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Member of British Parliament gets go-ahead to seek CIA documents via FOIA

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at 11:44 a.m.

An appeals court has given the go-ahead to a member of the British Parliament who is trying to obtain CIA and other spy agency documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

The decision could mean more sunlight shed on possible British cooperation with the CIA’s controversial extraordinary rendition program.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Obama administration arguments that the British parliamentarian, Andrew Tyrie, was blocked from using FOIA. The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies had denied the FOIA requests, citing an exemption in the law that precludes intelligence agencies from providing information to “a representative” of a foreign government.

Tyrie, on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and several allies sued.

“They argued that in order to qualify as a ‘representative’ of a foreign government entity, the FOIA requester must be an agent of that entity,” Judge David Tatel explained, “and because they had no authority to file these requests on behalf of the British government, the intelligence agencies could not invoke the Foreign Government Entity Exception.”

The court effectively agreed, and in doing so dismissed concerns about opening up a batch of dangerous secrets.

“Contrary to the intelligence agencies’ suggestion that interpreting ‘representative’ to mean ‘agent’ would expose government secrets to terrorists, national security is not at issue here,” Tatel wrote. “Because one of FOIA’s traditional exemptions prevents disclosure of classified records, no classified information will see the light of day regardless of how we decide this case.”

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