Leopold v. Central Intelligence Agency, No. 20-5002 (D.C. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
A 2017 “tweet” by @realDonaldTrump stated: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.” BuzzFeed requested CIA records about Agency payments to Syrian rebels, citing the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A). The Agency invoked Exemptions 1 and 3. The district court granted the Agency summary judgment, explaining that the “tweet did not mention the [Agency] or create any inference that such a program would be linked to or run by the [Agency].”
BuzzFeed sent another, more broadly stated, request. The Agency asserted that a response would reveal whether it had an intelligence interest in, intelligence sources about, and connection to programs related to Syrian rebels — information exempt from disclosure under Exemptions 1 and 3. Exemption 1 covers “matters”2 that are “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. Exemption 3 covers matters “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” the National Security Act qualifies as a withholding statute under Exemption 3, 50 U.S.C. 3024(i)(1).
The district court granted BuzzFeed summary judgment, holding that the tweet officially acknowledged “the government’s intelligence interest in the broader categories of records that BuzzFeed has requested.” The D.C. Circuit reversed. The tweet was not an official acknowledgment of the existence (or not) of Agency records.