Federation of American ScientistsThe Honorable L. Britt Snider
307 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
December 20, 2000
Central Intelligence Agency
Room 2X30 New Headquarters Bldg
Washington, D.C. 20505
Dear Mr. Snider:
I am writing to call your attention to an action by CIA personnel that may be in violation of law.
In 1995, I requested disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act of historical intelligence budget data, such as aggregate budget totals, for the years 1947 through 1970. All of this information was more than 25 years old. This week I was astonished to receive a letter from the CIA Agency Release Panel affirming the complete denial of this information.
This denial by CIA officials is so far outside the bounds of reasonable disagreement over information disclosure policy that it appears to constitute official misconduct.
The notion that disclosure of any intelligence budget information from 30 or 50 years ago "could reasonably be expected to cause damage to national security" is ludicrous. It suggests willful violation of the Freedom of Information Act. (You may recall that the much more recent aggregate intelligence budget figures for FY 1997 and 1998 have been declassified.)
Likewise, the assertion that disclosure of any historical budget information could jeopardize intelligence sources and methods is nonsensical.
I respectfully request that the CIA Office of Inspector General initiate an investigation into what appears to be a knowing and willful violation of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
Aside from the possible violation of law, the extreme character of CIA's action in this case has other pernicious consequences.
When CIA uses transparently false claims to obstruct good faith requests for information through established legal channels, it undermines the legitimacy of the national security classification system. I believe that CIA's unwarranted classification practices are responsible, more than any other single factor, for the unauthorized disclosures of classified intelligence information that officials habitually complain about. Indeed, when authorized channels of disclosure are corrupted, then unauthorized channels become necessary to government accountability.
In addition, CIA's abuse of its classification authority brings the agency and its personnel into public disrepute. If the personnel involved here are not dishonest, then they actually believe that 50 year old budget data could damage national security– in which case they are dangerously incompetent. No one who holds such an opinion should be permitted to serve the nation in an official intelligence capacity.
Your office could do a great public service by helping to ground CIA classification policy on a legitimate foundation of national security requirements. I suggest that CIA's violation of the FOIA in this case brings the larger problem of classification abuse into sharp relief and would make an excellent starting point for investigation and remedial action.
Respectfully,P.S. The relevant FOIA correspondence is enclosed.
Project on Government Secrecy
Federation of American Scientists