some other detail -- a statement, an event, or otherwise -- which the individual would not wish to be publicly disclosed"). Merely because the FBI may choose to publicize a certain agent or a certain investigation to a certain extent does not mean that it must publicize every agent or every investigation to the exact same extent. Whatever its public relations policy may be, the FBI has not thereby waived the right to choose, within the confines of FOIA, exactly what type of publicity it will encourage, which agents' names will be released, and how detailed any such disclosure will be.
The plaintiffs want the FBI to have the exact same disclosure policy that it followed with regard to the investigations of the President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations.
But by adopting that reasoning, this Court would send agencies the wrong signal and foster a policy at odds with the FOIA's purpose of encouraging disclosure. Whereas the FOIA specifies when agencies must disclose certain information, the FOIA does not prevent agencies from voluntarily disclosing information that would otherwise be covered by one of the statutory exemptions. Mead Data Central, Inc. v. United States Dep't of the Air Force, 184 U.S. App. D.C. 350, 566 F.2d 242, 258 (D.C.Cir. 1977). The plaintiffs' scenario would encourage agencies involved in so-called historical cases to "play their cards close to the vest," because any disclosure beyond what is specifically required by the FOIA's exemptions could come back to haunt them and limit their options in future cases. Although it may seem paradoxical at first glance, by refusing to rely on the FBI's practice in past cases to order disclosure in this particular FOIA case, the Court actually furthers the statute's policy favoring disclosure as applied to FOIA cases in general.
B. The Public's Interest in the Agents' Names
The other side of the equation in any application of Exemption 7(C) is the public interest in disclosure. It is important to note that the scope of the information sought in this case is very narrow. This is not a case in which the FBI refuses to disclose any information whatsoever about the assassination of Senator Kennedy and keeps the public completely in the dark. To the contrary, the defendants have revealed the names of those agents who were involved in the RFK investigation in a supervisory capacity and have released over 10,000 pages of documents.
The information sought in this case consists of nothing more than the names of the many lower-level agents who participated in the RFK investigation. The plaintiffs argue that, for two reasons, there is a great public interest in these names. First, they contend that the names are necessary for accurate historical study of the RFK investigation because the documents that have been released cannot be evaluated properly or correlated to one another with the agents' names redacted. The plaintiffs also argue that the release of the names would further the public interest because scholars studying the RFK investigation would be able to interview the agents and learn information from them that has not been included in the voluminous official reports.
However, the plaintiffs' overestimate the weight of the public interest in this case. Although the public interest in the assassination of Senator Kennedy and the ensuing investigation is great indeed, the public interest in the names of the lower-level agents who participated in the investigation is much less significant. Those FBI agents who were involved in the RFK investigation in a supervisory capacity are, by definition, the agents whose knowledge of the deployment and coordination of the "street-level" agents was comprehensive. The supervisory agents (and the RFK investigation itself) are the repositories of the FBI's institutional knowledge regarding the RFK investigation. The defendants have already released the names of these supervisory agents and much of the RFK investigation file. It is this type of disclosure which promotes the FOIA's policies of "creat[ing] a broad right of access to 'official information,'" Reporters Comm., 109 S. Ct. at 1481 (quoting EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 80, 93 S. Ct. 827, 35 L. Ed. 2d 119 (1973)), and enabling citizens to be informed about "what their government is up to." Id.
By contrast, each lower-level agent's knowledge of the RFK investigation is fragmented, consisting of the bits and pieces of information that he or she discovered or heard about from others. Moreover, the substance of these agents' knowledge is contained in their reports and memoranda, which are part of the FBI's RFK investigation file and have been disclosed with only the identity of the author concealed. The Court agrees with the defendants that releasing the names of these lower-level agents would not inform citizens about what their government was up to nor would it reveal how the FBI conducted the investigation. See Miller v. Bell, 661 F.2d 623, 630-31 (7th Cir. 1981) (substance of information in FBI files has been exposed in its entirety and only agents' names have been deleted; documents thus reveal entire course of investigation and public interest in disclosure of names is "minimal in the extreme"), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 960, 102 S. Ct. 2035, 72 L. Ed. 2d 484 (1982).
The Court is not convinced by the plaintiffs' arguments that there is a great public interest in these names. As to the plaintiffs' first contention, it may be true that not knowing who wrote the reports and memoranda makes their task of interpreting and correlating these many documents "difficult or uncertain." Memorandum In Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment at 33. However, "the FOIA was not designed to benefit private litigants." Johnson v. United States Dep't of Justice, 739 F.2d 1514, 1519 (10th Cir. 1984) (citing NLRB v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 421 U.S. 132, 143 n.10, 44 L. Ed. 2d 29, 95 S. Ct. 1504 n.10 (1975)). To the extent that there is any public interest in making the plaintiffs' studies of the RFK investigation less onerous, it does not outweigh the agents' legitimate privacy concerns. Moreover, there have been no allegations that any of the agents engaged in improper conduct, which would directly implicate the "strong public interest in monitoring the conduct and actual performance of public officials." Baez v. United States Dep't of Justice, 208 U.S. App. D.C. 199, 647 F.2d 1328, 1339 (D.C.Cir. 1980) (public interest might be served by disclosing agent's name when called to testify concerning his or her activities or when agent's performance is called into question).
The plaintiffs' second argument based on their purported need to have access to lower-level agents to question them about the RFK investigation is a hypothetical pyramid built of attenuated and speculative premises, adding little weight to the public interest side of the scale. The RFK investigation has been the subject of extensive publicity and close scrutiny by law enforcement organizations, the media, and scholars. Under such circumstances and over twenty years later, it is highly speculative that the lower-level agents' knowledge has not already become part of the public record. Assuming arguendo that one of these agents did not include some piece of information in his or her report, it is further speculation that the agent would remember this information and would supply it to a private citizen asking questions about the RFK investigation. Finally, even assuming this improbable combination of events, it is speculative that this piece of information would be anything other than an insignificant detail in terms of the public interest in resolving some of the questions that continue to surround the assassination of Senator Kennedy.
Thus, it is highly unlikely that the release of the agents' names would lead to any new information about the RFK investigation and that such hypothetical new information which might conceivably surface would make more than an incremental contribution to the public interest.
C. Balancing the Interests
On the one hand, the Court is faced with the privacy interests of the lower-level agents involved in the RFK investigation. While their status as public officials may somewhat reduce the agents' privacy interests from those of a private citizen, their privacy concerns -- especially after more than twenty years have elapsed -- nevertheless are important and worthy of the protection afforded by Exemption 7(C). On the other hand, the public interest implicated by this narrow issue of whether to disclose the agents' names does not live up to the plaintiffs' expectations and is minimal at best. Therefore, the Court holds that the public interest does not outweigh the agents' privacy interests and that the defendants correctly withheld the agents' names under Exemption 7(C). This conclusion is further supported by numerous cases from this and other circuits that have permitted agencies to invoke Exemption 7(C) and withhold law enforcement officials' names appearing in documents compiled for investigatory purposes.
The Court will grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment. They properly relied upon Exemption 7(C) to withhold the names of FBI agents and LAPD officers because releasing the names could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of their privacy.
An Order in accordance with the foregoing Opinion will be issued of even date herewith.
ORDER -- January 4, 1990, Filed
In accordance with the Court's Opinion of even date herewith, it is, by the Court, this 3rd day of January, 1990,
ORDERED that the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment shall be, and hereby is, DENIED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that the defendants' motion for summary judgment shall be, and hereby is, GRANTED.