The CIA apparently has decided the time is ripe for an all-out assault on the Freedom of Information Act.
Repeatedly attacking the law in a letter accompanying its annual freedom-of-information report to Congress, the agency is asking for a complete exemption for all of its records.
Max Hugel, CIA's deputy director for administration who submitted the report, contended that the law has hindered the agency's "ability to perform its vital mission" while only rarely producing information of public interest.
Critics of the CIA sharply dispute both connections. The Freedom of Information Act has brought to light activities such as the CIA's domestic spying on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the scope of the agency's secret behavior control and drug testing programs.
For the last two years, CIA officials have been seeking a broad exemption for operational and technical files, while always insisting that the agency was not seeking to escape the law entirely.
Hugel voiced no such reservations, declaring: "While we do not question the principle that U.S. citizens should have the right to know what their government is doing and has done in the past, we firmly believe that an exception, should be made in the case of the CIA."
According to the accompanying report, submitted this month, the CIA calculated its personnel expenditures in administering the Freedom of Information Act in calendar 1980 at $1,735, 000. This is substantially less than other government agencies and departments such as Treasury, Justice and Defense.
The agency received 1,212 freedom of information requests last year and another of 1,614 under the Privacy Act. A total of 2,348 other inquiries was carried over from 1979.
The report showed that the CIA also "canceled" 353 requests last year after seeking and failing to get "fee deposits" -- written promises that all reasonable search fees would be paid -- notarized releases from third parties, or other "clarification." Some of these devices have been assailed as bureaucratic efforts to frustrate the law's purpose.
At the same time, the CIA said it had approved, in whole or in part, 681 Freedom of Information and Privacy Act requests. The biggest number of inquiries, 976, was listed under the heading: "No records found."