A civil liberties group sued eight government agencies in federal court in San Francisco today in a bid for public disclosure of oversight reports on possible illegal intelligence activities.
The lawsuit was filed by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA.
It accuses the CIA, National Security Agency and other agencies of violating the law by failing to respond to requests for copies of reports that were submitted to a presidential oversight board on possible misconduct by the agencies.
Foundation attorney Marcia Hoffman said the reports may contain information on activities such as an alleged CIA program to train terrorist assassination teams that was never revealed to Congress.
Hoffman said, “We’re seeking information that will shed light on incidents of intelligence misconduct, how often they happen, and how effective oversight is for controversial programs.
“The agencies must follow the law and release these records to the public,” Hoffman said.
U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said government attorneys had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.
Under an executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the inspectors general and chief lawyers of U.S. intelligence agencies are required to file regular reports on agency activities that they believe may be illegal or in violation of a presidential order.
The reports are submitted to the Intelligence Oversight Board, a presidentially appointed board of private citizens charged with informing the president of illegal or unconstitutional intelligence activities.
Until last year, the agencies were required to submit quarterly reports. In 2008, President George W. Bush revised the order to remove the quarterly requirement and to mandate submission of the reports to the director of national intelligence as well as the oversight board.
The lawsuit says that since February 2008, the foundation has submitted a series of FOIA requests for reports prepared since 2001 and has received either no responses or limited responses from the eight agencies.
The lawsuit, which was assigned to U.S. District Judge Saundra Armstrong of Oakland, asked the court to order the agencies to provide the reports.
In addition to the CIA and the National Security Agency, the agencies sued are the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, Energy and State.