The FOIA generally provides that any person (with the exception of another federal agency, a fugitive from the law, or a representative of a foreign government) has the right, enforceable in court, to request access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions thereof) are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions. As part of the Agency's compliance with the Electronic FOIA (E-FOIA) requirements, the NRO posts FOIA information that will inform the public of NRO missions and functions. For information on how to submit a FOIA request, please refer to FOIA.gov.
The Information Review and Release Group (IRRG) administers the NRO’s FOIA program. The goal of the FOIA program is to release as much information as possible, consistent with the need to protect classified and sensitive information under the exemption provisions of the law. Where discretionary releases can be made without causing harm, the Chief of the IRRG, as the Initial Denial Authority, and the Chief Information Officer, as the Appellate Authority, use their discretion to release information even where an exemption may be available.
Because of the sensitivity of NRO's functions and activities, the most often cited exemptions are (b)(1) (national security information) and (b)(3) (exemption by statute). The statutes most often applied to the protection of information are the following:
- 10 U.S.C. § 424 which states: "Except as required by the President or as provided in subsection (c), no provision of law shall be construed to require the disclosure of (1) The organization or any function ...(2)... number of persons employed by or assigned or detailed to any such organization or the name, official title, occupational series, grade, or salary of any such person ...(b) Covered Organizations ... the National Reconnaissance Office";
- 50 U.S.C. § 432a, which exempts operational files of the NRO from the publication, disclosure, search and review provisions of the FOIA.
FOIA Request Process
NRO Annual Reports
The NRO prepares an annual report on its FOIA processing. The NRO report is included in the Department of Defense annual report and can be found on the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy Reports page.
PA Request Process
The Privacy Act (PA) protects an individual's privacy by putting controls on federal agencies in the collection, use, maintenance, and dissemination of personal information. In addition, it entitles individuals to access federal agency records or to request an amendment to records that are maintained in a file retrievable by an individual's name or personal identifier, except to the extent that the information is exempt from release. An individual, in the context of the PA, is defined as a U.S. citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
The PA also requires that agency records be accurate, relevant, timely, and complete, and amendments are limited to these criteria. However, amendments are normally restricted to correcting factual errors and not matters of official judgments, such as performance ratings, or subjective judgments that reflect an individual's observation, evaluation, or opinion.
Reminder for current and former members of the NRO Workforce:
The non-disclosure agreement that you signed is a lifetime commitment to protect national security equities.
What is Prepublication Review?
Prepublication review is the process to determine that information proposed for public release contains no protected information and is consistent with established NRO, Department of Defense (DOD), and Intelligence Community (IC) policies.
Department of Defense Instruction 5230.29 "Security and Policy Review of DoD Information for Public Release" requires that only FULL and FINAL material proposed for release into the public domain be submitted to NRO for review. Partial information (drafts) cannot be accepted.
REMINDER: Official NRO information appearing in the public domain shall not be considered automatically UNCLASSIFIED or approved for public release. Information remains classified and must be protected until the U.S. Government official(s) with Original Classification Authority (OCA) declassifies the information.
Why Perform Prepublication Review?
All NRO affiliates, as a condition of employment, sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) when entering on duty. This NDA requires individuals to keep national security secrets for as long as the US Government determines the information to be classified under Executive Order 13526. This is a lifelong obligation, which exists to help avoid the damage to national security and to the NRO's mission that disclosing classification information would inflict.
The NDA obligations include:
- Safeguarding protected information.
- Prepublication review--information should be UNCLASSIFIED, to the best of the requester's knowledge.
- Prepublication review ensures that the proposed information is appropriate for release and works with Security as needed to ensure the language is UNCLASSIFIED.
- Reporting unauthorized disclosures of protected information.
An NRO affiliate is any person employed by, detailed to or assigned to NRO, including members of the U.S. Armed Forces; an expert or consultant to NRO; an industrial or commercial contractor, licensee, certificate holder, or grantee of NRO to include all subcontractors; a personal services contractor; or any other category of person who acts for or on behalf of the NRO.
