Jeff Scudder was working in the CIA's Historical Collections Division when he found a trove of documents that were declassified and ready for release to the public, but hadn't, due to bureaucratic strife. So he filed a FOIA request. Bob talks with Scudder about how this request ultimately resulted in his ousting from the agency.
BOB GARFIELD: Let’s talk about threats to national security and, to do so, look no farther than musty declassified CIA reports on Soviet television and the lessons of Pearl Harbor. The Pentagon Papers, they aren’t. Yet, a CIA employee was so frustrated by agency bureaucracy, they kept the material out of reach, that he filed a Freedom of Information Act request, whereupon he was turned over to the FBI and eventually forced to retire. Jeff Scudder, 19-year veteran of the CIA, was posted to the Historic Collections Division, a now-defunct office of the agency that reviewed FOIA requests for documents of interest to academics, CIA personnel and the public. At the start of his two-year assignment there, Scudder says he noticed a cache of articles that had been declassified and approved for release a decade earlier but hadn't been passed along, due to bureaucratic intransigence.
JEFF SCUDDER: After spending time trying to work within the bureaucracy, seeing that I was going to get nowhere there, I – I went ahead and submitted a FOIA request with the titles of the articles. None of this contained names of assets, names of people undercover, code names, key words, sources and methods that we use to acquire intelligence, contained none of that.
So I hear nothing for about six months and then I get called in, come into the classic, you know, windowless room, be told that, you know, my conversation is being recorded and, and presented with that there was an allegation that I had taken classified material out of CIA. And when I asked them what it was, they submitted these FOIA requests, that the group that had received these FOIA requests had made the allegation that they had classified data in them and so I must have taken classified data out.
BOB GARFIELD: What did they allege was classified?
JEFF SCUDDER: [LAUGHS] I don’t know. Even when I met with the FBI, when I asked them to give me an example of something, they pointed out to a title.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, can you tell me what the title is, without being sent immediately to Leavenworth?
JEFF SCUDDER: It was called “The Sad Song of Norway.”
JEFF SCUDDER: And –
BOB GARFIELD: I’m so sorry.
JEFF SCUDDER: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: Smuggled out of Langley to your home, “The Sad Song of Norway,” oh, my goodness gracious.
JEFF SCUDDER: And, and to make it worse, I had done a FOIA request to CIA. They had given me material, one of it being this title, and here the FBI was saying this title is secret. No form. It’s classified. So I’m like, well, wait a minute, if I get a FOIA request back from one agency, another can’t arrest me and say I have classified data. And so, we never were able to pin them down on proof of anything that was classified.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay now, I’m laughing but less hilarious is the fact that the FBI came to your home with a search warrant and walked away with all your consumer electronics, including your computers, your daughter’s [LAUGHS] Game Boy and, I don’t know, your toaster. Is there an active investigation into espionage?
JEFF SCUDDER: By law, if CIA believes there’s a leaking of classified info, they have to give it to FBI. Over my – actually, two years with the agency, I had to move to a different job, I couldn’t do overseas travel, I couldn’t do domestic travel. And I had met with the FBI, showed them all sorts of information, answered all of their questions and then, in November of ’12, out of the blue, FBI raids my house. So I was put on administrative leave, where then every day [LAUGHS] of the next year I had to call the government between 8 and 10 to let them know I was still here. And finally, in January of ’14 my lawyer got a phone call saying Justice is not going to be prosecuting you, the case is closed.
BOB GARFIELD: We’ve read about Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning saying that they had been rebuffed trying to go through channels within their own organizations. The government says they didn’t try hard enough. But your story shows that when you do start rattling cages within the bureaucracy, you tend to get shut down, sometimes in rather punitive fashion. Having experienced what you experienced, putting aside the “Sad Song of Norway” for a moment, if you believe that someone at CIA has something very significant that they believe needs to be brought to the public's attention, could you ever advise them to go through channels?
JEFF SCUDDER: Well, that’s the sad point about this. As a 19- year veteran, I was about as CIA as you could be, you know? I was a true believer in the organization and when I saw this, I thought it was important to follow the regs, if you see something going wrong to raise it up. Instead, it’s like this beast that starts going: He’s an outsider. He raised an issue. We must destroy him. And I think for the organization, they got what they wanted. It’s a clear sign for every employee [LAUGHS] in the organization; look what happened to Jeff. You raise your head, it will be cut off. And I just don’t see how that, that builds a good camaraderie of the type of, of people you want in the organization.
BOB GARFIELD: In this story, irony folds into irony kind of like an Escher print. But I have to ask you, this FOIA request that you filed, would it eventually have landed on your desk, to determine whether the agency should comply?
JEFF SCUDDER: It might have. It would have been something passed to us to say, take a look at this. Have we released it and what they’re asking for, can we release it? One of the things I joke about is one of the stories was called “Argo” which was the story of the officer and what they did to get the hostages out, which ended up – well, it did come out. It became a movie and won Best Picture and did a lot of good PR for the agency. And to take hundreds of stories like that and keep them hidden, for no reason, I don’t see how it benefits the CIA.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah well, when the movie about Soviet era television comes out, I, I think I –
- I might take a pass.
JEFF SCUDDER: But “A Sad Song of Norway” will be a hit.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] I’m ordering my tickets now. Jeff, thank you.
JEFF SCUDDER: Thank you. I appreciate this.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeff Scudder used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is now a consultant in IT.