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Blacked Out Pages: U.S. Government Snubs ACLU Over Targeted Killing FOIA

The United States government gave the American Civil Liberties Union the equivalent of the middle finger in response to a request for records on the “targeted killing program.”

An eight-page letter from Director for National Intelligence James Clapper to the chairs of the Senate intelligence committee, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, was disclosed. The senators were chairs during 2013 and 2014.

However, all eight pages were completely blacked out. That is, except for one full sentence, which makes the response even more offensive:

“We hope this information has been helpful and look forward to continuing to work with the Committee on this bill.”

It is not the first time the ACLU has received this kind of response from a government agency.

In 2013, the ACLU received a response to its Freedom of Information Act request for information from the FBI on how it interpreted the United States v. Jones case, which is a decision where the Supreme Court found law enforcement must get a warrant to put a GPS device on a suspect’s car.

The FBI sent the ACLU two documents [PDF 1 & PDF 2]. Both documents were entirely blacked out. Altogether, over 110 pages of black were turned over to the ACLU.

What makes this even more stunning is the fact the ACLU has pursued multiple FOIA lawsuits for documents. In two cases, federal appeals courts have ordered the release of records.

This has forced the government to release documents, like a 41-page July 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on the legal theories behind the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki.

No longer can the government simply refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records. It has moved on to wasting time and resources by sending organizations, which seek to advance transparency, completely censored documents.

So, for those keeping track, President Barack Obama’s administration, which has proclaimed it is the “most transparent administration ever,” will engage in this kind of antic to maintain secrecy while at the same time arguing in court the judicial branch has no role in reviewing the lawfulness of drone strikes.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."