Judge Rejects CIA’s Absurd Secrecy Claim on Botched Yemen Raid

In a win for government transparency about its lethal actions overseas, a federal judge has told the CIA that it can’t refuse to “confirm or deny” whether it knows anything about a military operation when the agency’s director was present at the White House dinner where the action was approved.

The judge rejected the Trump administration’s extreme secrecy claim in a ruling Wednesday in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records on the January 2017 raid in Yemen that killed as many as 25 Yemeni civilians and one Navy SEAL.

Days after President Trump took office, he approved the dead-of-night raid in al Ghayil, Yemen. Although he called the raid “successful,” the strike had actually gone awry. Soon after, the ACLU filed a FOIA request demanding to know who in the government planned and approved the raid, what the legal basis for it was, and who the U.S. government killed.

The Departments of Defense, Justice, and State produced most of their records with heavy redactions, some of which we are challenging in court. But the CIA refused to respond at all, falsely claiming that if it confirmed or denied whether it had records, it would reveal whether the CIA had an “intelligence interest” in the raid.

This refusal to answer a FOIA request — known as a “Glomar” response — has become par for the course for the CIA. The agency has often relied on such overbroad secrecy tactics, claiming that if its intelligence interests are revealed, it could harm national security — even if the CIA’s interest is already obvious. We thought that approach might change after courts in our previous cases rejected similar claims, but in this case, the CIA’s Glomar attempt was even more brazen.

That’s because the Trump White House had already directly and publicly acknowledged the CIA’s intelligence interest in the raid. And it wasn’t a casual, off-hand statement: In the face of mounting criticism of the operation and its human costs, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the “intelligence gathering” operation, saying that several of Trump’s top advisors were at a dinner meeting where the raid was approved — including then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

We told the court that the CIA couldn’t continue to hide something that isn’t even remotely a secret. Nor can it selectively disclose information to defend its actions while hiding behind “official” secrecy in court. Outrageously, the CIA continued to argue that just because Pompeo was at the meeting, it didn’t mean that he had participated in the meeting, or that he was part of the decision-making process at all.

In its opinion this week, the court rejected the CIA’s preposterous contentions. The judge said that the government had already “clearly disclosed” what the CIA was trying to hide — its intelligence interest in the raid — and it was implausible the CIA wouldn’t have records. He wrote:

The Court is unprepared to accept that the CIA Director attended the meeting with the President in which that Raid was discussed and appears to have been approved, but that neither he nor his staff ever generated or received any documentation whatsoever (even in the form of a calendar entry or preparatory paperwork) related to that meeting or the Raid before, during, or after these occurred.

By rejecting the CIA’s blanket secrecy arguments, the court is sending a clear signal: The CIA is not outside the law, and it cannot continue to hide its actions without good reason. It’s a warning the CIA needs to hear.

This matters for the families of the people who were killed or injured in this tragic raid. It matters because under President Trump, this country’s record of unjustified secrecy about lethal strikes in overseas conflicts that it helps cause — like the ongoing one in Yemen — is becoming even worse. And it matters because the American people need to know what the government is doing in our name. 

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Dr. Timothy Leary

The CIA is stuck up. They think they are better than everybody else.

Acacia

Good article, I see the CIA's ridiculous secret statement on the Botched Yemen attack, the CIA has many secrets.
run 3

J Tanenbaum

Good. Glad to see more transparency.

So - was the raid succesful or not? Saying it “went awry” does not answer whether it yielded the results that it sought. It could be both succesful and encounter unexpected difficulties.

Anonymous

The article says up to 25 Yemeni civilians and one Navy Seal. What it doesn’t say is that the target wasn’t there.

John Ⓐndrew Jarecki

The CIA needs to be disbanded, and it's agents brought forth to the world court. If convicted of crimes against humanity, they must be executed.

PoppaHank

Execute all 10,000?

Charles Robbins

How long are we, as Americans, going to sit on our hands as our Military and Intelligence agencies continue to slaughter milions around the globe in our name? Do you sleep well at night after learning that 10's of millions of human beings have been murdered in your name?

Unjustified, despite their assurances otherwise, unnecessary, despite their assurances otherwise; and yet, we continue to allow insane individuals cointinue to make policy for this nation. People, please, take action, contact representatives, speak tofriends and family. This is a very touchy subject, but, to continue to allow this type of action, taken in our name, to continue... is to risk the world joining hands to remove the U.S. from the face of the Earth.

Reclaim our right to peaceful resolution of political problems. Military action should be the action of last resort, and, once resorted to, should be done in as effective and decisive manner as is humanly possible. Stop stringing these actions out. Our duty is to our nation's citizens, not to the corporation bottom line.

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