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June 16, 2006
A suit filed by the National Security Archive against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) challenges the CIA's recent and sudden practice of charging journalists Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fees contrary to the fee waiver provision under the FOIA. According to the suit, the CIA assigned fees (in addition to the copying fees allowed by the FOIA) when the Agency did not think that the journalist's request was sufficiently newsworthy. Among the requests considered to not concern "current events" were two requests for biographical documents relating to members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
This is not the first time that the CIA has resisted transparency despite a lack of security concerns. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in July of 2001 revealed that the CIA denied the GAO access to requested information for reasons unrelated to security. "Many of our staff have the high-level security clearances and accesses needed to review intelligence information," said the GAO in the report. "But the CIA considers our requests as having some implication of oversight and denies us access." More recently, there were reports that the CIA has been secretly secretly withdrawing documents from public access.
In March, the National Security Archive awarded the CIA the Rosemary Award for the worst performance by a federal agency in complying with the FOIA. Any intelligence blunders should encourage the CIA to increase accountability, not to resist public requests for information. If security is not the CIA's concern with these inquiries, what is it trying to hide?
Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.
Authors: Mandy Smithberger