Dillon v. DOJ, No. 13-532, 2015 WL 1969840 (D.D.C. May 1, 2015) (Walton, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning al Qaeda operatives
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: [T]he Court finds that the FBI's declarations set forth sufficient factual detail of the methods utilized in conducting a search for responsive documents to conclude that the FBI 'has conducted ... search[es] reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" The court relates that defendant conducted a search of its Central Records System and also "contacted a special agent with first-hand knowledge of [one] investigation, and requested assistance in locating [certain documents]." The court addresses plaintiff's arguments, first finding that "'there is no requirement that an agency search every record system in response to a FOIA request, ... only those [systems of] records that are likely to have responsive documents.'" The court then finds that "[t]he agency need not search the records of a particular field office if the original request 'ma[kes] no reference to [that particular] field office' and there does not exist 'an agency record [that] contains a lead so apparent that the [agency] cannot in good faith fail to pursue it.'" Additionally, the court "conclude[s] that the plaintiff's argument that the 'fruits of the search' indicate an inadequate search is also without merit." Finally, the court finds that certain documents that plaintiff claims are missing "fall outside a reasonable interpretation of the scope of the plaintiff's original request."
- Exemption 1: "[T]he Court concludes that the FBI properly withheld [certain] information pursuant to Exemption (b)(1)." The court finds that "[t]he Section Chief of the Record/Information Dissemination Section of the FBI, an original classification authority" reviewed the records and determined that "'release would reveal actual intelligence activities and methods used by the FBI against specific targets of foreign counterintelligence investigations or operations; identify a target of a foreign counterintelligence investigation; or disclose the intelligence gathering capabilities of the activities or methods directed at specific targets.'" The court "afford[ed] 'substantial weight to [the FBI's] affidavit.'"
- Exemption 7, Threshold: The court finds that "the FBI has demonstrated a 'rational nexus' that satisfies Exemption (b)(7)'s threshold requirement" based on defendant's statement that "'the responsive records herein were compiled for the purposes of investigating and gathering intelligence information, and apprehending and prosecuting subjects who have committed acts of terrorism against the United States, and such records relate to the enforcement of federal laws and such activity is within the law enforcement duty of the FBI.'"
- Exemption 7(A): "[T]he Court concludes that that FBI has met its burden in asserting Exemption (b)(7)(A) for the information withheld from the documents responsive to the plaintiff's FOIA requests." The court notes that plaintiff "challenge[s] the FBI's categorical assertion of the Exemption for his second request" based on "the premise that 'if [the subject] was detained, he already knows what happened' and thus '[r]elease of information about his detention cannot reasonably be expected to assist him in avoiding detection, since he presumably knows what he said and what the agents did.'" The court finds that "[t]his argument is without merit because it fails to take into consideration any of the reasons for which the FBI states it is withholding this information," specifically, "the FBI's representations adequately explain the impact that disclosure may have on enforcement proceedings concerning known or suspected terrorists other than [the subject]." Therefore, the court finds that "[a]ny notion that disclosure of this information would impact only the investigation of [the subject] is dispelled by these representations."
- Exemption 7(C): "[T]he Court concludes that the FBI properly asserted Exemption (b)(7)(C)." The court finds that "the FBI has demonstrated that the disclosure of each of these categories of information could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The court also accepts defendant's statements that it "'could not identify any discernible public interest'" as to this information. The court relates that the withheld material consisted of "'the names of FBI Special Agents'" and '"support employees,'" "'the names and/or identifying information of non-FBI federal, state, and local government personnel,'" and "the names and identifying information of third parties."
- Exemption 7(D): "[T]he Court concludes that the defendant properly withheld [certain] information pursuant to Exemption (b)(7)(D)." The court relates that "the FBI withheld 'the names, identifying information, and information provided by third parties under circumstances in which confidentiality can be inferred.'" "Given the defendant's representations as to the violent nature of the terrorist organizations in question, and the informants' 'close proximity to and relationship with known terrorists,' . . . the Court concludes that the defendant may reasonably infer that this information was provided under an implied assurance of confidentiality."
- Exemption 7(E): The court "concludes that the FBI properly withheld [certain] information pursuant to Exemption (b)(7)(E)." The court relates that "the FBI withheld 'information regarding the techniques and procedures utilized by the FBI in conducting national security investigations.'" The court notes that "[t]he FBI asserts that 'revealing what techniques and procedures are commonly used in national security investigations ... would enable the targets of these techniques to avoid detection or develop countermeasures to circumvent the FBI's ability to effectively use these critical law enforcement techniques in current and future investigations.'" In response to plaintiff's argument, the court finds that "under Exemption (b)(7)(E), 'even commonly known procedures may be protected from disclosure if the disclosure could reduce or nullify their effectiveness.'"
- Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements: "[T]he Court concludes that the FBI has satisfied its segregability obligation under the FOIA." The court relates that the FBI stated that "'[f]or a majority of records ..., segregability is not possible because they are exempt from disclosure [in their entirety] pursuant to Exemption 7(A).'" "With respect to the remaining records, the FBI states that it 'carefully reviewed the material withheld in part from [certain] . . . information . . . and determined that no additional non-exempt information could be released.'" "And of these records, 'no pages were withheld in full on the basis of a FOIA exemption and the remaining responsive pages were released with all reasonably segregable, non-exempt information.'"