ACLU Loses Bid for CIA’s Charts on Drone Strikes

     (CN) – National-security interests justify the CIA keeping all documents related to its targeted drone-strike program secret, a federal judge ruled.
     Though the American Civil Liberties Union had characterized its request as seeking only “factual information,” U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer noted Friday in Washington, D.C, that the request was far wider reaching.
     “To the contrary, ACLU seeks explicit details on U.S. drone strikes that would be ‘sufficient to show the identity of the intended targets, assessed number of people killed, dates, status of those killed, agencies involved, the location of each strike, and the identities of those killed if known,'” she wrote. “Such details could reveal the scope of the drone program, its successes and limitations, the ‘methodology behind the assessments and the priorities of the agency’ and more.”
     These documents are properly exempt from public disclosure in the interest of national defense, Collyer found.
     The ruling comes months after the D.C. Circuit barred the CIA from denying the existence of records on targeted-drone strikes while making public statements about the program.
     “As it is now clear that the agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject,” Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote for the three-judge panel in Washington.
     “Indeed, the CIA itself now appears to have recognized the indefensibility of its position,” Garland wrote.
     On remand, the CIA acknowledged the existence of 12 legal memoranda and thousands of documents responsive to the ACLU’s request.
     Beyond one redacted version of a classified White Paper, however, Collyer said the CIA cannot be compelled to release any of these documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
     Although the government has acknowledged basic facts about the drone program, and the deaths of three American citizens in “U.S. counterterrorism operations,” the CIA has not thereby waived any FOIA exemption for the requested records, the ruling states.
     CIA attorney Martha Lutz submitted declarations that she conducted a line-by-line review of the responsive documents, and found that there are no reasonably segregable portions of the documents that could be released without compromising classified information.
     “The three Lutz declarations provide a reasonably detailed justification that any non-exempt material cannot be segregated and released,” Collyer wrote. “Moreover, the court concludes that any isolated words or phrases that might not be redacted for release would be meaningless.”

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