Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) records recently disclosed to Cause of Action Institute indicate that the agency’s watchdog refused to honor a congressional request for an inquiry into politicized Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) processes because its staff was “fully engaged in other matters.”  Just as alarming, the CIA Inspector General only responded to Congress nearly two years after the request for an inquiry was sent.  Cause of Action Institute obtained these documents after it filed a lawsuit to compel production of records responsive to a FOIA request that had been pending at CIA for three years.   

In August 2010, Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Darrell Issa wrote to the Inspectors General of twenty-nine (29) different agencies—including the CIA—to request investigations into the role of political appointees in responding to FOIA requests.  Sen. Grassley and Rep. Issa were concerned that non-career officials were intentionally delaying responses and inappropriately influencing decisions to withhold information from the public.  The newly disclosed records confirm that the CIA waited two years to tell Congress that it was simply too busy to conduct an inquiry—despite the fact that the other twenty-eight agencies contacted by Congress carried out the requested audit and released their special reports proactively or under FOIA.

The Obama administration has a poor track record on transparency issues.  Agencies have unfairly politicized FOIA by adopting “sensitive review” procedures that permit political appointees, senior officials, and public affairs staff to participate in processing document requests.  As reported by the House Oversight Committee, such politicization led to retaliation by leadership against a disclosure officer at the Department of Homeland Security.  Cause of Action Institute uncovered politicized FOIA processes at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  And other sources have detailed “sensitive review” at the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and the Treasury.

But politicization goes beyond internal agency processes.  Under a previously non-public 2009 White House memorandum, agencies are instructed to consult with the Office of the White House Counsel—the president’s lawyer—before producing any documents that involve so-called “White House equities.”  The result of the memo is the unlawful expansion of White House control of agency FOIA processes and usurped agency responsibility for finalizing determinations.

In May, CoA Institute filed a lawsuit against eleven (11) agencies and the White House to end the administration’s practice of delaying responses to FOIA requests that are considered “politically sensitive” or embarrassing.”  Read more HERE.

Read the CIA’s letter to Sen. Grassley and Rep. Issa HERE.
Read CoA Institute’s FOIA Complaint against the CIA HERE.