A Group of Openness Warriors Sues the CIA for Stonewalling

A wide-ranging class-action lawsuit was filed Wednesday challenging the Central Intelligence Agency’s practices for handling requests for its records from journalists, national security researchers and the general public.

The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, alleges that the CIA has thrown a series of unlawful hurdles in the path of Freedom of Information Act requesters, such as requiring that requesters commit to pay all fees in advance regardless of the amount, charging for automated searches that involve no actual employee time, and refusing to release records in electronic form.

We Need Secrecy for Drones, So We Need Secrecy For…

The Justice Department has a new legal argument for why the government should be allowed to conceal the postmortem photographs of Osama bin Laden: It’s doing the same thing with the CIA’s classified drone program.

On Wednesday, the department filed court papers [PDF] asking a federal judge to rule against the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, which is suing for the release of “all photographs and/or video recordings” taken of bin Laden during the May 1, 2011 raid in Abbottabad. The filing rehashes many of the government’s stated reasons for concealing the photographs (inciting violence in the Muslim world, revealing classified “operational methods,” etc) but also leans on the CIA’s refusal to acknowledge its widely-publicized drone program.

The argument confronts a claim by Judicial Watch that releasing the bin Laden photos would not pose a national security risk because everyone already knows the U.S. killed bin Laden. In response, the Justice Department says the CIA’s drone program, like the U.S. raid in Abbottabad, is also public knowledge but that doesn’t mean releasing information about it wouldn’t jeopardize national security.

“The fact that the public may already speak freely of the existence of drones, or speculate openly that such a program may be directed in part or in whole by the CIA, does not emasculate the CIA’s warnings of harm were it forced to acknowledge officially the existence or nonexistence of requested records,” reads the filing.

It’s the sort of argument that makes government transparency advocates squeamish. As The New York Times noted about the CIA’s failure to acknowledge the drone program in October, “The secrecy compulsion often merely makes the government look silly … But it can also hinder public debate of some of government’s most hotly contested actions.” Now, turns out, the Justice Department is using the government’s much-pilloried refusal to acknowledge the widely-known drone program to justify its withholding of the bin Laden photos, creating a kind of slippery slope of secrecy.

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Grab some 50-year-old popcorn and Milk Duds…

A CIA-produced documentary about a secret mission in China, never aired outside the agency’s headquarters, is coming to the Internet.

The agency plans a public release of the film about two CIA officers captured during a secret mission in 1952 and held for years.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the film under the Freedom of Information Act.

The hourlong film, “Extraordinary Fidelity,” blends documentary footage and re-enactments to tell the story of the officers shot down trying to recover a spy working for the CIA in the Manchuria region of northeastern China.

The two pilots of the plane died, but the CIA officers — Richard G. Fecteau of Lynn, Mass., and John T. Downey of New Britain, Conn. — were eventually freed in 1971 and 1973, respectively.

The film is the first CIA movie produced for internal audiences that has been released to the public. The CIA made it available nearly one year after the AP filed a FOIA request for a copy. The agency still has not said how much it cost or what director Paul Wimmer was paid. The agency said it is continuing to process this part of the request.

The CIA says it plans to upload the video to its YouTube channel on the web.

A big theme of the film is the behind-the-scenes efforts by CIA officials in Washington, throughout the men’s imprisonment, to keep their financial affairs in order and provide assistance to their families.

It features re-enactments of important scenes, including the ambush and the men’s harsh interrogations at the hands of the Chinese. Some portions were filmed at a former insane asylum in Petersburg, Va.; Fecteau and Downey themselves talk at length about their imprisonment.

The film was produced by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence and first shown almost a year ago at CIA headquarters.

A Gem For Your Conspiracy Theorist…

Arguing that the CIA has no right to withhold records that are more than 30 years old, a watchdog group filed a motion this week seeking a federal court to compel the spy agency to reveal what it knows about the conservative Catholic group that is the stuff of legend.

Public Citizen is working on behalf of Harry Cason, a Ph.D. student at the City University of New York who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the CIA in 2009 for research he was doing on the U.S. role in Spain’s Franco regime, where Opus Dei allegedly played some part.

But Cason decided to take the CIA to court in January after the agency partially denied his request by releasing more than 200 pages of records but refusing to confirm or deny the existence of other records.

The agency argued that acknowledging the existence of these records would tip the CIA’s hand on whether it has information about a covert operation or a confidential source — information that is not covered under FOIA.

But Public Citizen contended in the motion filed Monday that revealing whether the CIA possesses records which are between 31 and 64 years old would not compromise national security.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/01/consumer-group-helps-student-suing-cia-opus-dei-records/#ixzz1O5FLQ0fa