‘Secret’ CIA documents withheld in FOIA suit raise more questions than they answer
Questions about foreign complicity in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in downtown Oklahoma City for which Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were convicted, were disclosed Friday in a ruling by US District court judge Clark Waddoups on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the CIA for the CIA's refusal to completely declassify records it has acknowledged it possesses that pertain to the case.
It is the first indication that the CIA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) worked together in the bombing investigations and prosecutions.
The classified materials also were never made available to McVeigh's defense team, led by attorney Stephen Jones, who has publicly expressed his concern that the federal government knows more about the bombing than it has admitted.
The ruling Friday in Salt Lake City was in response to the December 12, 2006 FOIA suit brought by Jesse Trentadue, an attorney who sought numerous documents from the CIA, “including any [related to] potential involvement of foreign nationals in that attack.”
Waddoups ruled that the CIA materials were properly classified by the CIA for the variety of reasons that the Agency had claimed, and that they would not be made available to the public. It was the first such national security defense ever used by the government in denying records to Trentadue.
While the exact content of the documents - which were not reviewed by Waddoups in camera - were not revealed, Waddoups in his ruling hinted at what they contained based largely on "supporting affidavits" and other materials that the CIA provided to him.
The judge's ruling constituted the first documented involvement of the CIA in the federal government’s handling and prosecution of the bombing investigation, either before or after the attack that killed 168 persons.
In his ruling, Waddoups stated in reference to a “letter … prepared [for the CIA] in response to a Department of Justice attorney’s request for information related to Mr. McVeigh’s prosecution” that “it is clear that the CIA and DOJ were cooperating in the prosecution of Mr. McVeigh.”
The letter “contains information, legal analysis and opinion prepared by a CIA attorney in contemplation of the prosecution of Mr. McVeigh,” Waddoups wrote.
Another “four-pages of classified handwritten notes summarizing classified information that a DOJ attorney reviewed in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing prosecution” were properly classified “secret,” Waddoups ruled, adding, “to the extent it matters here whether the DOJ attorney who made the notes marked classified had security clearances (and it is not clear that it does), that fact can be inferred from the fact that he or she was allowed access to review classified documents.”
Still another September 6, 1996 eight-page letter from a CIA attorney to a DOJ attorney “respond[ing] to the DOJ’s request for further information related to the Oklahoma City bombing trial” was properly classified secret in “its entirety,” Waddoups ruled.
In another document, dated September 17, 1996, “… the CIA clarifies prior correspondence regarding CIA record searches related to the prosecution of Mr. McVeigh and Terry Nichols," continued Judge Waddoups.
Also properly classified “secret” in their entirety was a three-page May 10, 1995 cable “relaying information provided by a foreign government about the possible identification of a suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing,” and a two-page April 19, 1995 cable that “relays information provided by a foreign liaison contact regarding the Oklahoma City bombing …”
Additional “secret” materials properly withheld in their entirety, Waddoups ruled, was a two-page April 21, 1995 cable “relaying information about the Oklahoma City bombing that was provided by a US Ambassador by a foreign official,” and a one-page April 20, 1995 cable “outlining a federal prosecutor’s attempts to extradite an organized crime figure from another country.”
Other classified materials Waddoups ruled were properly withheld by the CIA in their entirety was a two-page May 2, 1995 cable “relaying information provided by a human source regarding the Oklahoma City bombing,” and a three-page April 15, 1995 cable “relaying background information on a source who provided information to the CIA about” the bombing.
Asked by Oklahoma City KTOK Radio News Director Jerry Bohnen whether the ruling and description of the classified materials indicates that there was a foreign involvement in some manner in the bombing or the investigation, Trentatdue responded, “without a doubt. Without a doubt."
"If there was no foreign involvement, then why was the CIA asked to help federal prosecutors?" asked Trentadue, noting that the information about the CIA.
In its initial June 1, 2009 response to Trentadue’s FOIA in which the CIA released only a few heavily redacted documents, the Agency asserted that the “documents contain little information other than the name of the person or agency to whom or to which they were directed,” and “for all practical purposes the CIA completely withheld” the materials, Waddoups stated in his order.