Appeals Court Rejects CIA Refusal to Confirm or Deny Existence of Drone Documents

On March 15, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously ruled that the CIA cannot stymie the ACLU’s request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act about the agency’s drone-based targeted killing program by flatly refusing to confirm or deny whether such records exist.

“The court decided that the Obama administration can’t have its cake and eat it too by talking to reporters and the public about the drone program when they choose, and then refusing to confirm or deny its existence when formally asked to produce documents about it,” said TCP president Virginia Sloan.

Calling the argument “neither logical nor plausible,” the appeals court rejected the agency’s application of the so-called “Glomar doctrine” because the president and several of his top intelligence advisors have all discussed elements of the program in public.

The court’s decision accepted many of the arguments made by a number of open government advocates, including TCP, in an amicus brief filed in support of the ACLU’s FOIA request.

The appeals court sent the issue back to the lower courts, noting that the CIA may still be able to prevent disclosure of the documents on other grounds.

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