Veteran Journalist and Nonprofit Sue CIA for Withholding Vietnam POW Information
Written by: Sam Orlando
Washington, D.C. — A federal lawsuit was filed today against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), accusing the agency of illegally withholding information concerning American prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) from the Vietnam War era. The lawsuit was filed by journalist Mark Sauter, who is also a decorated military veteran, and his co-plaintiff, the nonprofit organization America's POWs, Inc.
Failure to Release Records
The plaintiffs allege that despite a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on July 14, 2023, the CIA has failed to release any relevant documents. They contend that the CIA's failure to respond within the mandated 20 working days constitutes "constructive exhaustion of administrative remedies," as per federal law.
News Media Status
Sauter and America's POWs, Inc. argue that their FOIA request seeks a waiver of search, review fees, and duplication costs due to their status as members of the news media. According to the lawsuit, their FOIA request clearly outlined why they are entitled to these waivers.
The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs have a "statutory right" to the information they are seeking and claims there is no legal basis for the CIA's refusal to disclose the records.
In another significant aspect, the plaintiffs accuse the CIA of improperly withholding documents by categorizing them as "operational files," which are generally exempt from FOIA requests. They cite expert testimony to argue that these records could be released without posing any risk to national security.
The lawsuit also challenges the CIA's decennial review process, which requires the agency to reassess its file exemptions every ten years. According to the suit, the CIA has failed to properly evaluate whether these files could be declassified based on their historical value or public interest.
The lawsuit includes affidavits from two key figures: Senator Bob Smith, the former Vice-Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, and Kevin Shipp, a former CIA official. Both affirm that many of the documents could and should be released as they no longer pose any national security risk.
Seeking Judicial Review
The plaintiffs are seeking judicial intervention to grant them media status, mandate a thorough search of CIA operational files, disclose redacted information, and cover the costs and attorney fees associated with the lawsuit.
If successful, this lawsuit could set a significant precedent regarding public access to classified government documents, particularly those relating to American POWs and MIAs. It also adds another chapter to the ongoing debate over government transparency and the public's right to know.
The CIA has not yet responded to the lawsuit.