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The FOIA Request that Cost Agency Employee Jeffrey Scudder His Job Finally Results in CIA Posting Trove of Studies in Intelligence Articles

September 22, 2014
Jeffrey Scudder shares his story about how his career unraveled. (Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)

Jeffrey Scudder shares his story about how his career unraveled. (Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)

In response to a hard-fought FOIA lawsuit brought by former agency employee and IT specialist, Jeffrey Scudder, the CIA has posted a collection of 249 unclassified and declassified Studies in Intelligence articles to its website.

Scudder, then a project manager for the CIA’s Historical Collections Division, filed a FOIA request in 2o07 for 419 Studies in Intelligence articles after discovering “a stack of articles, hundreds of histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public.” During the process of filing the request, Scudder was “confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family’s computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.”

Despite the agency’s harassment, Scudder carried on with his FOIA request, inevitably filing a FOIA lawsuit for the documents’ release. As part of his initial request, Scudder asked that the documents be released in electronic format – the form that they were already in. The CIA, however, continued its common practice of refusing to release soft copies of its records – ostensibly for security reasons – and told Scudder he could only have hard copies of the articles, which would cost Scudder twice as much. Scudder sued the agency, contending that the CIA was frustrating his efforts to obtain the documents –and charging him double for doing so. District Court judge Beryl Howell agreed with Scudder, writing that “Where, as here, an agency asserts nearly twenty years after the passage of the E-FOIA Amendments that it cannot provide any electronic formats because of a lengthy process the agency has created, a court is required by the FOIA to evaluate that process to determine if it meets the statutorily mandated ‘reasonable efforts’ standard…[a] FOIA request for records in an existing format should not be frustrated due to the agency’s decision to adopt a production process that nonetheless renders release in that format highly burdensome.”

The CIA changed course after Judge Howell’s finding, found a “creative solution” to the problem, and posted 249 records online (with the remaining 170 documents withheld in full).

Since Scudder’s case became public, the CIA has stated that it “does not retaliate or take any personnel action against employees for submitting [FOIA] requests or pursuing them in litigation,” and has, citing budget cuts, disbanded its Historical Collections Division.

While the silver lining to the CIA’s attempt to both conceal historically significant documents and intimidate Scudder is that many of the documents are now publicly available, the fact remains that many of the documents — which should have been publicly available in the first place — were posted with unnecessary redactions. Matthew Aid, for example, already possesses two fully declassified and unredacted articles that the CIA recently posted, with heavy redactions, to its website. According to Aid, “This is a typical case of the left-hand not knowing what the right-hand is doing, and just further demonstrates that the CIA’s FOIA system is urgently in need of a major overhaul.”

Below are 20 intriguing articles from the CIA’s release that caught our attention. Please comb through them – and the others – and tell us what’s worthy of note in them!

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