In recent years the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) process has become an increasingly useful alternative to the Freedom of Information Act by which members of the public can challenge the classification of government records. Remarkably, agency classification positions have been overturned with some frequency in the MDR appeals process, which is something that almost never happens in FOIA litigation.
In a dubious act of recognition of the growing effectiveness of MDR, the Central Intelligence Agency has recently imposed substantial new fees that seem calculated to discourage its use by public requesters.
Last September the CIA issued new regulations specifying that declassification reviews would now cost up to $72 per hour even if no responsive records were found or released. There is also a minimum fee of $15 for reproduction of any document, no matter how few pages it might consist of.
“Search fees are assessable even if we find no records, or, if we find any, we determine that we cannot release them,” the CIA wrote last month in response to an MDR request from the National Security Archive. “Consequently, we will charge you even if our search results are negative or if we cannot release any information. Accordingly, we will need your commitment to pay applicable fees before we can proceed.”
For background and a critique of the new CIA policy, see “The CIA’s Covert Operation Against Declassification Review” by Nate Jones in the Archive’s Unredacted blog, February 10.