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Groups Protest CIA’s Covert Attack on Public Access

WASHINGTON, February 23, 2012 – More than 30 organizations joined the National Security Archive and OpenTheGovernment.org in protesting the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) recent decision to charge the public outrageous fees for the opportunity to challenge secrecy claims. The fees, which can run requesters up to $72 per hour even if no information is found or released, effectively cut off access to a system that researchers, historians, public interest advocates and others have used successfully to challenge the CIA's extreme secrecy -- the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) process.

According to Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive, “The CIA has launched a covert operation to undermine public access to the most effective tool that the public uses to declassify the CIA’s secret documents. The new CIA MDR regulations, which were adopted with no notice for public comment, effectively price the public out of the opportunity to challenge the CIA’s extreme secrecy.”

Unlike FOIA requests, the MDR has a built-in external review process: if an agency fails to declassify and release the information under the MDR process, requesters can appeal the agency's decision to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for independent review. According to the US Information Security Oversight Office, ISCAP officials have overruled agency classification decisions more than 65 percent of the time since 1996.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said, “The CIA’s actions are out of line with not only the Administration’s open government rhetoric, but also with policies issued by President Obama. We urge the CIA to withdraw this retrograde regulation and begin to step up to the unprecedented level of openness and accountability that the President expects, and the public deserves.”

On Wednesday, February 22nd Kel McClanahan, Executive Director of National Security Counselors (NSC), also filed a class action suit on behalf of several frequent MDR requesters against the CIA for violating the Independent Offices Appropriations Act (IOAA) by charging fees to MDR requesters for this public service. The case, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is National Security Counselors, et al. v CIA, No. 12-284. The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) recently announced a grant to NSC to bring the court challenge over the regulation from the Knight FOI Fund, a legal war chest administered by the NFOIC to support litigants in meritorious open-government cases.

Download the letter here: http://www.openthegovernment.org/sites/default/files/open%20letter%20on%20CIA%20MDR%20regs-%20Final.pdf

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OpenTheGovernment.org is a coalition transcending party lines of more than 80 consumer and good government groups, librarians, environmentalists, labor, journalists, and others – focused on pushing back governmental secrecy and promoting openness.

The National Security Archive is an independent, nonprofit research organization based at George Washington University that collects and publishes formerly secret documents and fights to defend and expand public access to government information at home and abroad.

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