Navy Can Keep Weapons Files Secret, Court Says

     (CN) – The U.S. Navy does not have to disclose the locations and potential blast ranges of military weapons stored on a small island in Puget Sound, a 9th Circuit panel ruled in a 2-1 opinion.

     Glen Scott Milner, a lifelong Puget Sound resident and member of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on weapons stored at Washington’s Naval Magazine Indian Island. Though the Navy oversees all operations on the island, the weapons are also used by U.S. Joint Forces, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies and allied forces.
     Milner managed to buy a section of the Navy’s operations manual on the Web – information that the Navy considers “restricted,” the ruling states. He then sought documents listing the types of weapons and explosives kept on the island and their “arc maps,” along with safety instructions and operating procedures.
     The Navy withheld 81 of the 1,000 files that met his parameters, and Milner filed suit in order to view the remaining documents.
     The Seattle-based appellate panel allowed the government to keep those 81 documents confidential, because they fell under FOIA Exemption 2, which protects “internal personnel rules and practices.” The three-judge panel rejected Milner’s attempt to cast the exemption as applying only to law enforcement materials.
     Judge Tallman said Milner’s appeal “highlights the tension between the public’s right of access to government files … and the countervailing need to preserve sensitive information for efficient and effective government operations.”
     In this case, the government’s need prevailed.
     Dissenting Judge Fletcher said the arc maps are not protected by any of the government’s asserted FOIA exemptions.
     “The majority’s determination to expand Exemption 2 to protect information that the Navy has not seen fit to classify distorts Congress’s careful balance,” Fletcher wrote, “and defies the Supreme Court’s instructions that FOIA exemptions ‘must be narrowly construed’ and are ‘explicitly exclusive.'”

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