HETZNECKER v. NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE BERLE M. SCHILLER ON 8/23/17. 8/23/17 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY,
AGENCY, and FEDERAL BUREAU
August 23, 2017
In the fall of 2011, demonstrators descended on downtown Philadelphia, rallying around
the belief that an elitist “1%” exploited the economy at the expense of the “99%.” The protestors
patterned themselves after a similar group in New York City, Occupy Wall Street, and the
Occupy Philly movement was born. During one of the many marches throughout Occupy
Philly’s seven week lifespan, police arrested a number of the demonstrators. Paul Hetznecker
represented the Occupy Philly members in a lawsuit brought against the City of Philadelphia
stemming from those arrests. 1
Concerned that federal authorities illegally spied on the Occupy Philly movement,
Hetznecker requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) from the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), the National Security Agency (“NSA”), and the Central
Intelligence Agency (“CIA”). The FBI provided seven pages of redacted documents, while the
That case, Augustine v. Ramsey, Civ. A. No. 13-6606 (E.D. Pa. filed Nov. 13, 2013), members
of the Occupy Philly movement alleged that the City of Philadelphia and several Philadelphia
Police Department officers violated the Constitution and committed various state law torts in the
course of arresting participants in one of Occupy Philly’s marches. The litigation ultimately
NSA and CIA denied the requests and issued Glomar responses. Hetznecker sued. Defendants
moved for summary judgment, citing various exemptions to FOIA and, in the case of the NSA
and CIA, the previously issued Glomar responses. To assist its decision on the motion for
summary judgment, the Court ordered in camera review of unredacted documents from the FBI
and Vaughn Indices from the NSA and CIA.
After conducting in camera review, the Court finds that the FBI conducted an adequate
search and appropriately redacted the resulting documents, and that the NSA and CIA properly
issued Glomar responses. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion for summary
Hetznecker mailed similar FOIA requests to the FBI, NSA, and CIA related to federal
involvement with the Occupy Philly movement. (Decl. David M. Hardy Ex. A; Decl. David J.
Sherman Ex. A; Decl. Antoinette B. Shiner Ex. A.) Specifically, Hetznecker sought documents
pertaining to “the Occupy Philly Movement, as well as Occupy encampments in cities around the
country.” (Decl. David M. Hardy Ex. A.) This was the only reference to a nationwide search.
(Id.) Hetznecker’s request also sought communications and government and law enforcement
responses to the Occupy Philly Movement and the Occupy Philly encampments. (Id.) The
request was made on behalf of the “general public’s right to know.” (Id.)
Having reviewed Hetznecker’s request, the FBI conducted a search resulting in seven
pages of documents. (Answer ¶ 18.) The FBI produced the seven pages of documents with
redactions. (Id.) The NSA issued a “Glomar response,” 2 which means that the agency could
neither confirm nor deny whether it had records responsive to Hetznecker’s request and that the
existence or nonexistence of the records was protected from disclosure by certain FOIA
exemptions. (Decl. David J. Sherman 2.) The CIA initially directed Hetznecker to the FBI
because the CIA is not involved in domestic law enforcement. (Decl. Antoinette B. Shiner Ex.
B.) After Hetznecker sued, the CIA also adopted a Glomar response, citing Exemptions 1 and 3.
(Id. at 7.)
The FBI, NSA, and CIA jointly moved for summary judgment. (Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J.)
Without deciding the motion, the Court ordered the FBI to disclose in camera unredacted copies
of the seven documents produced to Hetznecker. (Order, ECF No. 14.) The Court also ordered
the NSA and CIA (collectively, “the Intelligence Agencies”) to conduct a search for responsive
records, to compile Vaughn Indices, 3 and to submit the indices for in camera review. In order to
protect their Glomar responses, the Court required the Intelligence Agencies to make in camera
submissions even if the searches failed to yield any documents. (Id. at ¶ 3.) In response,
Defendants filed for reconsideration of the Court’s Order. The Court denied the motion for
reconsideration, citing the broad discretion afforded district courts to conduct in camera review.
The Court subsequently reviewed the defendants’ in camera submissions, and now is prepared to
rule on the motion for summary judgment.
Wolf v. CIA, 473 F.3d 370, 374 (D.C. Cir. 2007).
