National Reconnaissance Office Yields to FAS Lawsuit

A government attorney indicated yesterday that the National Reconnaissance Office will cease to oppose a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists for unclassified NRO budget justification documents, and that it will provide the requested records as early as next week.

Last July, a federal court ruled (pdf) in favor of FAS and told the NRO that the budget documents are not “operational files” that would be exempt from processing under the FOIA. In September, the NRO filed a notice of appeal (pdf) seeking to overturn the court order.

But this week, after FAS filed a motion to compel the NRO to comply with the order, the agency said it would withdraw its appeal and provide the document.

The case will have a favorable ripple effect throughout the intelligence community, since other intelligence organizations such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency also claim that their budget records are “operational files” that are exempt from FOIA processing. Now that the court’s order on this issue stands unchallenged, such claims will be nullified.

One Secrecy News reader wrote to express his concern that we were using the law to force NRO to disclose records that should not be disclosed in the interests of national security. But that is not the case. FOIA exemptions for properly classified national security information and for intelligence sources and methods remain in place and in effect.

But NRO has now been forced to disclose all non-exempt budget information, as the law requires.

Selected case files from Aftergood v. National Reconnaissance Office may be found here.

The anticipated receipt of NRO budget material will be noted in Secrecy News when it occurs.

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