Federal Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that the CIA is allowed to decide which reporters can be trusted to receive sensitive material. McMahon, a Clinton appointee, ruled that the intelligence agency can selectively release classified information to select journalists but withhold that same information from other reporters and the public even when sought under the Freedom of Information Act. The ruling by the New York judge was released on Friday. Attorneys for the Department of Justice from the office of the U.S. Attorney of New York defended the CIA before the court.
Adam Johnson, a freelance investigative journalist, had sought copies of CIA emails sent to newspaper reporters. After he was denied access to those emails after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, he sued to have the material released. The emails in question were part of more than 500 heavily redacted documents that the CIA had already made public. Johnson wanted to see the emails, of which significant portions were blotted out, that had already been provided to other members of the media.
The emails had been sent to Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, and Scott Shane of the New York Times.
Judge McMahon wrote: “The Director of Central Intelligence is free to disclose classified information about CIA sources and methods selectively, if he concludes that it is necessary to do so in order to protect those intelligence sources and methods, and no court can second guess his decision.”
An April 26 statement at the website of attorney Daniel R. Novack, who was of counsel to journalist Adams, noted: "Never let a federal judge get your hopes up in a FOIA case (or ever, really). Judge McMahon decided that even though Mr. Johnson's case presented a 'perfect storm' of facts supporting disclosure, the CIA nonetheless did not waive its exemptions by sending classified information to journalists. Why? Because my client did not prove the journalists shared the information (or that it was otherwise compromised). In other words, journalists are members of the public, but giving them information is not tantamount to making information 'public.' Essentially the CIA Press Office (!) can deputize any member of the public, at its unfettered discretion, to receive highly sensitive materials - so long as they ask them not to share it."