Freedom Watch, Inc. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, No. 14-5174 (D.C. Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
In 2012, the New York Times published the Sanger article, describing a classified government initiative to “undermine the Iranian nuclear program” through “increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems.” Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, Freedom Watch sought records from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the State Department, including “information that refers or relates in any way to information” released or made available to Sanger. The CIA, NSA, and DoD cited national security; each stated that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence” of responsive records. After FOIA’s deadline expired, Freedom Watch filed suit. The district court dismissed the CIA and NSA based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies; granted DoD summary judgment based on FOIA’s national security exemption; and granted the State Department partial judgment, finding certain requests unduly speculative. Concerning information released to Sanger, the State Department obtained a 60-day extension and produced 79 documents. The court denied a motion to depose a records custodian, finding no evidence of bad faith, and granted the State Department summary judgment. Before oral argument, Freedom Watch moved to supplement the record with news articles relating to the revelation that former Secretary of State Clinton had maintained a private email account on a private server and sought to expand the search on remand. The D.C. Circuit remanded to allow the court to oversee the search of the former Secretary’s emails for records responsive to Freedom Watch’s FOIA request, but otherwise affirmed.