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Judge orders end to 22-year wait for John Lennon's FBI documents

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    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information    

Judge orders end to 22-year wait for John Lennon’s FBI documents

  • A federal judge ordered the FBI to release 10 documents relating to its 1972 investigation of John Lennon after FBI evidence failed to support the documents’ classification for national security reasons.

Oct. 14, 2004 — Ten secret FBI documents relating to its investigation of musician John Lennon must be released to the public, a California judge ruled last week, ending a 22-year Freedom of Information Act dispute.

The dispute began in 1982 when Jonathan M. Wiener, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, requested FBI records from its 1972 investigation of John Lennon. The FBI initially released some records, but withheld others, claiming various FOI Act exemptions. Many years of litigation ensued, and in1997 Wiener obtained all but 10 documents.

The FBI refused to release the documents, arguing they contained information that the United States confidentially received from a foreign government.

“[C]onfidentiality is the foundation to the continued exchange of information among United States intelligence . . . and their foreign counterparts,” Scott Hodes, the then-acting chief of the FBI Litigation Unit’s Freedom of Information-Privacy Act Section, said in a sworn declaration before the court.

Executive Order 12958, which explains classification procedures, says that foreign government information may be classified if an original classification authority — in this case Hodes — identifies the damage to national security that could reasonably be expected to result from disclosure.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi held that Hodes’ declaration did not show enough specific evidence tying the release of the foreign government information to potential national security damage. Abstract discussion of the effects of breached confidentiality on the free flow of information did not meet the requirements of Executive Order 12958, Takasugi ruled.

“[T]he FBI fails to address how disclosure of the specific contents in the foreign government information would result in harm to national security,” he wrote. “[T]he description and identification of harm to national security must be particularized explanations.”

The FBI also argued that the documents should be classified because release would discourage other potential intelligence sources from cooperating with FBI investigations for fear that their identities would eventually be revealed publicly. Judge Takasugi rejected the argument, noting that it was founded on blanket conclusive statements and not specific analysis.

Because Judge Takasugi ultimately gave no credence to any of the FBI’s asserted justifications for classification, he ordered the FBI to turn over all 10 documents, unredacted, to Wiener.

(Wiener v. FBI) RL

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