Judge Shoots Down 'FOIA Terrorist' Jason Leopold; Says 'Panetta Review' Documents Can Be Withheld In Full
from the whatever-the-CIA-said-about-torturing-folks-is-between-the-CIA-and-the-CIA dept
DC District Court judge James E. Boasberg has ruled the CIA can continue to withhold the “Panetta Review” documents in full, thanks to widely-abused FOIA exemption b(5). (via Unredacted)
District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled against a journalist on Tuesday who had tried to uncover the classified documents — known as the Panetta Review, because they was completed under orders from former agency Director Leon Panetta — under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The CIA had used “sound” reasoning in keeping the documents secret, Boasberg decided in a 19-page judgment, preventing it from making its way to the public.
The journalist in question is every secretive agency’s side-thorn, Jason Leopold, who sued the CIA one day after it passed the response deadline. And now this attempt to pry more torture-related documents out of the CIA’s hands has hit a dead end. Judge Boasberg agreed that the overbroad exemptions cited are (unsurprisingly) broad enough to cover the CIA’s assertion that the 40 memos comprising the Panetta Review must be withheld in full.
In the end, requiring disclosure of the Reviews would cause the sort of harm that the deliberative-process privilege was designed to prevent – i.e., inhibiting frank and open communications among agency personnel… Had the SRT known that the Reviews could become public, its members would likely have been tempted to highlight only the information that would paint the agency’s prior actions in a positive light and to avoid calling attention to information that could have embarrassed the agency or its officials. Protecting the agency’s withholdings in this case is thus consistent with the purposes of this exemption…
The Court, in sum, concludes that the Reviews are properly withheld under Exemption 5’s deliberative-process privilege. It further agrees that they may be withheld in full. While FOIA requires agencies to release “[a]ny reasonably segregable portion of a record,” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), it is clear that there are no such portions here. As the agency attests, and as the preceding discussion makes clear, “[t]he entire documents are pre-decisional, deliberative drafts . . . .” Lutz Decl., ¶ 26. Because “the selection of which facts to include [wa]s part and parcel of the deliberative assessment,” no portions can be severed without exposing the deliberative process itself.
Two interesting things to note about the Panetta Review and this particular case.
First, the CIA seems to be bolstering its FOIA exemption b(5) claims by designating documents as “draft” or “deliberative,” no matter what their actual purpose is. In its supporting declaration filed in this lawsuit, it deployed circular reasoning declaring drafts and deliberative documents are drafts and deliberative documents because they are clearly marked as such by the CIA.
In a court filing last month as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, a C.I.A. officer said that the review had been stopped abruptly in 2010, had not covered all of the documents the agency had given to the committee and “had not been formally reviewed or relied upon by the C.I.A.’s senior leadership.”
“Each document is stamped ‘DELIBERATIVE PROCESS PRIVILEGED DOCUMENT’ at the top of every page, and most of the documents are marked ‘DRAFT’ on every page as well,” wrote the C.I.A. officer, Martha M. Lutz.
The CIA’s internal document designations seem to bear some resemblance to the NYPD’s use of its “SECRET” stamp — which is deployed arbitrarily and without oversight to declare certain documents out of the reach of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. If the CIA feels exemption b(5) gives it the best chance to keep documents out of the hands of journalists like Jason Leopold. it can slap these designations on as many papers as possible and mention its predetermination in FOIA lawsuit declarations.
Second, Boasberg’s refusal to challenge even a single exemption assertion by the CIA isn’t particularly good news, considering his recent appointment to the FISA court. While he has pushed back on government secrecy in the past, he’s also been just as likely to grant its wishes. Considering he’s replacing FISA Judge Reggie Walton — one of the few FISA judges to openly question surveillance tactics and hold the NSA accountable for its abuses — this latest decision seems to indicate his appointment is a downgrade in terms of government accountability.