Lawsuit filed over records on deadly helicopter crash

The government's release of records relating to the downing of a Chinook helicopter in 2011 that killed 30 U.S. troops has been unsatisfactory, according to a complaint filed by conservative group Freedom Watch.

The complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court against the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, alleges that the three agencies "have failed to make bona fide, good faith determinations" on complying with the group's July 21 Freedom of Information Act (FOAI) request for records related to the downing of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

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All three agencies responded to the request within the mandated 20 business days before the Aug. 19 deadline, but have not produced a satisfactory amount of information, timeline for release or reasoning for withholding information, the lawsuit alleges. 

The initial FOIA request asked for information on 54 items for documents related to the deaths of the 30 troops in Afghanistan on a mission named "Extortion 17" and those referencing a congressional hearing earlier this year, such as the existence of a potential black box, any U.S.-Afghanistan communication and a potential cause for the downing of the helicopter by Taliban fighters.

Most of the requested information pertains specifically to the Defense Department, according to Pamela N. Phillips, the NSA's chief FOIA officer, in an Aug. 8 response. 

Five items under the NSA's purview were denied as classified under an executive order, Phillips said, citing additional exemptions. 

"Your request does not demonstrate a 'compelling need' and, therefore, we deny your request for expedited processing," CIA representative Michele Meeks wrote in an Aug. 7 response to the FOIA, which the CIA received July 30.

The Defense Department dismissed 17 of the items as duplicative of requests already litigated, but said it would conduct a search on an additional 15 items regarding U.S. defense official Garry Reid and the Congressional hearing. 

The DOD would also look into eight other items, but said a handful were "not reasonably described and too burdensome," according to an Aug. 18 email sent by Danaeka Spear, senior advisor to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff.

In correspondence with the CIA, NSA and DOD ahead of the lawsuit, Freedom Watch's Larry Klayman accused the agencies of stonewalling and obstructing the release of information regarding the downing of the helicopter. 

"As a result of your bad faith and obstructionist tactics, an administrative appeal would be futile and for this reason we will proceed immediately to litigation," he wrote in an email to Danaeka provided to The Hill.