CIA Needn’t Release More Records on Stasi Chief

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A German filmmaker’s efforts to extract records from the CIA on notorious East German Stasi head Erich Mielke came to a close Friday after a federal judge sided with the agency.
     U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell found that the CIA conducted an adequate and reasonable search, properly withheld exempt material, and released the rest to LOOKS Filmproduktionen, which wants the records for a 90-minute documentary on Mielke.
     Mielke led the Stasi — East Germany’s Ministry for State Security – for 32 years. He was removed from power in 1989 and then convicted for murders he committed in 1931.
     The film production company had submitted a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request to the CIA in 2012 for all records on Mielke. It then sued the agency in 2014 after it refused to give them up.
     But later that year, the CIA reversed course and offered up 13 of 27 records in redacted form, withholding the others entirely.
     However, the agency later handed over three full documents that it had previously redacted. It also provided “certain information” from three documents it had previously withheld.
     But LOOKS called the CIA’s actions obstructionist, and argued that the agency failed to provide any information about what records repositories it searched, beyond its assertion that it conducted thorough searches.
     “Strong language aside, the plaintiff cites no case law to support the proposition that the CIA is required to disclose the specific offices searched or other search methodologies with such granularity,” Howell wrote Friday.
     The CIA searched the Office of Leadership Analysis biography archive, hard copy archives from its archive and records center, and “all non-exempt electronic systems of records maintained by the” agency’s Directorates of Operations and Analysis, the 36-page ruling states, which satisfied Howell.
     The filmmaker also challenged the adequacy of the agency’s search terms for failure to include “Stasi,” which it claimed would overlook responsive records.
     Howell called this argument “unavailing.” Using broad search terms “would likely produce a greater number of unresponsive documents than the more targeted search terms employed by the agency,” the ruling states.
     The film production company further challenged the exemption of the CIA’s operational files from its search, claiming the agency did not properly designate them as such. Operational files “document the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence operation,” which the National Security Act exempts from disclosure under FOIA.
     But Howell concluded that the agency was not required to properly designate operational files because LOOKS did not allege an improper withholding of records or an improper exemption.
     The filmmaker also challenged large blocks of redacted material in four documents the agency did release, but Howell concluded that this was warranted under the National Security and CIA Acts.
     “The CIA here has adequately described the type of information withheld—information that would reveal the identities of sources and CIA employees—and it is not only reasonable but plausible that these four documents, all analytical documents summarizing gathered intelligence regarding East Germany and Erich Mielke, would contain text describing how this foreign intelligence was gathered and by whom—information that clearly falls within the protection of the National Security Act,” the ruling states.

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