Transparency activist Ryan Shapiro is suing three government agencies for failing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests he filed in an attempt to uncover details about any role the United States played in the 1962 arrest of Nelson Mandela.
Shapiro — a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a noted FOIA researcher — filed a lawsuit Monday morning in Washington, DC against the US National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Defense Intelligence Agency after his requests for details about the anti-apartheid activist were rebuked by the US government. He is already suing the Central Intelligence Agency for the same reason.
The US has long been rumored to have played an instrumental role in the 1962 arrest of Mandela, and his name remained on a government terror watch list until 2008 — more than a decade after he completed his term as the first president of South Africa after spending decades behind bars.
Following Mandela’s death last December, Shapiro filed FOIA requests with the NSA, FBI, DIA and CIA days later in hopes of uncovering evidence about what role the US played with regards to the ’62 arrest. He sued the CIA a month later over alleged non-compliance, but only this week he filed suit against the other alphabet soup agencies due to their failure to adhere to his request.
“Though the US intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement,” Shapiro’s lawyers wrote in this week’s suit.
According to his attorneys, Shapiro thinks he will be able to learn more about the extent and purpose of the US intelligence community’s surveillance of Mandela prior to his arrest, as well as what role the American government played “in the broader effort to surveil and subvert the South African anti-apartheid movement” and more.
Because the intelligence community has failed to disclose any evidence, however, Shapiro is suing to hopefully have the courts compel those agencies to honor his request.
On December 31, the NSA told Shapiro that “the fact of the existence or the non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter.”
“FOIA does not apply to matters that are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign relations,” the agency added.
Speaking to Democracy Now! Monday morning, Shapiro explained that “They are in violation of federal law, and so I’m suing them to hold them accountable to federal law.”
“The records of government are the property of the people. Yet, unknown billions of pages are needlessly hidden from the American people behind closed doors and ‘classified’ markings,” he added in a statement.
“Undefined ‘national security’ concerns ostensibly legitimize this secrecy,” he continued. “It’s not surprising those in power wish to keep their actions secret. What’s surprising is how readily we tolerate it.”