Looks Filmproduktionen GmbH v. CIA, No. 14-1163, 2016 WL 4186652 (D.D.C. Aug. 5, 2016) (Howell, C.J.)

Date: 
Friday, August 5, 2016

Looks Filmproduktionen GmbH v. CIA, No. 14-1163, 2016 WL 4186652 (D.D.C. Aug. 5, 2016) (Howell, C.J.)

Re: Request for records concerning Minister of State Security in former German Democratic Republic

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; finding moot defendant's motion to dismiss and plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: "[T]he Court concludes that the CIA submitted satisfactory declarations detailing the adequacy of its search." First, "the Court finds that the CIA's declarations adequately detail the records repositories searched." The court relates that "the CIA specifically stated that 'the biography archive of the Office of Leadership Analysis,' and 'all non-exempt electronic systems of records maintained by the DO and DA, and the hard copy archives of records from the Agency's Archive and Records Center,' were searched." The court finds that "plaintiff cites no case law to support the proposition that the CIA is required to disclose the specific offices searched or other search methodologies with such granularity." Second, the court finds that "the CIA has adequately demonstrated that its search efforts were reasonable to uncover relevant documents." The court finds that "[t]he enumerated search terms on their face appear reasonably calculated to discover [responsive] documents" and "the Court concludes that the CIA used adequate search terms, contrary to the plaintiff’s claim." Third, "the Court finds that the CIA's construction of the plaintiff's FOIA requests was reasonable" The court explains that, "contrary to the plaintiff’s contention," "documents 'about' a certain subject must have information regarding that subject, rather than just a mention of the word." Last, the court finds that "contrary to the plaintiff’s position, the CIA need not 'first demonstrate that the files are properly designated as "operational files,"' every time it seeks to obtain the protection of [the National Security Act of 1947's provision which provides that "'[t]he Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, with the coordination of the Director of National Intelligence, may exempt operational files of the Central Intelligence Agency from the provisions of [the FOIA]'"]."
     
  • Exemption 1: The court notes that "[t]he CIA has asserted Exemption 1 to withhold information in thirteen redacted documents but only in places where Exemption 3 has also been asserted." "Since, as discussed below, the Court concludes that the CIA properly relies on Exemption 3, consideration of Exemption 1 is unnecessary."
     
  • Exemption 3: The court holds that "Exemption 3 was properly invoked by the CIA to withhold information that would reveal intelligence sources and methods as well as protected personnel information." First, regarding information that was withheld pursuant to the National Security Act, the court finds that "[plaintiff's] criticism of the declaration as being insufficiently granular or informative is not persuasive." "By breaking down 'intelligence methods' into . . . four specific sections, the CIA fairly communicated that the intelligence methods information withheld in these particular documents belong to one of these four categories." The court also finds that "plaintiff’s . . . argument challenging the redaction of classification and dissemination-control markings likewise falls flat." "[C]ontrary to the plaintiff's assertion that 'a classification marking does not implicate source identities, intelligence methods, or CIA employees,' . . . other Judges on this Court have found that such classification markings and dissemination control markings on a specific document, which is disclosed in part, could plausibly contain information that may reveal intelligence collection sources or methods protected by the National Security Act[.]" Second, the court relates that defendant invoked "the CIA Act to withhold from release 'details about its core functions, including, but not limited to, the function of protecting intelligence sources and methods,' as well as 'the names, offices, and contact information of Agency personnel mentioned in these records.'" "The Court . . . credits the CIA for its re-review of withheld documents and, based upon the detailed explanations for its withholdings set out in the second declaration, concludes that the CIA Act was properly invoked to withhold only personnel information."
     
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements: The court holds that "[t]he CIA has satisfied its segregability obligations here." The court finds that "[t]he Vaughn Index submitted by the CIA, in conjunction with . . . two successive . . . declarations, comprehensively describe the documents, the information withheld and the reasons for the exemptions, and the CIA avers that 'no additional segregable, non-exempt information [ ] can be released' after a 'page-by-page, line-by-line review of the 27 documents responsive to Plaintiff’s request.'" Also, the court finds that "[t]he CIA's declaration is further bolstered by the fact that, on its own accord, the CIA took the initiative to re-review all of the responsive documents and released additional information[.]"
     
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection: The court holds that "plaintiff's request for in camera review is denied." The court finds that "plaintiff has not presented any credible evidence that the CIA's two declarations – detailing, document by document, the information redacted – was inaccurate or issued in bad faith."
     
  • Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal: The court holds that "plaintiff's . . . claim [that two of his requests were aggregated] is . . . dismissed as moot." The court finds that "plaintiff has already received all the responsive, non-exempt documents to which it is entitled, and, therefore, no longer has any 'concrete interest' in the outcome of this claim." Also, "[e]ven if the CIA had wrongfully aggregated the plaintiff's two requests, that harm is '"unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects."'"
Topic: 
Adequacy of Search
District Court
Exemption 1
Exemption 3
In Camera Review
Litigation Considerations
Mootness
Segregability
Updated January 18, 2017