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D.C. Circuit Hears CIA Drone Information Challenge

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The CIA hasn't declared that it deploys drones around the world to kill terrorists, but it still has to fight Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about the possible program.

Thursday, attorneys from the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) answered questions from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals about whether the government has confirmed the program, The Associated Press reports.

The central legal issue in the case is whether government officials -- including President Obama and former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- have officially and publicly acknowledged the existence of the CIA's use of drone airstrikes. (Last year, a district court judge dismissed an ACLU lawsuit seeking records about the use of drones.)

During arguments, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland referred to a speech this year by John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism advisor, in which Brennan said the government targets terrorists with drones, and uses the "full range" of the government's intelligence capabilities. Judge Garland asked if those types of statements qualify as an admission of a CIA drone program. Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery responded that such statements do not specifically refer to the CIA's involvement in drones, as there are 17 intelligence community agencies, the AP reports.

Assuming that the program exists, this is essentially the CIA's Voldemort program that shall not be named. Except  in this case, the ACLU would gain power if the program was acknowledged. The reason? FOIA employs a no takebacks policy, so once the government has acknowledged a fact in public, it is prohibited from refusing to confirm the same fact in court.

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