Your General Rights Under FOIA
Enacted in 1966, the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552, established for the first time an effective statutory right of access by any person or organization to federal government information. The principle underlying the FOIA is inherent in the democratic ideal as urged by Thomas Jefferson and other founders of our Republic - to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society. What follows is a general discussion of your rights under the FOIA. For your information, we also have provided a copy of our FOIA Annual Report that outlines our administration of the law.
Your Right to CIA Information under FOIA
What Kinds of Records CIA Collects
The CIA was organized pursuant to the National Security Act of 1947. Its primary mission is the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence information for use by our nation's leadership; the CIA has no police, subpoena, law enforcement, or internal security functions.
Limits to Public Access
The FOIA provides for access to "reasonably described" records rather than simply information. This means you must describe the actual document(s) you seek or provide sufficient details to permit a search with a reasonable effort utilizing existing indices or search tools. The law does not require an agency to create a record, collect information, conduct research, or analyze data. Examples of appropriate requests would be one for a particular National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) or one for "any finished intelligence reports on a recent election in a given country."
Extremely broad requests - such as those for "all information on a given country" or for subjects or terms not indexed in our records systems - cannot be accepted because they are not requests for "reasonably described records" as required by the Act and cannot be searched with a reasonable amount of effort. As the US Congress has observed, it is to everyone's advantage if requests are as precise and as narrow as possible. The requester benefits because the request can be processed much faster and more cheaply, and the public benefits because a federal agency can do a better job of responding to requests and utilizing its resources. The FOIA works best when both requesters and federal agencies work cooperatively. In this regard, the CIA is always prepared to work with requesters for efficiency.
What the CIA Must Protect
The CIA charter provides that information concerning the sources and methods of intelligence collection must remain secret. Such information is not available for public disclosure and is redacted from documents, but significant amounts of analytical or publicly derived information are available.
Requesters should also be aware of several additional factors. The CIA Information Act, 50 U.S.C. 431, exempts from the search, review, and disclosure provisions of the FOIA all operational records of the CIA maintained by its National Clandestine Service, its Directorate of Science and Technology, and its Office of Security. By the term operational records, we mean those records and files detailing the actual conduct of our intelligence activities. Such records disseminated to other CIA components or other agencies remain accessible under the FOIA. In addition, requesters who seek records concerning specific actual or alleged CIA employees, operations, or sources and methods used in operations will necessarily be informed that we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any responsive records. This policy is required to protect the confidentiality of such matters where public disclosure of the existence or non-existence of records would lead to the loss or the diminution in value of our intelligence program supporting the nation's leadership.
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