San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a half-dozen other federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering, demanding the immediate release of reports about potential misconduct. EFF filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requesting records of intelligence agencies' reporting of activities since 2001 that might have been unlawful or contrary to presidential order.
"By executive order, federal intelligence agencies must submit concerns about potentially illegal activity to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," said EFF Open Government Legal Fellow Nate Cardozo. "Intelligence agencies are given a wide berth for national security reasons, but at a minimum they're required to act within the limits of the law. These records hold important details about how well the Executive Branch's internal checks operate."
The members of the Intelligence Oversight Board were appointed by the president to advise on intelligence matters. Until last year, all intelligence agencies were required to report to the board "any intelligence activities of their organizations that they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive." The board was tasked with reviewing those reports, summarizing them, and forwarding to the president those that it believed described violations of the law. Last year, President Bush reassigned many of these responsibilities, including reviewing agency reports, to the Director of National Intelligence.
A storm of media coverage following this month's disclosure that the CIA chose to keep Congress in the dark about a plan to train anti-terrorist assassin teams has brought the lack of transparency in intelligence reporting to a head. Lawmakers have accused the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress and are calling for an investigation into officials' conduct. The reports the agencies have provided to the Intelligence Oversight Board undoubtedly contain information that will shed some light on incidents such as this -- information that is necessary in order to provide appropriate oversight.
In addition to the CIA, EFF's lawsuit names the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Energy, and the Department of State -- all of which failed to comply with FOIA requests seeking records and reports of concerns about intelligence activity that might have stepped over the bounds of the law.
"The CIA is not the only agency that has faced questions about the legality of its intelligence programs," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Electronic surveillance and other intelligence activities have come under increasing scrutiny during the past several years. We're seeking information that will shed light on incidents of intelligence misconduct, how often they happen, and how effective oversight is for controversial programs. The agencies must follow the law and release these records to the public."
For the full complaint:
Open Government Legal Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation