CIA Hammered After Shrug on Israel Records

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge called it “neither logical nor plausible” Thursday that the CIA has no information about intelligence budget-line items earmarked for Israel between 1990 and 2015.

The March 30 ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy who asked for the information back in March 2015.

Citing the underlying complaint, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan says Grant Smith originally sought “the information ‘for use in vital public interest research into how nuclear weapons related know-how, material and technology have been unlawfully diverted into Israeli entities conducting clandestine nuclear weapons-related research and development.'”

In response to Smith’s request, the CIA issued what is known as a Glomar response, neither confirming or denying the existence of such information.

One way to overcome a Glomar response is to show that the information sought already exists in the public domain, however, and Chutkan said President Barack Obama himself helps Smith on this point.

“The fact is,” Obama had said during a speech at American University, “partly due to American military and intelligence assistance, which my administration has provided at unprecedented levels, Israel can defend itself against any conventional danger.”

Smith had pointed to the statement as evidence that the records he sought do in fact exist.

The CIA failed to sway Chutkan that Obama’s comment was general, did not mention line items specifically, and failed to specify “financial or budgetary support.”

“The inferences available from President Obama’s statement are (1) that the CIA provides intelligence support to Israel, and (2) that it therefore must have some means of appropriating funds to do so, meaning that the budget line items must exist,” the 8-page ruling states.

It is possible Obama had been referring to nonmonetary assistance, Chutkan allowed, but she said that is also something for which the agency would have to budget.

“Information sharing, training, or anything else that might constitute ‘intelligence assistance’ other than direct financial support would cost the CIA money to provide or perform,” the ruling says.

“The CIA must have a budget line item for expenses that it incurs; even if the budget is secret or classified or subject to FOIA’s exemptions, it must exist in order for the CIA to operate,” the opinion continues.

Chutkan drew a parallel from the case to the D.C. Circuit’s ruling in ACLU v. CIA. In the latter case, public statements made by Obama administration officials about drone strikes rendered it impossible for the agency to issue a Glomar response about its records related to drones use in targeted killings.

“Similarly, in this case, it is neither ‘neither logical nor plausible’ that the CIA does not have budget line items related to intelligence assistance for Israel,” Chutkan wrote.

Neither Smith nor the CIA responded to emailed requests for comment.