CIA pressed to disclose secret drone docs

CIA pressed to disclose secret drone docs
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The CIA is facing a renewed legal challenge over the government’s drone program.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Monday filed an appeal in a 5-year-old lawsuit over secret documents about the how the spy agency conducts deadly strikes with unmanned vehicles.

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Despite an initial court ruling, the CIA “continues to withhold essentially everything, and public debate about the drone campaign continues to be impoverished and distorted by unwarranted secrecy and selective disclosure,” the ACLU said in its filing.

The group originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request in January 2010 and then sued three months later when the government did not respond. The ACLU is seeking documents about the legal basis for the targeted killings and how strikes are authorized.

In 2013, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the organization a win, ordering the government to hand over documents and claiming that it could not refuse to acknowledge the existence of the drone program, as it had tried.

After the ACLU narrowed the scope of the documents it requested, however, a lower court judge ruled that the information was classified and should not be made public.

The new filing aims to reverse that decision.

“Legal analysis is not itself an intelligence activity, source, or method; nor does it fall into any of the other categories of classifiable information,” the ACLU claimed in its filing.

The name of the lawsuit is ACLU v. CIA.

Monday’s filing comes less than a week after the publication on the Intercept of a new cache of secret documents about the drone program. Those documents showed that, in at least one instance, the intended targets made up only a fraction of the people killed in the strike.

In a blog post late on Monday, ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said that leakers would not have to resort to media outlets if the government would be more willing to respond to legitimate public records requests.

“Whistleblowers would surely be less inclined to disclose information through unofficial channels if the government were complying with its legal obligation to disclose information through official ones,” he wrote.