The CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate/Harvard Klein Center for Internet & Society research affiliate, Ryan Shapiro, filed a lawsuit yesterday against the FBI, CIA, DHS, and ODNI. The suit is over the agencies’ failures to comply with Shapiro and Leopold’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA requests and lawsuit:
Shapiro and Leopold submitted FOIA requests to the CIA, FBI, DHS, and ODNI for records pertaining to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as records pertaining to U.S. intelligence agency operations involving any such Russian interference.
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Shapiro and Leopold seek these records in order to shed light on critical unknowns such as:
* What information on Russian interference did U.S. intelligence agencies possess, and when did they possess it?
* How did this information differ by agency?
* How did analysis of this information, and response proposals based upon that analysis, differ by agency?
* How did U.S. intelligence agencies communicate and coordinate with each other regarding the issue of Russian interference?
* Both officially and unofficially, how did U.S. intelligence agencies communicate and coordinate with outside entities and individuals regarding the issue of Russian interference?
1.) Records sought by Shapiro and Leopold include but are not limited to:
* Records about efforts by members of the Electoral college to receive information regarding any ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election.
* Communications to or from Congress, or to or from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Republican National Committee, the National Republic Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign, or any other U.S. political organization mentioning or referring to Russian-directed interference with the United States 2016 elections.
* Records about U.S. intelligence agency public relations and news media efforts regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.
* Records about leaks from U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.
* Records about FBI Director James Comey’s communications with President Obama about whether the Obama Administration should publicly accuse Russia of hacking U.S. political organizations.
2.) Due to the urgency of the matter, Shapiro and Leopold requested expedited processing of their FOIA requests. The CIA, FBI, DHS, and ODN failed to respond. This is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
3.) Not including this new lawsuit, Shapiro and Leopold already have three FOIA lawsuits against the FBI and other federal agencies for records on investigations involving Donald Trump.
In the first of these lawsuits, among other things, Shapiro and Leopold are suing the FBI and Secret Service for records on Donald Trump’s thinly-veiled assassination remarks regarding Hillary Clinton, and his less than veiled campaign trail call for Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI unlawfully failed to respond to Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request, and then slow-walked an initial response to Shapiro and Leopold’s lawsuit until after the election.
Notably, the FBI’s response indicates the FBI might indeed be investigating Donald Trump for these incidents. However, in stark contrast to Director Comey’s pre-election rush to inform Congress that the FBI might re-open its investigation of Hillary Clinton, in this case the FBI dragged its feet to avoid revealing the same about Donald Trump until after the election.
4.) In the second of these lawsuits, Leopold and Shapiro are suing the FBI for all FBI records on the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, Trump Entertainment Resorts, and Trump University.
5.) In the third of these lawsuits, Leopold and Shapiro are suing the FBI for records on the FBI’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
6.) Shapiro and Leopold’s lawsuit filed today is part of the work of Operation 45. Operation 45 is a new 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded by MIT/Harvard’s Shapiro, and attorney Jeffrey Light, to ensure transparency and accountability for the incoming Trump/Pence administration.
According to Shapiro
Regarding this lawsuit:
To date, the U.S. government has officially disclosed little concrete information regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. The American public absolutely deserves to know what role Russian interference played in President-elect Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, and how U.S. intelligence agencies responded to any such Russian interference.
Regarding Operation 45 (Of which this lawsuit is a part):
Given Trump’s authoritarian aspirations and overt contempt for the Constitution and a free press, American civil liberties and privacy now face a profoundly clear and present danger.
Trump must not be allowed to conduct his presidency from the shadows, and he must not be allowed to cripple the Freedom of Information act. The need is urgent for aggressive work to keep President Trump and his administration transparent and accountable.
Regarding FOIA more broadly:
Secrecy is a cancer on the body of democracy.
The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government.
The Freedom of Information Act is one of the most underappreciated elements of the entire American experiment. The notion that the records of government are the property of the people, and all we need to do to get them is to ask, is radically democratic. But FOIA is broken. Sadly, this is why we now need to sue to compel FBI compliance with federal law.
A complete copy of the complaint filed in can be viewed here
Ryan Shapiro, referred to by Politico as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”, is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT, as well as a Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Jason Leopold is an award-winning investigative reporte, specializing in counterterrorism and human rights. Leopold has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices.
Shapiro and Leopold are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.