Federal court: CIA can't ignore FOIAs on drones

A D.C. court ruled in favor of ACLU now that the existence of targeted killing program has been publicly noted

Published March 15, 2013 4:20PM (EDT)


Secrecy and the CIA's drone program go hand in hand. But on Friday a D.C. federal appeals court ruled that the agency can no longer refuse to respond to FOIA requests on secrecy grounds, as the existence of the targeted killing program has now been publicly discussed by officials.

The ACLU filed a FOIA request in January 2010 seeking to learn "when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the U.S. ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings," according to a release from the group. Initially, a district court permitted the government to refuse to respond to the FOIA, accepting the CIA's argument that it could not release documents because even acknowledging the existence of the program would harm national security. Such a move is called a "Glomar" response -- a "neither confirm nor deny" response to FOIA requests deemed legal in certain circumstances. The decision on the Glomar response in this instance has now been reversed, largely on the grounds that the existence of CIA drone wars are the stuff of mainstream political discourse (and Senate hearings, filibusters and more).

Via the ACLU:

"We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said. "The program has already been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in an unknown number of countries. The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders. The Obama administration, which has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of government transparency, should give the public the information it needs in order to fully evaluate the wisdom and lawfulness of the government's policies."


By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Cia Drones Foia Glomar Response Targeted Killing