(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on September 5, 2013, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for records relating to a 2011 directive by U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven, to purge DOD’s systems of all records about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and transfer them to the CIA, where they could be shielded from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Defense (No. 1:13-cv-01343)).
All records concerning, regarding, or relating to Admiral McRaven’s 2011 directive to purge USSOCOM systems of all records related to the operation leading to the death of Usama bin Laden on or about May 1, 2011Pursuant to its June 7, 2013, FOIA request, Judicial Watch seeks access to the following records:
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch’s FOIA request by a letter dated July 1, 2013. By law, a response was due by July 30, 2013. To date, USSOCOM has failed to respond.
The secret move by McRaven to shield the information from public disclosure was first revealed in single passage at the end of a 2011 draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general (IG) examining whether the Obama administration gave special access to Hollywood executives planning the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” According the draft report, “ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released. This effort included purging the combatant command’s system of all records related to the operation and providing these records to another Government Agency.” According to an Associated Press report, the “Government Agency” was the CIA. The reference to the document purge did not appear in the final IG report, which was finally published on Friday, June 14, 2013.
McRaven’s directive sent the only copies of the military’s records about the raid to the CIA, which has special authority to prevent the release of “operational files” in ways that often cannot be effectively challenged in federal courts. Under federal rules, transferring government records from one executive agency to another must be approved in writing by the National Archives and Records Administration. According to Archives spokesperson Miriam Kleiman, the Archives was not aware of any request from USSOCOM to transfer its files to the CIA.
The move by McRaven may have come, at least in part, in response to aggressive efforts by Judicial Watch to obtain images of the bin Laden raid that the Obama administration had refused to disclose. On May 4, 2011, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the DOD seeking “all photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.” An identical request had been filed on May 3, 2011, with the CIA. When neither the DOD nor the CIA complied with the FOIA requests within the 20 business days as required by law, Judicial Watch, in June 2011, filed its FOIA lawsuits against both agencies. In the course of the litigation, the DOD denied that it had any documents and did not disclose that it had transferred any documents to the CIA.
On April 26, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg accepted the Obama administration arguments, ruling that the images could remain secret while conceding: “Indeed, it makes sense that the more significant an event is to our nation – and the end of bin Laden’s reign of terror certainly ranks high – the more need the public has for full disclosure.” On May 21, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmedthe District Court decision while conceding that the documents may not have been properly classified.
On August, 19, 2013, Judicial Watch announced that it had filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court of the United States to review the Appeals Court ruling.
“The fact that the Obama administration has gone into a full stonewall mode about this bin Laden document purge raises serious questions as to what it is hiding,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “In our experience, government officials with nothing to hide don’t hide things.”