The National Security Agency is refusing to release a list of classified information that was deliberately leaked to the media.
The agency claimed in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an anti-secrecy advocate that it could not give out a list of programs that it had previously decided were safe for the media to report on, “because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”
Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ government secrecy project, had asked the NSA for a copy of any notifications sent to Congress in the last year about authorized leaks of intelligence information to the media. By law, intelligence officials are required to notify Congress if they intentionally give reporters classified information.
But the NSA said it couldn't tell Aftergood what it had told other reporters.
In denying the request, the spy agency pointed to a section of a 2009 executive order that allows the agency to classify documents that “could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security” if made public.
Additionally, the spy agency is legally authorized to “protect certain information concerning its activities,” it said, which the list of authorized leaks would compromise.
In a blog post on Thursday, Aftergood criticized the agency’s secrecy.
“The notion of an authorized disclosure of classified information is close to being a contradiction in terms," he wrote. "If something is classified, how can its disclosure be authorized (without declassification)? And if something is disclosed by an official who is authorized to do so, how can it still be classified? And yet, it seems that there is such a thing."
Aftergood appealed the denial this week.
“It is well established that information, including classified information, that has been publicly disclosed on an authorized basis loses its exemption from disclosure under FOIA,” he argued.