A “Vaughn Index” is “an affidavit that supplies an index of withheld documents and details the
agency’s justification for claiming an exemption.” Patterson v. FBI, 893 F.2d 595, 599 n.7 (3d
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate when the record discloses no genuine issue of material
fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see
also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247–48 (1986). In a FOIA case, “the burden
is on the agency” in proving that it properly withheld records. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); see also
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). District courts review an agency’s decision to withhold documents de
novo, and “may examine the contents of such agency records in camera” to decide summary
judgment. § 552(a)(4)(B). In reviewing the record, “a court must view the facts in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party’s favor.” Armbruster v.
Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). “[T]he Government enjoys a good faith
presumption in FOIA actions.” Piper v. Dep’t of Justice, 294 F. Supp. 2d 16, 24 (D.C. Cir.
The Freedom of Information Act aims to “facilitate public access to government
documents.” Dep’t of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164, 173 (1991). “The statute is designed to pierce
the veil of administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.” Id.
(quotation omitted). FOIA requires “each agency, upon any request for records which (i)
reasonably describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules,” to “make
the records promptly available to any person.” § 552(a)(3)(A). Agencies must make “reasonable
efforts to search for the records.” Id. While there is a “general philosophy of full agency
disclosure,” Dep’t of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 360 (1976), FOIA provides nine
categories of matters exempt from production, § 552(b)(1)–(9). “Congress sought to reach a
workable balance between the right of the public to know and the need of the Government to
keep information in confidence to the extent necessary without permitting indiscriminate
secrecy.” John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 152 (1989) (quotation omitted).
The FBI asserts that it conducted a reasonable search pursuant to Hetznecker’s request,
produced all relevant documents, and properly redacted those documents according to FOIA’s
exemptions. Hetznecker counters that the FBI did not conduct an adequate search for documents
pursuant to his FOIA request, largely because the search only yielded seven documents.
Hetznecker also claims the FBI improperly redacted the disclosed documents.
Adequacy of the Search
To succeed on summary judgment in a FOIA case, “the defending agency must show
beyond material doubt that it has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all
relevant documents.” Morley v. CIA, 508 F.3d 1108, 1114 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (quotation marks
omitted) (citing Weisberg v. Dep’t of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). In
evaluating the adequacy of an agency’s search, courts focus on the methods employed by the
agency, not the results of the search. See Abdelfattah v. Dep’t Homeland Sec., 488 F.3d 178, 182
(3d Cir. 2007) (“The relevant inquiry is not whether there might exist any other documents
possibly responsive to the request, but rather whether the search for those documents was
“To demonstrate the adequacy of its search, the agency should provide a reasonably
detailed affidavit, setting forth the search terms and the type of search performed, and averring
that all files likely to contain responsive materials were searched.” Lechliter v. Rumsfeld, 182 F.
App’x 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted) (citing Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast
Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 326 (D.C. Cir. 1999)). “Speculation that uncovered documents may exist
is insufficient to show that the agency’s search was unreasonable.” Steinberg v. Dep’t of Justice,
23 F.3d 548, 552 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
David M. Hardy, Section Chief of the Record/Information Dissemination Section of the
FBI, provided the declaration cataloging the FBI’s search. (Decl. David M. Hardy.) According to
Hardy, the FBI maintains the Central Records System (“CRS”), a comprehensive database
compiling “applicant, investigative, intelligence, personnel, administrative, and general files”
across “the entire FBI organization.” (Id. ¶ 12.) The records are indexed by subject matter,
including “individuals, organizations, events, or other subjects of investigative interest.” (Id. ¶
14.) The FBI “only indexes that information considered relevant and necessary for future
retrieval.” (Id. ¶ 15.) In response to Hetznecker’s request, the FBI conducted an index search of
CRS, encompassing all FBI field offices, with the terms “Occupy Philly Movement,” “Occupy
Philly,” and “Occupy Philadelphia.” (Id. ¶ 20.)
Courts have found that an FBI search of CRS files with satisfactory search terms is an
adequate search. See, e.g., Robinson v. FBI, Civ. A. No. 06-3359, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121555, at
*13–19 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 15, 2008); see also Amuso v. Dep’t of Justice, 600 F. Supp. 2d 78, 89–90
(D.C. Cir. 2009). Hetznecker contends that the FBI search was inadequate because the FBI did
not search for “Occupy encampments in cities around the country” as specified in his request.
(Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. 13.) The Court spies a problem with Hetznecker’s argument.
Hetznecker’s letter indicates “Occupy Philly” no fewer than eight times without any reference to
different Occupy movements. In the context of the request, “Occupy” without more is reasonable
shorthand for “Occupy Philly,” and Hetznecker reasonably could have been asking for
documents pertaining to the Occupy Philly movement in other cities. Without specifying other
Occupy movements across the country, as in movements separate and discrete from Occupy
Philly, the FBI’s search terms were “reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.”
See Morley, 508 F.3d at 1114.
Hetznecker also insinuates that the FBI’s search was inadequate because the search only
returned seven documents. (Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. 13–21.) As a means of comparison,
Hetznecker cites a laundry list of FOIA requests encompassing separate Occupy movements
across the country which yielded thousands of responsive documents. (Id. at 14–17.) This is
insufficient for two reasons. First, as discussed above, Hetznecker’s request encompassed only
the Occupy Philly movement, not any of the other movements across the country. Second, the
mere fact that the FBI’s search returned a small number of documents does not on its own entail
the search was inadequate. See Steinberg, 23 F.3d at 552. Because the FBI employed appropriate
search methods, the FBI conducted an adequate search. See Abdelfattah, 488 F.3d at 182.
Agencies may redact information that falls under one of the FOIA exemptions as long as
“the exemption under which the deletion is made [is] indicated.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). FOIA
requires that “[a]ny reasonably segregable portion of a record” be disclosed to the requester
“after deletion of the portions which are exempt.” Id. The FBI redacted portions of the seven
responsive documents pursuant to Exemptions 6, 7(C), 7(D), and 7(E).
Exemption 6 covers “personnel . . . files the disclosure of which would constitute a
clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” § 552(b)(6). The “primary purpose in
enacting Exemption 6 was to protect individuals from the injury and embarrassment” resulting
from “the unnecessary disclosure of personal information.” Dep’t of State v. Washington Post
Co., 456 U.S. 595, 599 (1982). Exemption 6 is a “general exemption” broadly applying to
“records . . . which can be identified as applying to that individual.” Id. at 599, 602. Personal
information may only be disclosed under FOIA if it “sheds light on an agency’s performance of
its statutory duties.” Dep’t of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S.
749, 773 (1989).
After reviewing the documents in camera, the Court concludes that the FBI properly
invoked Exemption 6. The FBI redacted names and identifying information of both Special
Agents and support staff involved with the investigations. That personal information bears no
relation to the FBI’s “performance of its statutory duties” and was properly withheld. See id.
Exemption 7 broadly covers “records or information compiled for law enforcement
purposes” but is limited to certain categories. § 552(b)(7). Exemption 7(C) covers information
that “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
§ 552(b)(7)(C). Exemption 6 is narrower than Exemption 7(C), so “law enforcement records that
are exempt under Exemption 6 will always be exempt under Exemption 7(C).” Cozen O’Connor
v. Dep’t of Treasury, 570 F. Supp. 2d 749, 784 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (citing Reporters Comm., 589
U.S. at 756, n.19.).
As the Court already held the FBI’s redactions were proper under Exemption 6, the
redactions are also proper under Exemption 7(C).
Exemption 7(D) encompasses records which “could reasonably be expected to disclose
the identity of a confidential source,” as well as information from that confidential source related
to a “criminal investigation” or a “lawful national security intelligence investigation.”
§ 552(b)(7)(D). A source is confidential if there is either an “express assurance of
confidentiality” or “such an assurance could be reasonably inferred.” Dep’t of Justice v.
Landano, 580 U.S. 165, 172 (1993) (quotation omitted).
After in camera review, the Court holds that the FBI properly redacted information
covered by Exemption 7(D). The FBI redacted the unique identifying number of their
confidential source, which could be used to ascertain the confidential source’s identity. If FOIA
required the FBI to disclose confidential source numbers, several FOIA requests across multiple
investigations could be used to discern the identity of the confidential source. The FBI also
redacted information from the confidential source because the nature of that information could
be used to discover the identity of the source. As such, the FBI does not need to show that there
is an ongoing criminal or national security investigation in order to justify the invocation of
Exemption 7(E) protects information which “would disclose techniques and procedures
for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.” § 552(b)(7)(E). The agency has a “relatively
low bar to justify” withholding documents under this exemption. Blackwell v. FBI, 646 F.3d 37,
42 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (“Rather than requiring a highly specific burden of showing how the law will
be circumvented, [E]xemption 7(E) only requires that the [agency] demonstrate logically how
the release of the requested information might create a risk of circumvention of the law.”).
