Intelligence officials can selectively release classified information to trusted journalists while withholding the same information from other citizens who request it through open records laws, CIA lawyers argued Wednesday.
In a motion filed in New York federal court, the CIA claimed that limited disclosures to reporters do not waive national security exemptions to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies frequently deny records requests on the basis of protecting sensitive national security information, one of nine exemptions written into the federal FOIA law.
The case stems from lawsuit against the CIA by New York-based independent journalist Adam Johnson, who had used FOIA to obtain emails between the agency’s public information office and selected reporters from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and The New York Times. The emails the CIA provided to Johnson were redacted, leading him to question why he was not allowed to see the same information that had been given to uncleared reporters.
Johnson challenged the redaction in court, arguing that the CIA, once it has selectively disclosed information to uncleared reporters, cannot claim the same information is protected by a FOIA exemption.