MANHATTAN – The New York City Police Department’s latest tool for frustrating information requests gets its name from a CIA salvage ship used to rescue a Soviet submarine during the Cold War.
The Hughes Glomar Explorer’s classified mission on the Pacific Ocean was so secretive that spies argued that merely discussing the existence of documents about it would imperil national security.
When a reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request about the ship, the “Glomar response” was born, and its “neither confirm nor deny” response has been the bane of journalists seeking federal agency documents for more than three decades.
In what has been called an “unprecedented” expansion of its legacy, a Manhattan judge recently allowed the NYPD and its former commissioner, Ray Kelly, to neither confirm nor deny possession of documents requested by a Harlem imam in the case of Abdur-Rashid v. NYPD.
New York County Supreme Court Justice Alexander Hunter, Jr. remarked in his decision that the case presented “an important issue of apparent first impression.”
It began when Abdur-Rashid, an imam for Harlem’s Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, sought documents regarding “ongoing or contemplated investigative activity” of his congregation two years ago. He received “a Glomar-like response through the affidavit of Thomas Galati,” the chief of the NYPD’s intelligence bureau, according to the opinion.
Forcing police to respond to Abdur-Rashid’s request would mean “undermining counter-terrorism operations, compromising the intelligence capabilities of the NYPD, and disclosing sources of the information of the NYPD,” the judge said.
He issued the opinion on this year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The opinion went largely unnoticed until the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press bemoaned its effect on limiting government transparency in an editorial this week.
City lawyer Jeffrey Dantowitz celebrated the opinion in an email statement.
“We are very pleased that the court agreed with our legal position and recognized that disclosing certain information would undermine the city’s counter-terrorism efforts and compromise its intelligence capabilities,” Dantowitz said.
Abdur-Rashid’s attorney, Omar Mohammedi, confirmed in a phone interview that he filed a notice of appeal on Wednesday.
Like the Reporters Committee, Mohammedi remarked that the decision had “no precedent.”
“Glomar was never applied to state or city agencies,” he said.
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