This is a disturbing case coming out of a federal court in New York. A freelance journalist named Adam Johnson had been seeking copies of CIA emails sent to certain newspaper reporters and, having been denied them, sued to have the material released. The emails were part of a batch of more than 500 documents which the agency made public, but some were heavily redacted. Johnson wanted to see the redacted ones since they had already been given to other members of the press.

Amazingly, Judge Colleen McMahon (a Clinton appointee) ruled that the CIA was free to pick and choose which reporters they gave sensitive material to. (McClatchy DC)

The CIA can selectively divulge classified information to selected reporters in emails yet withhold that information from other journalists or members of the public when they seek the same information under the Freedom of Information Act, a federal judge in New York has ruled.

The decision appeared in the court record on Friday but became more widely disseminated Monday.

The ruling comes amid vigorous national debate over leaks to the media and the use of anonymous sources in covering national security news, including an ongoing FBI investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

This truly boggles the mind. Obviously, our intelligence agencies need to be able to keep classified information concerning methods and sources hidden from the public. But once they’ve made the decision to simply hand it over to some reporters (who presumably don’t have any special security clearance) then why isn’t the information fair game for everyone? The proverbial cat is already out of the bag.

The emails were originally sent to David Ignatius at the Washington Post, Scott Shane of the New York Times and Siobhan Gorman at the Wall Street Journal. Apparently they were trustworthy enough to be given these secretive missives but nobody else was.

The Judge wrote, “The Director of Central Intelligence is free to disclose classified information about CIA sources and methods selectively, if he concludes that it is necessary to do so in order to protect those intelligence sources and methods, and no court can second guess his decision.”

Either the information is properly classified or it isn’t. If the CIA is giving that sort of information dealing with sources and methods to reporters – any reporters – then they are already breaking the law. And if the information isn’t that sensitive, then picking and choosing which reporters to give it to calls the agency’s integrity immediately into question. Why would you do that unless you’re looking to plant stories in the media to put a particular spin on a situation? That sounds far more like covering your own backside than protecting the nation’s secrets. (Of course, they’re denying that’s what’s going on, but… come on, man.)

Johnson’s attorney isn’t saying whether they’ll appeal the ruling yet, but how could they not? This decision flies in the face of reason and makes the CIA look even more sketchy. They’re simply undermining their own credibility with the public at this point and the judge is abetting that process.