Case shines light on CIA propaganda tactics

Lawyers working on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency argued this week that intelligence officials should have the right to selectively release classified information to journalists of its choosing while withholding the same information from other citizens.

New York based journalist Adam Johnson sued the CIA after he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails between agency officials and reporters working for major national news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

The CIA provided the emails but redacted their contents, leaving Johnson wondering why he couldn’t read information agency officials had already shared with other reporters lacking security clearance.

In his lawsuit, Johnson argues that the agency can’t claim a FOIA national security exemption on information it’s already shared with journalists.

The CIA argues that previous Supreme Court rulings grant it “broad discretion” and “sweeping power” in picking what information it will release to whom.

Chief Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York appears to agree with the CIA.

“In this case, CIA voluntarily disclosed to outsiders information that it had a perfect right to keep private,” she wrote. “There is absolutely no statutory provision that authorizes limited disclosure of otherwise classified information to anyone, including ‘trusted reporters,’ for any purpose, including the protection of CIA sources and methods that might otherwise be outed.”

The judge has, however, asked the CIA to further clarify its position on the matter.

“The fact that the reporters might not have printed what was disclosed to them has no logical or legal impact on the waiver analysis, because the only fact relevant to waiver analysis is: Did the CIA do something that worked a waiver of a right it otherwise had?” she added.

The really interesting thing to recognize here is that the CIA, an agency whose original purpose was manipulating the narrative in nations subject to U.S. hegemony, is playing the same game here with the help of mainstream media journalists who effectively serve as government PR pawns.

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