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SNYDER v. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

November 14, 2002

RICHARD E. SNYDER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, United States District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701-706, and the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, seeking records pertaining to himself kept by the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was briefly employed from 1949 to 1950, as well as any records retained by the CIA with respect to his tenure with the Foreign Service from 1950 to 1970. The case is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for discovery and to compel additional searches. Upon consideration of the arguments of the parties, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment in part and denies it in part and denies plaintiff's cross-motion for discovery and for additional searches.

I. BACKGROUND

In 1949, while awaiting assignment from the Foreign Service, plaintiff alleges that he accepted an interim appointment as a trainee and case officer in the Clandestine Branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. See Complaint ¶ 5. Approximately one year later, he accepted a position as a Foreign Service Officer in the United States Department of State. During the course of his career, he worked in Germany, Japan and the former Soviet Union. See id. ¶ 6. In September 1959, while stationed in Moscow, Mr. Snyder interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald, who had come to the Embassy to surrender his passport and to renounce his American citizenship. See id. ¶ 7. Lee Harvey Oswald would later become one of the most notorious criminals in American history, in connection with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

Because of his chance encounter with Oswald, Mr. Snyder was called to testify before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, also known as the Warren Commission, in June 1964, and later before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in June 1978. See Complaint ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges that because of his contacts with Oswald, his CIA file was restricted and "red flagged." See id. ¶ 10.

On April 3, 1994, plaintiff submitted a request to the CIA for "all records concerning himself." Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Discovery and to Compel Additional Searches ("Pl.'s Cross-Motion") at 4; see also Complaint ¶ 17. The CIA responded to plaintiff in a letter dated April 15, 1994, indicating that it had received his request and was in the initial stages of processing it. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 4; Complaint ¶ 18. Over the course of the next several years, the parties exchanged numerous letters regarding the status of plaintiff's request. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 4; Complaint ¶¶ 19-24. On November 4, 1998, after exhausting his administrative remedies, see Complaint ¶ 26, plaintiff filed the complaint in this matter, claiming that the CIA purposely withheld records responsive to his request in violation of the FOIA, the Privacy Act and the APA. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 5; Complaint ¶¶ 16-33. Approximately three months after plaintiff filed his complaint, defendant began providing plaintiff with documents responsive to his request in three incremental releases dated January 19, 1999, February 2, 1999 and February 16, 1999. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 5.

On March 26, 1999, defendant moved for summary judgment, contending that the search conducted was adequate and that it permissibly redacted or withheld in their entirety responsive documents falling within certain of the exemptions enumerated in the FOIA and the Privacy Act. See Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Motion"). Plaintiff opposed defendant's motion and filed a cross-motion for discovery and to compel additional searches.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for discovery and to compel additional searches raise three distinct issues. First, there are questions concerning the adequacy of the search of records conducted by the CIA. The second issue concerns whether the defendant properly invoked certain FOIA exemptions to justify the withholding or redaction of specific documents. The final issue, raised in plaintiff's cross-motion, concerns the procedures followed by the CIA when responding to his FOIA request and to FOIA requests generally, and whether those procedures violate the FOIA, the Privacy Act or the APA. Defendant contends that plaintiff's arguments are moot because it now has complied with plaintiff's request and has released responsive documents to him. Alternatively, defendant contends that the procedures it followed comply with the applicable statutory requirements.*fn1

A. Adequacy of the Search

Before it can obtain summary judgment in a FOIA case, an agency "must show, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the requester, that . . . [it] `has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Steinberg v. United States Department of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (quoting Weisberg v. United States Department of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1985)). In determining the adequacy of a FOIA search, the Court is guided by principles of reasonableness. See Oglesby v. United States Department of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990); Int'l Trade Overseas, Inc. v. Agency for Int'l Development, 688 F. Supp. 33, 36 (D.D.C. 1988). While there is no requirement that an agency search every record system, Truitt v. United States Department of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.D.C. 1990), or that a search be perfect, Meeropol v. Meese, 790 F.2d 942, 955-56 (D.C. Cir. 1996), the search must be conducted in good faith using methods that are likely to produce the information requested if it exists. See Campbell v. United States Department of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

The Court may award summary judgment solely on the basis of information provided by the agency in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981); see also Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826-28 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974). Agency affidavits or declarations must be "relatively detailed and non-conclusory. . . ." SafeCard Services, Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C.Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C.Cir. 1981)). Such affidavits or declarations are accorded "a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by `purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.'" SafeCard Services, Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d at 1200. While the affidavits or declarations submitted by the agency need not "set forth with meticulous documentation the details of an epic search for the requested records," Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127 (D.C. Cir. 1982), they must "describe what records were searched, by whom, and through what processes," Steinberg v. United States Department of Justice, 23 F.3d at 552, and must show "that the search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Weisberg v. United States Department of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350-51 (D.C. Cir. 1983); see Campbell v. United States Department of Justice, 164 F.3d at 27.

Although plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the defendant failed to provide any responsive documents in accordance with his request, see Complaint ¶¶ 23-25, 30-33, defendant subsequently released numerous documents in three incremental responses, dated January 19, 1999, February 2, 1999 and February 16, 1999. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 5. Based on the papers filed by both parties, including the detailed declarations submitted by defendant, the Court concludes that the processing of plaintiff's FOIA and Privacy Act request now appears to be complete. In his cross-motion, however, plaintiff alleges that defendant's search of its records was inadequate. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 28-31. He contends that because he was the subject of intense scrutiny as a result of his contacts with Lee Harvey Oswald, it is highly likely that documents relating to him were scattered among several offices within the CIA. See id. at 29-30.

Plaintiff also enumerates 25 systems of records maintained by the CIA pursuant to the Privacy Act that defendant allegedly failed to search. See Pl.'s Cross-Motion at 30; Reply to Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Discovery and to Compel Arbitration ("Pl.'s Reply") at 5. Plaintiff points to three specific documents that allegedly have been withheld but do not appear on the Vaughn index or in the explanation of the searches contained in the declarations of William H. McNair or Lee Strickland: (1) the February 3, 1978, "Outside Contact Report"; (2) a June 8, 1978, letter from G. Robert Blakely, HSCA Chief Counsel and Staff Director, to Scott Breckinridge, CIA, and; (3) a July 6, 1978, letter from Blakely to Breckinridge. See Pl.'s ...


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