On January 3, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the government seeking disclosure of documents related to the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) use of predator drones for the purpose of targeted killings of individuals, including a United States citizen. The Departments of Defense, Justice, and State provided some records but the CIA denied the request in a "Glomar" response, which declines either to confirm or deny the existence of any records. The ACLU filed an administrative appeal to the CIA in April 2010, but the agency failed to make a determination within the FOIA statutorily established timeline.
The ACLU filed suit on June 1, 2010 against the government in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging violations of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a) and requesting injunctive relief in the form of disclosure of the requested documents. Under court supervision, the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State conferred with the ACLU and produced documents according to a mutually agreeable schedule.
The CIA, however, moved for summary judgment in October 2010, arguing that whether it possessed the documents was itself exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemptions. The CIA argued that admitting the very existence of the documents would reveal whether it was involved or interested in drone strikes, which was classified information. The ACLU cross-filed for summary judgment and asserted that the CIA Director and other officials had already publicly acknowledged the existence of the drone program. The district court granted the CIA's motion for summary judgment on September 9, 2011. American Civil Liberties Union v. Dep't of Justice, 808 F. Supp. 2d 280 (D.D.C. 2011).
The ACLU appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in fall 2011. The D.C. Circuit Court found the CIA's Glomar response was not justified. American Civil Liberties Union v. Central Intelligence Agency, 710 F.3d 422 (D.C. Cir. 2013). Citing numerous examples of public statements by U.S. officials like the President and CIA Director, the court found it "implausible that the CIA does not possess a single document on the subject of drone strikes." 710 F.3d at 430. In March 2013, the case was remanded to the district court for determination of the kinds of documents that the CIA possesses and whether exemptions apply to those documents.
In May, the district court ordered briefing for summary judgment, following the recommendation of the CIA's briefing schedule. The schedule was delayed multiple times due to a series of government budget crises in the Fall of 2013. On February 12, 2014, the ACLU sent a notice to the court of a congressional transcript where the CIA publicly acknowledged drone operations. The court ordered a supplemental brief from the CIA regarding this public disclosure.
On, June 6, 2014, the court granted the CIA's motion to stay the proceedings until the completion of any further review of a recent decision in the Second Circuit that involved FOIA requests for some similar types of records. New York Times Co. v. DOJ, 752 F.3d 123 (2nd Cir., April 21, 2014). The Second Circuit revised and superseded their opinion on June 23, 2014, finding that the government's secrecy and privilege had been waived for some of the documents containing legal analysis relating to drone strikes. New York Times Co. v. DOJ, 756 F.3d 100 (2nd Cir., July 10, 2014).
On July 18, 2014, the court granted the defendant's request to dismiss the summary judgment motion. The court also found that the recent developments required further briefing and denied the ACLU's partial summary judgment without prejudice and scheduled further briefing.
On June 18, 2015, the district court granted summary judgment and denied ACLU's cross-motion for summary judgment. The court held that the CIA had demonstrated that it has not withheld any segregable, non-exempt materials other than previously disclosed White Paper and therefore denied ACLU’s request that it order the CIA to do so.
On October 14, 2016, the court dismissed the case with prejudice. Elizabeth Homan - 10/07/2013
Neil Tiwari - 10/25/2016