CIA must admit existence of drone programme, appeals court rules

US court rules that CIA must give fuller response to ACLU’s lawsuit seeking access to records on drone attacks

The civil liberties group brought its suit under the 1966 Freedom of Information Act. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

In a rebuke of government secrecy, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the CIA must give a fuller response to a lawsuit seeking the spy agency’s records on drone attacks.

The CIA’s claim that it could neither confirm nor deny whether it has any drone records was inadequate, because the government, including Barack Obama himself, has clearly acknowledged a drone programme, the court said.

The ruling was unanimous from a three-judge panel of the court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union is likely a long way from getting access to CIA records. Its lawsuit now heads back to a trial court, where the CIA could invoke other defenses against the records request.

The civil liberties group brought its suit under the 1966 Freedom of Information Act.

Obama and his senior advisers call the aerial drone programme essential to US attacks on al-Qaida militants in countries such as Yemen. The strikes have at times ignited local anger and frayed diplomatic relations.

Initially, the CIA said security concerns prevented it from even acknowledging the existence of records. The ACLU countered that government officials had already acknowledged the drone programme in public statements from 2009 to 2012.

The question became whether the statements by Obama, former CIA director Leon Panetta and former counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, now the CIA chief, amounted to an official acknowledgment.

Judge Merrick Garland wrote for the appeals court that it would be a fiction to pretend otherwise., Friday 15 March 2013 16.56 GMT

Find this story at 15 March 2013 
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