Does FOIA require the disclosure of CIA records on drone strikes?
American Civil Liberties Union v. United States Department of Justice
Review both the arguments of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Acting as the Judge, how would you rule? Why? Be prepared to support your legal position to your classmates.
Facts: Alarmed by the reported use of drones to kill people, the ACLU submitted a broad FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the CIA seeking information on drones, including targets, number of strikes, and number of civilians killed. The CIA denied the request, arguing that it was exempt from disclosure because drone strikes are intelligence activity, which is part of the agency’s mission. In the interest of national security, FOIA exempts certain classified information. The CIA contended that the disclosure of drone strike information would imperil national security.
You Be the Judge: Does FOIA require the disclosure of CIA records on drone strikes?
Argument for the ACLU: Your honors, the CIA is unduly withholding information from the American public. First, it is hiding behind the FOIA exemption that protects the disclosure of information about its functioning. The CIA’s principal mission is foreign intelligence, not targeted-killing programs like drone strikes. Under the CIA’s interpretation of the national security exemption, it could refuse to provide any information about anything it does because everything in some way relates to foreign activities or national security. Is that the blanket license we want to give the CIA? We only request facts and figures, not state secrets.
Argument for the CIA: The law gives the CIA broad power to protect the secrecy and integrity of the intelligence process. Responding to the ACLU’s FOIA request would reveal sensitive information about the CIA’s capabilities, limitations, priorities, and resources. The law protects this information from disclosure for good reason, as its revelation would compromise the CIA’s efforts and endanger Americans. The ACLU’s request goes too far in the name of freedom of information.
2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 7308, 2016 WL 1657953 United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, 2016