23 December 2004 – LAWFUEL – Best for law news – A professor at the University of California, Davis, filed suit today in federal court against the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking release of historic President’s Daily Briefs given to President Johnson during the Vietnam War.
Larry Berman, a political scientist who studies American involvement in Vietnam, is challenging the CIA’s “blanket policy” of refusing to release any of the president’s daily briefings, even historic or innocuous ones that risk no damage to national security. He is being represented by the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, San Francisco, and by the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
“The 9/11 Commission had to fight tooth and nail to get excerpts from these briefs about the threat from bin Ladin,” Berman said. “But 10 briefs from the Johnson era came out before the CIA imposed its stonewall policy. Together, these releases prove that the briefs should be reviewed and declassified like any other records, not set aside in a permanently closed vault.”
A professor of political science at UC Davis since 1977, Berman has directed the University of California Washington Center for the past six years. Nationally known for his scholarship on the presidency, Berman’s research and publications have focused on foreign policy and Vietnam. He has written three books on the war, most recently “No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam.”
The previously released briefs, including one from 1998 to President Clinton and another from 2001 to President Bush on bin Ladin (both published in the “9/11 Commission Report”) are posted on the National Security Archive Web site, at http://www.nsarchive.org/pdbnews/, together with the archive’s previous reporting on the briefings issue.
Today’s lawsuit follows the CIA’s denial of Berman’s earlier request for documents. In its denial, the CIA claimed that the briefs, often referred to as PDBs, were preliminary documents protected by deliberative-process privilege. But the lawsuit points out that the CIA is precluded by law from giving the president policy advice, and that briefs are purely factual documents reporting on world developments six days a week.
“We are bringing this lawsuit with Professor Berman because the President’s Daily Brief has become a secrecy fetish on the part of the CIA and the White House,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive. “The CIA policy distorts history and undermines the credibility of the secrets that should be kept.”
Added Thomas Burke, an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine: “After nearly four decades of secrecy, historians and the public are entitled to learn what President Johnson was told by the nation’s intelligence agency about events in the Vietnam War. There are no credible national security concerns, only the opportunity to learn from this nation’s history.”
The National Security Archive today also posted the latest Johnson-era daily brief that was officially declassified by the CIA through the Johnson Library this month, contrary to CIA policy. The May 29, 1967, document, previously classified Top Secret, was in the form of a cable from the White House Situation Room to the communications facility on the LBJ ranch outside San Antonio and did not carry the letterhead announcing “President’s Daily Brief.”
“There is simply no legal justification for the CIA’s blanket policy of withholding all PDBs,” explained Davis Wright Tremaine attorney Duffy Carolan. “The PDBs Professor Berman seeks are purely historical documents devoid of any present day national security concerns.”
Those interested in reading the complaint and more about the issue can visit http://www.nsarchive.org/pdbnews/.