In December 2014, the government declassified and released the Executive Summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. Among other things, it described a CIA detention facility in Afghanistan code-named COBALT, where detainees were kept under horrific conditions. The report states that the CIA turned to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to provide expertise in running a detention center, and that a BOP inspection team visited COBALT in November 2002 and provided assessments, recommendations, and training for the staff; in December 2002, BOP staff met with officials at CIA headquarters to discuss COBALT.
In January 2015, the ACLU National Prison Project (“NPP”) filed a FOIA request with the BOP, seeking records in its possession relating to COBALT. About three months later, BOP responded that it had conducted a search and that “no records were found.” NPP appealed to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (“OIP”), and in September 2015, OIP found that BOP had “conducted an adequate, reasonable search for records.”
It seemed implausible that BOP has no records of a team trip to Afghanistan and related intra- and inter-agency meetings and reports. If BOP has records that are classified, it’s supposed to say so, not deny their existence. Therefore, in April 2016, we joined with NPP to file a complaint in this FOIA case seeking records regarding the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ visit to a CIA detention facility in Afghanistan.
In response to our lawsuit, the Bureau conducted a more thorough search, and was able to identify the individuals who traveled to Afghanistan and search their communications. A declaration filed by a senior Bureau of Prisons lawyer explained that those individuals had been tasked orally, so that there was no record of their travel, and that the CIA forbade the two officers from creating records of or about the visit. In a 2011 email, one of the officers tells a supervisor that “we were not even allowed to speak with a supervisor about what was going on.”
After the release of these documents, we settled the case.