Philly Journalist Dustin Slaughter Sues NSA, CIA Over Occupy Philly Surveillance

Not surprisingly, both agencies have turned down his request for records.

Journalist Dustin Slaughter (left via LinkedIn)

Journalist Dustin Slaughter (left via LinkedIn)

These days, Dustin Slaughter is best known as the co-editor of alternative news website The Philly Declaration as well as a self-described “public records zealot.” But a few years back, he was a prominent associate of Occupy Philly. (Remember them?) And now he is suing the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency in connection with that movement.

Slaughter, who lives in Mt. Airy, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday naming the two government agencies as defendants. According to the suit, Slaughter made Freedom of Information Act requests with the NSA and CIA last December, asking for any information pertaining to surveillance of Occupy Philly. He points to articles in the New York Times that confirm that the government was actively spying on the overall Occupy movement, and he wants to know about any such activity in Philadelphia.

But the CIA and the NSA aren’t exactly cooperating with Slaughter’s FOIA requests, and both agencies responded with the kind of bureaucratic aplomb that you’d expect from entities whose main purpose in life is to spy on people.

According to the suit, the NSA denied Slaughter’s request on January 26th, explaining that the “existence or non-existence of the materials” is, yep, “classified,” and citing an executive order signed by President Obama in 2009. Slaughter says he appealed the NSA decision in March and hasn’t heard from them since.

For its part, the CIA got back to Slaughter well past the deadline allowed by FOIA rules and declined to process his request. The CIA response maintained that the agency is focused on foreign intelligence “and not domestic matters,” but the CIA is, in fact, permitted to spy on U.S. citizens in certain limited circumstances. In the suit, Slaughter includes a Wall Street Journal article that delves into the CIA’s involvement in domestic spying.

Slaughter appealed that decision on March 16th, and in that appeal, his attorney raised the CIA report confirming that four CIA agents had been embedded with the NYPD, including during the time of the Occupy movement activities in New York. The CIA responded to that appeal, simply telling Slaughter that he had no right to appeal.

The suit charges that the CIA and NSA failed to comply with FOIA’s statutory deadlines and asks a federal judge to order both agencies to cough up the records he is looking for within 10 days of a judgment in his favor.

“It’s vital for every citizen to know the extent to which their activities are under surveillance by the U.S. government,” insists Slaughter’s Center City attorney, Paul Hetznecker. “The really critical question for our modern democracy is, to what extent can we maintain or retain our privacy? We need to reclaim our privacy rights if we’re going to attempt to survive as a democracy in this growing police state.”

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