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Brennan Ctr. for Justice v. Dep't of State, No. 15-2200, 2017 WL 5157603 (D.D.C. Nov. 6, 2017) (Howell, J.)


Brennan Ctr. for Justice v. Dep't of State, No. 15-2200, 2017 WL 5157603 (D.D.C. Nov. 6, 2017) (Howell, J.)

Re:  Request for unpublished international agreements between United States and other nations from 1990 to present

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion to dismiss; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 1:  The court holds that "defendant has made a 'logical' and 'plausible' showing that disclosure of any portion of the documents at issue may harm the national security."  The court relates that, "[w]hile not disputing the defendant's assertion that the documents fall within the scope of FOIA Exemption 1, the plaintiff nonetheless characterizes the defendant's 'mosaic' argument as 'not logical,' 'convoluted and wholly speculative,' and seeks in camera review of the documents to determine whether additional segregable material may be disclosed."  The court finds that, "[a]s the defendant observes, 'someone knowledgeable of the complex web of U.S. diplomatic relations with other countries could look at a gap in the alphabetical list and predict with a high degree of certainty the country that would fill that gap.'"  "[D]isclosure of some pages of the documents at issue would allow an analyst to infer that the withheld pages contain existence-classified information."  "Using the methods described above, an analyst could compare the disclosed pages with publicly-available unclassified agreements to determine which section of the alphabet the withheld pages covered."  "This information, in conjunction with other publicly-available information about U.S. foreign relations, could allow a researcher to identify 'with a reasonable degree of certainty' nations with which the United States had concluded existence-classified agreements."  "Identification of nations with which the United States might potentially have concluded an existence-classified agreement is not the only danger to the national security that production, in whole or part, of the documents at issue may cause."  "Even mere public speculation that a particular nation, or subset of nations, has concluded one or more existence-classified agreements with the United States could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security."  "Such agreements are existence-classified in part because classification allows the United States to maintain military and intelligence relationships with nations whose populaces or neighbors might not favor such cooperation."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 1
Updated December 8, 2021