Professor loses court bid
for Vietnam-era presidential briefs
By Julia Cheever
September 4, 2007
A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled today that a
University of California professor is not entitled to receive
copies of two 40-year-old presidential briefs prepared during
the Vietnam War.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Freedom of Information
Act request by UC Davis Professor Larry Berman for two intelligence
summaries known as President's Daily Briefs that were given to
President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and 1968.
Berman is a political science professor specializing in studies
of presidencies and of the Vietnam War.
The daily intelligence summaries began in the early 1960s in
the administration of President John F. Kennedy and were originally
written by the CIA. Since 2005, they have been prepared by the
U.S. director of national intelligence.
The briefs are "potentially the most important and classified
document in this nation's intelligence apparatus," the appeals
A few briefs have been made public over the years for various
reasons, including an Aug. 6, 2001, brief to President George
W. Bush entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S."
and a similar warning prepared for President Bill Clinton on Dec.
Berman argued in a federal lawsuit filed in Sacramento that the
passage of time had ended security concerns about the two Vietnam-era
briefs. He also said any sensitive information could be deleted
The CIA contended that disclosing the memos and thereby revealing
old sources of information could hinder the recruitment of new
A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with the CIA,
saying that the agency was best equipped to weigh national security
danger and that its position should be given "great deference."
Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the court, "The extreme
sensitivity of the PDB enhances the plausibility of the CIA's
assertion that disclosure of the requested PDBs could cause harm
even 40 years after their generation."
The court upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge David Levi of
Sacramento rejecting Berman's request. But the panel turned down
the CIA's additional argument that all presidential briefs should
be automatically protected from Freedom of Information Act disclosure.
Instead, the court said, the question of whether a CIA document
is confidential should depend on the content of the particular
Thomas Burke, a lawyer for Berman, called the decision "extremely
Burke said, "The court said the government gets enormous
deference even when deciding on national security matters that
occurred 40 years ago.
"The public has been deprived of learning about the history
of the Vietnam War," Burke said.
Burke said no decision has been made on whether Berman, who is
currently in Vietnam, will appeal further to an expanded 9th Circuit
panel or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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