Secrecy News

CIA Reviews “Operational Files” Exemptions from FOIA

The CIA Information Act of 1984 authorizes the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency to designate certain Agency records as “operational files.” Doing so makes them exempt not only from disclosure, but even from search and review under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 1984 Act also requires the Agency to perform a “decennial review” at least every ten years in order to determine whether any of the designated operational files exemptions can be rescinded, so that the affected files would become subject to a regular FOIA search and review.

The third such decennial review is now underway.

The CIA is soliciting public comments to help identify categories of Agency records that are of particular historical or public interest value and that have been exempted from normal processing under the FOIA as operational files. Comments are due on May 1, the CIA said in an April 20 Federal Register notice.

The first decennial review of the operational files exemption, completed in 1995, led to the opening of four file categories to FOIA search and review.  The second decennial review, completed in 2005, yielded no newly opened file series but did lead to the designation and exemption of 23 new operational file categories. This was an outcome not contemplated in the statute (50 USC 3141(g)), which says nothing about using the decennial review to create new exempted categories. (Secrecy News, April 19, 2006).

In comments submitted to the CIA today, the Federation of American Scientists offered several suggestions for consideration in the current decennial review, including these:

*    The operational files exemption should not be applied to any records that are 25 years old or older.

*    Clandestine service history records and records of imagery analysis should be removed from the operational files category.

*    Files pertaining to civilian casualties of CIA operations (including covert actions) should not be exempted from regular FOIA processing, nor should records of CIA interrogation and detention practices be considered exempted operational records.