With Sunshine Week just around the corner, we wanted to count down the days to our favorite time of year with a closer look at what’s going on behind the black bars: the nine federal FOIA exemptions. Today, we’re kicking things off with the big one: b(1), the national security exemption.
Guerrilla FOIAfare: How to use exemption codes to find the most interesting documents hidden in the CIA archives
As many researchers have learned over the years, government agencies in general and the Central Intelligence Agency in particular often apply exemptions very broadly, and at times, bordering on the ridiculous. Exemption codes, on the other hand, can still be useful to researchers, journalists, and curious citizens; by searching for these codes, clever researchers can find documents that discuss war plans, cryptography, WMDs, and diplomatically damaging information.
Declassified documents in the Central Intelligence Agency’s archives show that while the CIA was looking to include the Freedom Of Information Act in its war on leaks, the National Security Agency was seriously considering using the Espionage Act to target Puzzle Palace author James Bamford for using FOIA.
In the mid-’80s, stories started circulating around Washington about an investigation into an alleged Ku Klux Klan meeting at Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley. While the Agency insisted that the whole thing was a “tasteless joke” that had gotten out of hand, the public was left with no choice but to take their word for it - the report containing the investigation’s findings was classified.
A set of Central Intelligence Agency documents originally marked CONFIDENTIAL and labeled “Initiatives to Deal with Leaks” outlines the recommendations of the CIA Director’s Security Committee for responding to the Intelligence Community’s ongoing leak problems. These recommendations included several notes about limiting the Agency’s exposure to FOIA, arguing that FOIA’s “climate of transparency” encouraged leaks.