NEW YORK—The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today filed a lawsuit seeking the immediate release of a U.S. intelligence report on the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Earlier this year, the Public Interest Declassification Board—a panel of experts appointed by the president and Congress—recommended that the Biden administration publicly release the report in its entirety. Nevertheless, the White House continues to withhold it.
Today’s lawsuit comes after the Knight Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request earlier this month to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the CIA, and the declassification board seeking the same report. While the ODNI acknowledged receipt of the request and stated that a search for responsive documents had begun, the agency denied expedited processing. The board acknowledged receipt of the request, but the CIA did not. Neither has provided responsive documents.
“There is no legitimate reason for the intelligence agencies and the White House to continue to suppress this report into Khashoggi’s murder,” said Scott Wilkens, senior counsel at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “The government should release the full report, as the declassification board recommended.”
In early 2021, ODNI released two brief assessments based on the U.S. government’s investigation of Khashoggi’s murder—including the role played by Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The full U.S. intelligence report, however, remains classified.
In a related case, the Knight Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists filed FOIA requests in 2018 for records showing whether U.S. intelligence agencies fulfilled their “duty to warn” Khashoggi of threats to his life and liberty. After the intelligence agencies failed to release documents in response, the organizations filed a lawsuit. In response, the agencies released about 20 documents about their implementation of the duty to warn. (The Knight Institute analyzed those documents here.) However, the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and ODNI refused to confirm or deny whether they possessed records specifically concerning their duty to warn Khashoggi, and the Department of State insisted that it did not. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the lower court’s decision that the intelligence agencies’ responses satisfied FOIA’s requirements.
Subsequent lawsuits sought the release of the U.S. intelligence report on Khashoggi’s murder. Although those lawsuits were unsuccessful, they predate the declassification board’s recommendation.
Read today’s complaint here.
Read the related FOIA request here.
Lawyers on the case in addition to Wilkens include Jameel Jaffer, Alex Abdo, and Alexia Ramirez of the Knight Institute.
For more information, contact: Adriana Lamirande, [email protected].