As often happens, the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked national security a few years ago to justify withholding certain information from a Freedom of Information Act requester named Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler.
But as rarely happens, a court last month critically assessed the FBI national security claim and ordered the Bureau to release some of the withheld information.
Ms. Hetzler, acting pro se (i.e. without an attorney), had requested records concerning her deceased father, who had once been the subject of an FBI investigation. The FBI provided her with some records but withheld others, stating that they remained classified in order to protect an intelligence activity.
But after reviewing the withheld records in camera, Judge Michael A. Telesca of the Western District of New York determined that some of the information contained in them was not exempt from disclosure under FOIA. The FBI had been withholding it under the FOIA’s national security exemption even though it was actually unclassified or declassified.