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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of State, No. 12-893, 2017 WL 3913212 (D.D.C. Sept. 6, 2017) (Bates, J.)


Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of State, No. 12-893, 2017 WL 3913212 (D.D.C. Sept. 6, 2017) (Bates, J.)

Re:  Requests for records concerning Anwar Aulaqi

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7(E):  The court finds that "the FBI properly withheld [seven surveillance] videos and thus is entitled to summary judgment."  The court first finds that "[plaintiff] does not dispute that the surveillance videos were compiled for law enforcement purposes."  The court points to defendant's statements that "[t]hese seven videos depict 'tradecraft' such as the use of 'vantage points' and 'concealment techniques,'" that 'are [used] today and will continue to be used by the FBI in its surveillance efforts[.]'"  "Because foreign intelligence officers and other 'adversaries' use 'publicly-released information . . . to determine the sources and methods of FBI investigations to include surveillance techniques,' the release of these videos will provide them with 'actionable information that can be used to detect and avoid surveillance in the future.'"  The court finds that "[t]hese statements logically explain how releasing the content of these videos could help criminals circumvent the law, and that 'suffices here to justify invocation of Exemption 7(E).'"  In response to plaintiff's argument that defendant should have to isolate video clips in order to segregate releasable material, "the Court is unconvinced that isolating portions of the videos (either as still photos or video clips) constitutes the creation of a new record."  However, "[t]he Court is . . . satisfied that the FBI does not need to release any portions of these videos[]" because "[defendants'] representations demonstrate logically how release of any portions of the videos – either as video clips or still photos – might create a risk of circumvention of the law."
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection:  "[T]he Court declines [plaintiff's] request to review the videos in camera."  "[The] Court has already determined that the FBI has justified its withholding of the videos in full based on two sufficiently detailed declarations."  "The Court is not well-equipped to second-guess the reasonable assessments offered by these law enforcement professionals."
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "T]he Court rejects [plaintiff's] arguments that the search was inadequate because the State Department: used variants of Aulaqi's last name rather than his full name, did not use uniform search terms across all offices, and limited the temporal scope of the search to the tenure of Secretary Clinton."  Specifically regarding the search terms, the court explains that defendant's "decision to utilize variants of Aulaqi's full name was informed and reasonably calculated to find responsive materials."  "The Court also rejects [plaintiff's] argument that the State Department is required to search records discovered by the FBI that are not in the possession of the State Department."  "The Court concludes, however, that the State Department has failed to provide certain details necessary for the Court to evaluate the adequacy of [certain] searches[.]"  The court explains that, [b]ecause the State Department has not provided for these . . . offices a 'reasonably detailed affidavit, setting forth the search terms and the type of search performed, and averring that all files likely to contain responsive materials . . . were searched,' it is not entitled to summary judgment."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 7(E)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection
Updated December 15, 2021