The FBI cited Exemption 7(E) in three categories of redactions. First, the FBI redacted
non-public database identifiers. (Decl. David M. Hardy ¶ 42.) These databases “serve as
repositories for counterterrorism and investigative data” and disclosure of the identifiers “could
enable criminals to employ countermeasures to avoid detection.” (Id.) Second, the FBI redacted
the locations and identities of units involved in the relevant investigations. (Id. at 43.) Finally,
the FBI redacted sensitive case file numbers. (Id.)
After conducting in camera review, the Court holds the FBI properly redacted the
documents pursuant to Exemption 7(E). The database identifiers could reasonably be used to
“create a risk of circumvention of the law.” Blackwell, 646 F.3d at 42. While information about
individual units and sensitive case file numbers may not create the same risk in a vacuum,
repeated disclosures of the information across a range of investigations would allow suspects to
piece together a more complete picture of the FBI investigation. The Third Circuit has found
such a “mosaic analysis” to be a credible justification for withholding documents in a similar
context. See Davin v. Dep’t of Justice, 60 F.3d 1043, 1064–65 (3d Cir. 1995) (agreeing with the
FBI’s argument that a “mosaic analysis” could lead to unwarranted disclosure of substantive
information protected by Exemption 2). Therefore, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion for
summary judgment with respect to the FBI.
The Intelligence Agencies and Glomar
In certain situations, the “fact of the existence or nonexistence of agency records falls
within a FOIA exemption.” Wolf v. CIA, 473 F.3d 370, 374 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (citing Phillippi v.
CIA, 546 F.2d 1009, 1011 (D.C. Cir. 1976)). Agencies may assert a “Glomar response,” which
effectively states the agency can neither confirm nor deny the existence of responsive
documents. Benavides v. DEA, 968 F.2d 1243, 1245 (D.C. Cir. 1992). The agency must indicate
which exemption justifies the Glomar response, as well as provide enough information for the
court to evaluate the invocation of the response. Cozen O’Connor, 570 F. Supp. 2d at 786 (citing
Hunt v. CIA, 981 F.2d 1116, 1118 (9th Cir. 1992); Phillippi, 546 F.2d at 1014–15). One
exemption is sufficient to justify a Glomar response. See, e.g., Fund for Constitutional Gov’t v.
Nat’l Archives & Records Servs., 656 F.2d 856, 864 n.19 (D.C. Cir. 1981).
Exemption 1 states that FOIA disclosure provisions do not apply to matters “(A)
specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the
interest of national defense or foreign policy and (B) are in fact properly classified pursuant to
such Executive order.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1). Executive Order 13256 specifically authorizes the
classification of certain information, among them “intelligence activities (including covert
action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology,” and “vulnerabilities or capabilities of
systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the
national security.” Exec. Order No. 13,526, 75 Fed. Reg. 707 (Dec. 29, 2009). That Order further
empowers an agency, in response to a FOIA request, to “refuse to confirm or deny the existence
or nonexistence of requested records whenever the fact of their existence or nonexistence is itself
classified under this order or its predecessors.” Id.
The Court ordered the Intelligence Agencies to conduct searches for responsive records,
to compile Vaughn Indices, regardless of whether or not the searches returned any responsive
records, and to submit the Vaughn Indices for in camera review. The Intelligence Agencies
complied and submitted their Vaughn Indices to the Court for in camera review. After reviewing
the two Vaughn Indices, the Court is satisfied the Intelligence Agencies properly invoked a
Glomar response. The existence or nonexistence of the Intelligence Agencies’ responsive
documents to Hetznecker’s request falls within the scope of Exemption 1. Because one FOIA
Exemption is sufficient to justify nondisclosure, the Court need not evaluate the Intelligence
Agencies’ invocation of Exemption 3. Thus, the Court will grant the Defendants’ motion for
summary judgment with regard to the NSA and CIA.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted. An
Order consistent with this Memorandum will be docketed separately.
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