Press release

Justice Initiative Sues Office of the Director of National Intelligence for Khashoggi Report

Open Society Justice Initiative v. Office of the Director of National Intelligence Download the 35-page document. Pages, 892.45 Kb, PDF Download
August 19, 2020
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NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative has filed a lawsuit under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking to compel the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to immediately make public its assessment of who is responsible for the murder of U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The lawsuit, filed today in a federal court in the Southern District of New York, argues that the requested records are “imperative for the public to properly and timely evaluate the U.S. government’s response to Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.”

In December 2019, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, with an amendment in the Senate introduced by Senator Wyden (D-OR), and led in the House by Representatives Malinowski (D-NJ 7th district) and Wagner (R-MO 2nd district), along with fifteen other co-sponsors. The amendment required the Director of National Intelligence to provide to Congress, within 30 days of the law’s enactment, unclassified reports on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. 

The law requires that the unclassified reports include information on the advance knowledge and any role of current or former Saudi Arabian official or political figure who directed, ordered, or tampered with evidence in the killing of Khashoggi. The law also mandates that the report include a list of foreign persons that the Director of National Intelligence has high confidence were either responsible for, assisted in, or sponsored Khashoggi’s murder, or impeded in the investigation of the killing of Khashoggi.

The Director failed to comply with the law’s 30-day deadline to submit the required unclassified reports to Congress. Instead, in February 2020, ODNI submitted a classified report along with a letter stating that the office could not provide any unclassified information about Khashoggi’s death.

In February 2020, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff urged then Acting Director Richard Grenell to declassify the report. In a letter, he stated that he did not “foresee that any harm to U.S. national security would result from immediately declassifying the findings contained in DNI’s classified annex with redactions as necessary” and that “[f]ailure to declassify the annex and produce an unclassified report could give rise to concerns that ODNI is using the classification process impermissibly in order to shield information of intense public interest from public release.” Later in March, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also urged ODNI to reconsider the agency’s decision not to declassify the report.

The Justice Initiative’s lawsuit is related to a July 20, 2020 FOIA request to ODNI for the reports submitted to Congress. The Justice Initiative filed suit after ODNI failed to respond within the 20-day time limit for making a determination on the request, as required by FOIA. 

Amrit Singh, lead lawyer for the Justice Initiative on the filing, said:

“In withholding these records, the Trump administration continues to protect powerful Saudi government interests while flouting Congress and the American public’s right to know. The records must be released so that the public can assess the truth—including the administration’s attempts to cover it up—and so that the criminals responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s murder can be brought to justice."  

This lawsuit is related to a lawsuit previously filed by the Justice Initiative and currently pending in New York federal court against the CIA, ODNI, and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, challenging the agencies’ failure to disclose records relating to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The Open Society Justice Initiative is represented in both lawsuits before the court by Amrit Singh and James A. Goldston, together with Debevoise & Plimpton, a leading international law firm, with offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Debevoise team is led by Catherine Amirfar and Ashika Singh.

Documents released in litigation thus far can be found on the Open Society Foundations’ Document Cloud.

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