Researcher Scoffs at Stonewalled CIA Request

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A researcher seeking budget records for intelligence support the CIA gave Israel told a federal judge that the agency is improperly claiming ignorance of its own policy.
     Grant Smith, who runs the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, says he filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to inspect the CIA’s funding for Israel-related intelligence.
     The CIA denied the request by claiming it could neither confirm nor deny that such a budget exists, according to a federal complaint Smith filed Wednesday.
     Smith said he filed the suit after the agency did not respond to his appeal in the time allotted under the law.
     The agency’s refusal to even acknowledge its support of Israel goes directly counter to public statements President Barack Obama made in August at American University, according to the action.
     Smith says Obama touted his administration’s “unprecedented” financial commitment to Israel’s security through intelligence and military efforts in those remarks.
     “We want to know, is it $3 billion a year?” Smith said in an interview Thursday. “Is it $3 million? Has it varied over time?”
     Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, despite the country’s history of spying and the presence of laws that should prevent such assistance to countries with nuclear stockpiles, Smith says in the complaint.
     Even with these issues, very little is known about taxpayer commitments to support the U.S. ally, Smith says.
     “Elected officials claim the amount of aid the U.S. provides Israel in terms of intelligence services is enormous, however taxpayers have never been allowed to review the dollar amounts over time,” according to the complaint.
     For this reason Smith sought the CIA’s Israel intelligence support budget dating back to 1990. Smith cites 1997 case FAS v. CIA, in which a D.C. federal judge ordered the CIA to release its total intelligence budget on the grounds that doing so would “‘not harm national security or otherwise harm intelligence sources and methods.'”
     The CIA’s so-called “Glomar” nonresponse is fairly common when dealing with the government, especially when interacting with the secretive agency, Smith said. The response gets its name from a 1975 Freedom of Information Act inquiry by a Los Angeles Times journalist into the Glomar Explorer, a salvage ship the CIA used to bring Soviet subs from the bottom of the sea.
     When the CIA responded to the journalist’s request, it said it could neither confirm nor deny that the project existed.
     The precedent of such a response has stood, but Smith says the intelligence budget should be treated differently than other programs the agency attempts to keep under lock and key.
     “They pretend everything is a secret,” Smith said.
     Smith is representing himself in the trial, as he has done in past attempts to secure information on U.S. assistance to Israel.

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