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FOIA Update: Supreme Court Hears Sims

FOIA Update
Vol. V, No. 4

Supreme Court Hears Sims

On December 4, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Sims v. CIA, 709 F.2d 95 (D.C. Cir. 1983), cert. granted, 104 S. Ct. 1438, cross-petition for cert. granted, 104 S. Ct. 3509 (1984), a case focusing on the definition of the term "intelligence source" under the National Security Act of 1947, the CIA's major Exemption 3 statute.

The records at issue contain the identities of researchers and institutions involved in the CIA's controversial former drug testing project, MKULTRA. The D.C. Circuit's opinion established a narrow interpretation of what constitutes an "intelligence source" and thereby did not accord protection to some sources who had provided information to the CIA in reliance upon an express promise of confidentiality.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard K. Willard of the Justice Department's Civil Division argued to the Supreme Court that the limited definition given this term by the D.C. Circuit is completely at odds with the statute's legislative history and that, if it were permitted to stand, it would seriously impair the CIA's intelligence gathering functions. Judging from the Court's reception to the oral arguments presented, a decision favorable to the government appears likely; it can be expected sometime in the spring.

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Updated August 13, 2014