When do inter-agency records transfers violate the FOIA?

The Defense Department (DoD) has transferred records regarding the Navy SEAL raid on Osama Bin Laden to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a move which many government transparency advocates are concerned violates the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The CIA has justified the records transfer by claiming the records belonged to them (rather than the DoD) because the current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, was the director of the CIA at the time of the raid and because the Navy SEALS involved in the raid were on loan to the CIA.

Agencies are allowed to transfer records between themselves, but an inter-agency move requires approval by the  National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), an approval which did not occur in this case.

Transparency advocates are concerned because the CIA has greater power to withhold records from federal courts than the Department of Defense. With the files at the CIA, they are essentially shielded from public release, whether from a FOIA request or a court order.

The records transfer was allegedly carried out to protect the names of the SEALS involved in the raid, but the act of secretly moving sensitive government records is troubling should it become a trend.

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