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Franz Kafka meets the National Security Agency

Gen. Keith Alexander), director of the National Security Agency (NSA), testifying on Capitol Hill March 12. (Photo: EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS) Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), testifying on Capitol Hill March 12. (Photo: EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Executive Order 13526 as an order on transparency. That order deals with properly classifying national security information. President Obama’s  Jan. 21, 2009  government transparency directives are different documents. 

Jim Scott, a retired Navy public relations employee, has been trying to get any records on his late father, Paul Scott, a nationally syndicated columnist who was illegally wiretapped by the CIA in 1963.

Scott was looking for any information from 1950 to 1990, but the agency wasn’t very forthcoming — shocked! shocked! — though it did give up some documents. So Scott turned to the National Security Agency, thinking the two might have collaborated and the NSA might have some info. (The FBI ended up being the most helpful agency, he said. A similar request to that agency turned up over 100 pages of documents and accompanying correspondence.)

The NSA denied his initial request, so Scott appealed. NSA chief of staff Elizabeth R. Brooks, in a Jan. 24 letter, turned down the appeal in a somewhat opaque fashion.

“As a result of my review,” she wrote, “I have concluded that the appropriate response is to continue to neither confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of any intelligence material on your father. To do otherwise when challenged under the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] would result in the exposure of intelligence information, sources, and methods, which could harm our national security and severely undermine NSA activities in general. For example, if NSA denied having information in cases where we had no such information, but remained silent in cases in which the information existed, it wold tend to reveal in which activities NSA was engaged.”

Scott is looking for material that is between 24 and 64 years old. Of course, the NSA’s “activities” have changed and expanded a bit since then.

But, Brooks wrote, “The fact of the existence or nonexistence of such information is a properly classified matter under Executive Order 13526, since it meets the specific criteria for classification established in Section 1.4 (c) of the Order.”

Loop Fans may recall President Obama’s famous transparency- in- government orders on Jan. 21, 2009, made the day after he became president, which provide a guide for handling FOIA requests.

NSA FOIA denial







Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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