Why is the CIA Fighting Release of Documents Relating to 4 Planes that Went Missing in 1980?
A federal judge has told the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other federal offices to continue looking for records pertaining to the disappearance of four transport planes in 1980.
The case was brought before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly by plaintiff Stephen Whitaker, who has attempted to obtain information about four DC-3 aircraft, one of which was flown by his father, Harold William Whitaker.
Stephen Whitaker filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA, as well as the Department of Defense and the State Department, to learn if they possessed records that might explain what happened to the DC-3s.
The CIA refused to tell Whitaker if its archives held any relevant documents pertaining to his search. The agency cited various exemptions under federal law, including the CIA Act of 1949 (pdf), which allow it to avoid responding to certain FOIA inquiries.
Whitaker argued in his lawsuit that the CIA improperly invoked FOIA Exemption (b) (3) (pdf), which authorizes the agency to keep from revealing information on agency “functions” and “intelligence sources and methods.”
Kollar-Kotelly sided with Whitaker, ruling (pdf) that “the CIA has too broadly applied the CIA Act to withhold information pursuant to Exemption (b) (3).” However, she agreed with two other exemptions cited by the CIA that pertain to attorney-client privilege and the withholding of personnel and medical records.
The plaintiff’s search for information seems to be both personal and more.
He said the plane piloted by his father disappeared somewhere over Spain in October 1980. It had been purchased at auction from the Spanish Air Force and was being flown to Germany to become part of a museum.
A report from Spain’s Civil Aviation Commission on Accidents says the aircraft’s instruments may not have been fully functional, and that the radio may only have been capable of sending messages but not receiving them.
The report added that there was no record of a distress call from the pilot, or co-pilot Lawrence Eckmann, a major in the U.S. Army.
Stephen Whitaker also sought records from the government about Eckmann. The State Department claimed its search turned up nothing on Eckmann. The plaintiff challenged this assertion, and Kollar-Kotelly agreed that Eckmann had been excluded from the search, which was found to be “inadequate and should have been revised….”
The plaintiff seems to suspect that some of the DC-3s he has sought information on were used by the CIA in its covert operations.
His FOIA request to the spy agency asked for any information that would reveal whether
“any of these persons or aircraft were later found to be employed or contracted by the CIA for service in Central America or elsewhere.”
To Learn More:
Missing-Plane Records From 1980 Dissected (by Kevin Lessmiller, Courthouse News Service)
Stephen Whitaker v. Central Intelligence Agency (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) (pdf)
Technical Report on the Disappearance of a DOUGLAS DC-3 Aircraft, Registration # ECT-025, on the 3rd of October, 1980, to the North of Palm of Majorca (Civil Aviation Commission on Accidents, Spain) (pdf)
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