Compliance Management, Network Security, Privacy

Federal intelligence agencies sued over Russian Interference in U.S.

Two transparency gadflies are suing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. four federal intelligence agencies to disclose all evidence related to alleged interference by the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election.

Separately, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a separate FOIA request on the same topic.

Invoking the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Vice investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology academic Ryan Shapiro in their lawsuit are seeking judicial relief to force the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to release publicly all records that informed the highest levels of the U.S. government that there had been tampering with the electoral process. The defendants include the FBI, CIA and the Department of Justice.

“The American public absolutely deserves to know what role Russian interference played in President-elect Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton, and how U.S. intelligence agencies responded to any such Russian interference,” Shapiro said in a statement. “To date, the U.S. government has officially disclosed little concrete information regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” he added.

Separately, SC Media has learned EPIC filed on Dec. 22 its own FOIA request to the FBI, seeking records pertaining to the agency's investigation of Russian interference in the election.

The new suit, filed by Washington, D.C. lawyer Jeffrey Light, comes on the heels of Leopold and Shapiro suing two weeks ago the FBI over allegedly ignoring a FOIA request for records on the presidential election, and another lawsuit regarding records on investigations that involve Trump.

When asked by SC the chances of the suit being decided quickly, given the inauguration looming in a few weeks, Shapiro acknowledged in an email that,

“FOIA cases are rarely resolved quickly. While we would, of course, love an expeditious resolution. We do not expect this case to be an exception.”

In the latest court papers, the plaintiffs stated that on Dec. 14 and 15, they submitted separate FOIA requests to the FBI, CIA, ODNI, and DHS I&A

(Intelligence & Analysis) via fax for several categories of records, but they were not answered.

The lawsuit cites reported players investigating the cyberattacks (e.g., the cybersecurity firms Crowdstrike; FireEye) and suspected hackers (e.g., Fancy Bear, also known as Sofacy or APT 28; Cozy Bear, also known as CozyDuke or APT 29; and Guccifer 2.0), as well as specific IP addresses.

The plaintiffs are seeking records about FBI director James Comey's communications with President Obama  over whether the Obama Administration should publicly accuse Russia of hacking U.S. political organizations. In addition, Leopold and Shapiro want to know what information members of the Electoral College received regarding ongoing investigations into ties between Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election.

The suit also seeks full disclosure of the briefings given to President Obama regarding attempted or actual breaches of Hillary Clinton's campaign, including any email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta; the Democratic National Committee (DNC); the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and the Republican National Committee (RNC); and various congressional committees.

Although disenchanted with the Obama administration's obstruction in complying with FOIA requests, Shapiro dreads what's in store with the new presidency, based on “Trump's overt contempt for the Constitution and a free press.” Subsequently, American civil liberties and privacy now face a profoundly clear and present danger, Shapiro said.

“Trump must not be allowed to conduct his presidency from the shadows, and he must not be allowed to cripple the Freedom of Information Act. The need is urgent for aggressive work to keep President Trump and his administration transparent and accountable,” he added.

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