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Missing-Plane Records From 1980 Dissected

(CN) - Days into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a federal judge rejected an attempt by the CIA to withhold records on four government planes that went missing in 1980.

Stephen Whitaker sued the CIA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State in 2012, challenging the processing of his Freedom of Information Act requests on the 1980 disappearance of "four DC-3" airplanes.

The plaintiff's father, Harold William Whitaker, was piloting one of the planes believed to have disappeared over Spain.

In a motion for summary judgment, the government cited various FOIA exemptions, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly refused Monday to deem the search for records entirely adequate.

The ruling came two days into the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which remains missing Thursday.

Whitaker argued in his suit that the CIA improperly invoked FOIA Exemption (b)(3), which cloaks certain information that would reveal agency "functions," as well as "intelligence sources and methods."

The agency cited the CIA Act of 1949 and the National Security Act of 1947 to support its withholding of documents, but Judge Kollar-Kotelly found that "the CIA has too broadly applied the CIA Act to withhold information pursuant to Exemption (b)(3)."

FOIA processing materials cannot be denied on the grounds that they themselves are intelligence sources and methods, the ruling states.

Though Kollar-Kotelly said the State Department adequately showed that it searched for records on Whitaker, she denied the defendants summary judgment with respect to the records search on the co-pilot, U.S. Army Maj. Lawrence Eckmann.

"The court agrees with plaintiff that the State Department's search was inadequate and should have been revised to include a search for documents related to the disappearance of the DC-3 airplane that mention Eckmann, but not Whitaker," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

She also ruled in favor of the CIA's withholding of records pursuant to FIOA Exemption (b)(5), finding that the agency properly invoked deliberative process and attorney-client privilege.

"The court is satisfied from the CIA's description of its review process that all reasonably segregable portions of these records have been produced," the 41-page opinion states.

Exemption (b)(6), which allows agencies to withhold private personnel and medical files, also shields information that Whitaker sought, according to the ruling.

Kollar-Kotelly also granted the defendants partial summary judgment with respect to certain claims Whitaker withdrew against the Defense Department.

Whitaker failed to show that State Department failed to process his request for his father's records under the Privacy Act, according to the ruling.

"The court rejects plaintiff's argument that the State Department was required to process his requests for his father's records under the Privacy Act as well as FOIA," the opinion states. "The Privacy Act does not speak to the access rights of relatives of deceased individuals."

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