According to an article in Stars and Stripes, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has requested documents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pertaining to the January 28th, 2017, American special operations raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, as well as an unconfirmed number of jihadist militants. That raid also reportedly resulted in the deaths of an unconfirmed number of civilians, which is the focus of the ACLU’s document request.
According to Stars and Stripes, the CIA will not confirm that it is in possession of any relevant documents, nor will it confirm that the CIA was even involved in the raid’s approval, planning, or execution. A lawyer for the government stated on December 19th, 2017, that confirming such details would compromise U.S. intelligence secrets.
The ACLU also requested related documents from the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the Department of State. All three agencies agreed to look for any pertinent documents. The ACLU responded to the CIA’s unwillingness to provide documents by filing a legal motion in October 2017 requesting that a federal judge order the CIA to produce the documents. That judge has yet to rule on whether the CIA will be compelled to produce them.
Part of the ACLU’s argument stems from the fact that former White House press secretary Sean Spicer commented publicly in February on the raid, and confirmed that CIA Director Mike Pompeo was present at a dinner during which the operation was approved. Again, the CIA would not comment on whether the Director played any role in sanctioning the operation at that dinner.
This is all pretty standard in terms of a request for information on sensitive intelligence and special operations missions. The CIA is not in the habit of providing information that could possibly confirm (or deny) that any of its human sources were involved in providing information that resulted in a high value target capture or kill operation. That is a steep and slippery slope down which the agency will not travel.
It is understandable that the ACLU wants to acquire information on the raid. That is what the ACLU does, and its request is perfectly in keeping with our system of attempting to maintain a transparent-to-a-point government. However, a request for highly sensitive information on human intelligence collection by the CIA — assuming it even existed in this case — is a bridge too far.
Those who agree to spy for America, to provide the most sensitive and secretive information to our case officers, in furtherance of U.S. foreign policy goals do so on the rock-solid condition that their information and identities will be protected. Whatever else you might think of the CIA, that is a commitment that it takes deadly seriously. Expect the agency to go to the mat and refuse to provide anything that would compromise sources and methods.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.