, Morisy notes:

Additionally, we are suing against the CIA’s general practice of rejecting requests for email records which do not include the time frame, subject, and to and from fields, regardless of what other information is including to help narrow the request. This practice replaces the required functional test for whether or not a request reasonably describes the records sought with a per se test that automatically rejects any request for email records based on whether or not it includes all four pieces of information, virtually ensuring that vast amounts of CIA email records go unprocessed and unreleased.

Separately, two FOIA ninjas, Ryan Shapiro and Jason Leopold (both of whom have written about before, including the FBI declaring Shapiro a systematic problem for filing too many FOIA requests) have sued the CIA as well for its failure to respond to their FOIA requests concerning the CIA’s spying on the Senate Intelligence staffers investigating the CIA’s torture program.

“It’s time for the CIA and the rest of the US intelligence community to recognize transparency not as a threat, but rather as an essential component of viable democracy,” Shapiro said.

The FOIA request specifically was about communications between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA which set up the terms under which the Senate investigators would have access to CIA documents, among other related documents. As with Muckrock, it appears that the CIA basically has just decided to ignore the request entirely.

Yes, the CIA lives in a world of secrecy, but it’s supposed to follow the law, and that includes living under FOIA transparency rules. It seems to be ignoring those at every turn, so hopefully these two lawsuits will begin to force the CIA to actually obey the law.

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Comments on “CIA Hit With Two New Lawsuits Over Its Hostile Response To Basic FOIA Requests”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Special Masters?

How about adding this:

“If the public agency egregiously fails to respond to the request, then the requester, or such representative as requester appoints, shall be entitled to visit any premises from which the respondent documents can likely be accessed and engage in an unobstructed search until such documents are found. Any other FOIA-eligible documents found incident to the search may, at requester’s discretion, automatically be added to the list of documents to be released.”

Failure rising to the level of egregious failure can be either written into the law or explicitly left to the courts, but definitely not left to the executive.

If such a thing were ever enacted, I can picture Muckrock showing up with a trolley (or a trailer) and hitting each filing cabinet / mailbox in turn. After all, an in-order search is the best way to avoid accidentally skipping the documents; it just happens to also turn up a huge amount of other material along the way.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Special Masters?

let me just get out my lawyer hat…

public agency How to you define public agencies? Do intelligence agencies even qualify?
egregiously We have a very big backlog of requests and it takes time to respond. In addition, we feel our redactions were completely justified given the nature of the redacted texts. You would agree if you were able to read them.
the respondent documents can likely be accessedWe will identify an appropriate facility and get back to you as quickly as possible. As you know, our facilities house sensitive information that needs to be protected for the purposes of national security.
unobstructed searchPlease define “unobstructed”. For the safety and security of our nation, our employees, and the designee, it is important that they be accompanied at all times by an armed escort should they happen to “fall ill”.
until such documents are foundThis is an impossible standard. If no such documents exist, or they are unavailable in the facility, or if the designee is incapable of finding the documents, there must be a deadline so we can continue about normal business. If not, our facilities could become encumbered by idiots fumbling around looking for documents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Special Masters?

This is an impossible standard. If no such documents exist, or they are unavailable in the facility, or if the designee is incapable of finding the documents, there must be a deadline so we can continue about normal business. If not, our facilities could become encumbered by idiots fumbling around looking for documents.

Exactly the point. Egregious failure is met by egregious searches.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Special Masters?

I think it’s time for the court to do something different…. Anyone else have good ideas?

I have one idea that’s just so crazy, it might even work: How about the courts (oh, and let’s include the Congress and President and – well, basically anyone who works for any government anywhere in the U.S. of A.) read the Constitution, and force the government to do what it says, instead of forcing the government to do what the courts say the constitution means. Or they can risk serious – like life-time imprisonment without parole or death-penalty serious – consequences.

Anonymous Coward says:

This won’t change until the mind set of the leaders of the government change.

There should be a lot of changes coming down the pipes in the next few years unless the neo-cons can drum up another war to fight. Much of the mental inspect every one is going to fall under the onslaught of continued court actions to force various government agencies to live up to the laws.

There’s been a ground swell of ‘stop spying on the public’ and all these various methods to hide data on what they are doing and how. Various groups interested in accountability are taking it to court and the government who once had free reign to keep it all secret is having to actually fight to justify and keep that institutional mindset.

Being on a war footing and all that means is coming to a close, including more limited funding.

Lurker Keith says:

Secret Laws

Why doesn’t someone file a FOIA for every Secret Law &/ or Secret interpretation of Laws. When that FOIA request gets denied, for whatever made up, illegitimate reason, the requester should ask the court to invalidate the lot, since the Public can’t be expected to be held to laws that the government refuses to disclose.

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