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Memo, names withheld in probe of FBI fraudulent warrants

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   SECOND CIRCUIT   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   Dec. 8, 2005

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   SECOND CIRCUIT   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   Dec. 8, 2005

Memo, names withheld in probe of FBI fraudulent warrants

  • Releasing names of FBI investigators is an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Dec. 8, 2005  ·   The identities of investigators who looked into possible prosecution of FBI agents for filing false affidavits do not have to be disclosed to a Connecticut reporter, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, citing an exemption to protect the “privacy” of the investigators.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) ruled the identities of the agents requested by Alexander Wood, a reporter for the Manchester Journal Inquirer, is exempt under the privacy exemption (Exemption 6) to the Freedom of Information Act and that an investigatory memorandum they prepared can be withheld as privileged attorney work product (Exemption 5).

The Department of Justice in 1996 and 1997 conducted an investigation into accusations that Connecticut FBI agents were issuing false affidavits for arrest warrants. Attorneys for the department prepared a memorandum discussing the possibility that the agents would be criminally prosecuted.

Wood filed a FOI Act request for all documents related to the investigation and in response

the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility released more than 400 pages including interview reports, factual findings and correspondence with the accused agents. However, the agency denied the memo regarding possible agent prosecution and redacted the identities of the investigators, citing the exemptions that protect attorney work product and personal privacy.

Wood sued for release of the memo and the identities, and the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn., held that although the memo was unavailable as work product, the identities of the investigators must be revealed. Both Wood and the government appealed. In ruling for the government, the appeals court upheld the denial of the memorandum and reversed the lower court’s decision with regard to the names, allowing the government to withhold them.

“[R]evealing the identities of the investigators assigned to the case would add little to the public’s understanding of how the FBI’s OPR performed its duties given that the existence of the internal investigation and its outcome has been disclosed,” Judge Charles L. Brieant wrote for the court, calling the public’s interest in this information “minimal at best and insufficient to overcome the employees’ interest in preventing the public disclosure of their names.”

Wood represented himself at both the district court and appellate levels. He could not be reached for comment.

(Wood v. FBI)CZ

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