PPSA Cites ODNI Admission in FOIA Appeal: Does Intelligence Community Evasiveness Mean It Has Spied on Members of Congress?
PPSA today cited a recent admission by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to demand disclosure by that agency on whether or not the intelligence community has been surveilling past and current Senators and U.S. House Members.
On Jan. 28, PPSA had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to ODNI, asking it to reveal whether U.S. intelligence has unmasked the identities of current and past Members of Congress known to have been caught up in foreign surveillance, and whether the names of these members were searched through ODNI databases (a practice known as “upstreaming”). The request covered 48 current and former Members in both parties and their potential surveillance from Jan. 1, 2008 to Jan. 15, 2020.
On Feb. 4, ODNI summarily denied PPSA’s request with a “Glomar response” (neither confirming nor denying the existence of such records) because it said an answer “could reveal sources and methods information.”
PPSA today supplemented its appeal of that denial, pointing to a recent admission by former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. One day after receiving a letter from several U.S. Senators, Grenell disclosed a list of officials who might have been involved in the unmasking of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
On May 25, in a piquant letter to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Grenell wrote:
“As you well know, the decision to declassify the names of individuals who sought to unmask the identity of General Flynn poses absolutely no risk of compromise of either sources or methods.”
“If that is true of General Flynn,” said PPSA’s general counsel Gene Schaerr, “then it’s also true of the Senators and Congressmen who we believe were unmasked by the intelligence community.” Schaerr added, “Thanks to the forthright statements of former Acting Director Grenell, we now know that the ODNI’s denial in our case was not to protect intelligence sources or methods. Is this denial designed instead to protect one or more agencies from embarrassment or even from highlighting a violation of the law?”
PPSA will continue to report responses from ODNI concerning this FOIA request.