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What is there to hide? CIA stalling on simple Freedom of Information Act request

Flickr by Lawrence OPPublic Citizen is back in court fighting yet another Freedom of Information Act case. This time, the powers that be at the CIA seem dead-set on maintaining an unnecessary cloak of secrecy on decades old records about Opus Dei. The case began in June 2009 when Harry Cason, who is working toward his Ph.D. at the City University of New York, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CIA. Cason is working on a dissertation about U.S. involvement in Spain’s transformation during Francisco Franco’s regime. He asked for any records or information about the Catholic group Opus Dei generated before 1980. He cited two reports he knew of, one completed in 1952 and another in 1964 that was referenced in a letter from an official at the American Embassy in Madrid to a Department of State official.

The CIA refused to fully respond to Cason’s request. Although it released 207 pages of records, it also said that it couldn’t confirm or deny the existence of other records responsive to the request. It said that acknowledging the existence or nonexistence of responsive records would itself reveal information that is exempt under FOIA – i.e., by revealing whether the agency has records about a covert operation or a confidential source.

Seeking a more substantive response, Cason sued the CIA on Jan. 3.

Public Citizen filed a motion for partial summary judgment late Monday in the Southern District of New York on behalf of Carson. In this motion, we said that the CIA should fully respond to the historian’s request for decades-old CIA records about Opus Dei. Why? Because simply acknowledging whether the CIA possesses these records, which are between 31 and 64 years old, would neither reveal intelligence sources and methods nor undermine national security.

Said Michael Page, our attorney handling the case:

The CIA should not be able to avoid the disclosure requirements of FOIA by making vague appeals to national security, completely divorced from the records requested in this case. Not only are the records subject to automatic declassification because of their age, but it is implausible that the existence of a half-century-old interest in Opus Dei would undermine national security.

In addition, he said, it defies logic that acknowledging the existence or nonexistence of Opus Dei records would reveal an intelligence source or method.

“Acknowledging whether these records exist would say nothing about the CIA’s surveillance capabilities,” Page said. “Whether the CIA had the ability to monitor Opus Dei before the Internet, cell phones and other modern technologies existed says nothing about the agency’s capabilities today.”

What’s more, because the CIA released some records about Opus Dei, acknowledging the existence of additional records would not compromise intelligence gathering.

The motion for partial summary judgment is available at: https://www.citizen.org/documents/Cason-v-CIA-memorandum-of-law.pdf

Please see this link for more information about Public Citizen’s Freedom of Information Act work.