National Security Counselors v. CIA, No. 12-284, 2018 WL 3978093 (D.D.C. August 20, 2018) (Howell, C.J.)

Date: 
Monday, August 20, 2018

National Security Counselors v. CIA, No. 12-284, 2018 WL 3978093 (D.D.C. August 20, 2018) (Howell, C.J.)

Re:  Request for records pertaining to search tools and indices used for conducting FOIA searches

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that the CIA's search was adequate, finding that "the CIA's declarations . . . explain the thorough supplemental search," in particular the fact that the CIA "'used the construction of the FOIA request that NSC urged in its [previous filings] . . . thereby alleviating the plaintiffs' concerns regarding the CIA's interpretation of the request."  The court finds that the offices and databases searched using a combination of search terms and manual searches, through which the "CIA located ten additional responsive records" demonstrate that "the CIA made a 'good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested.'"   
     
  • Exemption 3: The court holds that the CIA properly "withheld five categories of information in eight documents pursuant to Exemption 3 and the National Security Act . . . includ[ing] 'information that reveals the extent of the CIA's holdings on certain topics,' 'information regarding how to access the database,' 'specific examples of information contained within the database,' 'information that reveals the extent of the CIA's holdings on certain topics and classification control markings, and 'investigative techniques.'"  The court accepts the CIA's explanations that information about the databases qualify for protection because "'the databases serve as intelligence methods in and of themselves and are configured specifically for the CIA.'"  Disclosure of screenshots and classification markings "would 'expose Agency information systems to outside threats by providing [access instructions]'" and disclosing classification markings would reveal areas of intelligence interest, sources, and other intelligence methods.
     
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege: The court upholds withholding pursuant to Exemption 5 "an 'internal draft standard operating procedures with edits and comments from reviewers,'" accepting the defendant's explanations that the "'comments, recommendations, and edits . . . do not convey final Agency viewpoints on a particular matter.'"  The court rejects the plaintiff's argument that withholding was improper "because the 'CIA has produced no final version of this document,'" explaining, "an agency's failure to produce a specific document identified by the plaintiff does not render the search inadequate."     
Topic: 
Adequacy of Search
District Court
Exemption 3
Exemption 5
Litigation Considerations
Updated January 31, 2019