Federal court dismisses transparency claim against State Department and CIA
MOSCOW, March 1 - RAPSI. A US federal court dismissed a complaint filed by transparency advocacy group Freedom Watch charging that an array of US government departments and agencies including the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had failed to maintain transparency as required by federal law.
Specifically, the US District Court for the District of Columbia held that Freedom Watch had failed to properly file requests for the information sought in accordance with the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
FOIA is a US federal law requiring government agencies to make certain types of information publicly accessible. Members of the public are able to file request forms with government departments and agencies, which in turn must either provide the information or prove that it cannot be released because it falls within the scope of a valid exception to the law, such as in the cases of classified or internal information.
Freedom Watch had filed FOIA requests with the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, and Commerce, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA in January 2012.
The FOIA request sought information relating to "wavers the Department of State may have granted to citizens, corporations, or other countries to trade with Iran despite very tough sanctions against that country to prevent its development of nuclear missiles."
Toward this end, the group sought 63 types of records, including among many others, "[a]ny and all enumerated documents and things which discuss Iran in the context of American politics and/or elections from 1992 to the present."
Freedom Watch had also sought FOIA request fee waivers based on the assertion that "any waiver of these sanctions may aid Iran in achieving nuclear weapons and thus put American citizens at risk."
The departments and agencies responded in a variety of manners. Most responded with the sentiment that Freedom Watch's request was too broad to accommodate. The CIA and DOD both advised Freedom Watch to file requests with different agencies. State never responded.
Freedom Watch challenged the failure of the departments and agencies to turn up any relevant information in federal court in February 2012.
The departments and agencies in turn jointly filed a motion to dismiss, challenging the adequacy of the complaint on its face.
In considering this point, the court concluded that Freedom Watch's FOIA requests were illegitimate from the start "because they did not describe the records sought sufficiently to allow a professional employee familiar with the area in question to locate responsive records."
Accordingly, none of the agencies or departments were found to have broken the law in failing to timely respond, as the law's protections were not properly invoked.