All NRO affiliates (former and current) are subject to the NRO Instruction 56-02-02, Prepublication Review, which sets forth the policy, procedures and responsibilities governing the review of official NRO information intended for public release. This policy helps to manage the risk of inadvertent disclosure of protected information. The Communications Systems Directorate's Information Management Services Office (IMSO), Information Review and Release Group (IRRG) administers the process for approval for public release of any unclassified information for the NRO.
The NRO's prepublication review requirement is meant not only to protect national security but also to provide a safety net to current and former NRO affiliates from legal liability. While the Prepublication Review Team exists to help protect against unauthorized disclosures, current and former NRO affiliates are ultimately responsible for protecting classified information. Should a current or former NRO affiliate publish materials that contains classified information accidentally or intentionally--they may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.
What Must Be Submitted for Prepublication Review?
Any and all materials intended for unrestricted public release that relate to NRO's mission and programs. This submission requirement extends beyond the topics an individual had immediate responsibility for on a day-to-day basis: official NRO information comprises any DoD or IC information that is in the custody and control of NRO.
The term "publication" includes any form or means of communication (including oral and electronic) to any person or entity other than the NRO's Prepublication Review Team or a US Government official authorized by the NRO to receive such information. Commentary on matters such as intelligence operations or tradecraft, one's career at the NRO, scientific or technical developments discussed in an intelligence context, and other topics that touch upon the NRO's interests or responsibilities require Prepublication Review Team approval. Examples include the following:
- Articles (newspapers, magazines, professional journals, on-line publications)
- Books (non-fiction and fiction, such as spy novels)
- Book Reviews
- Conference Briefings, Demonstrations
- Internet Postings
- Letters of Recommendation
- Posters or Brochures
- Press Releases (e.g., those released by NRO staff or NRO contractors, but also wedding announcements and obituaries)
- Research Papers (abstracts, technical or academic paper)
- Resumes, Cover Letters, Biographies, and Curricula Vitae
EXEMPTION: Material containing no information about or gained through one's affiliation with NRO or the Intelligence Community in general (e.g., books about gardening, cooking, sports, crafts, etc.) is not subject to prepublication review.
What is the Timeline for the Review Process?
NRO policy allows a minimum of 30 business days from the date of processing to complete a review. The actual review time will vary based on the current workload, the length and subject of the material submitted, as well as the amount of coordination (both internal and with other IC elements) required for the review.
What Do I Need to Submit? Your submission must include:
- Document(s) for review in its FULL and FINAL form. Partial information (drafts) cannot be accepted.
- Contact information (address, telephone number, and email address).
- Intended audience or publication venue -- please include as much detail as possible.
- Written approval for name use from all former and present NRO affiliates named in your material, or present in photos, if applicable.
What to Avoid on Your Resume. With few exceptions, resumes should NOT include the following:
- Classification: Classified information should NOT be included. Your document is to be UNCLASSIFIED to the best of your knowledge.
- Active Agency Equities: Specific satellite systems and/or programs.
- Names: people and/or places.
- Numbers: specific budget information and/or personnel information.
- Office: names below Directorate/Office level.
- Technical details: use general terms.
How Do I Submit My Request?
**If you are planning to publish, be mindful of the requirements of your parent organization. If you are a USG employee of another agency, you must submit your prepublication request to your home Agency; that agency will coordinate with the NRO for review of NRO equities.
If you have questions, please contact the FOIA Requester Service Center at 703-745-0600.
Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR)
Individuals or entities may also request declassification review of specific material via the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) process, another route under the terms of Executive Order 13526, subject to certain limitations. MDR requests must be for information--regardless of its age or origin--that is specifically described in a manner that enables the agency to locate the document(s) with reasonable effort.
The request must describe the document or material containing the information with sufficient specificity to enable the agency to locate it with a reasonable amount of effort.
- MDR requests must provide enough information to target specific document(s). Information that would provide the sufficient specificity would include a record identifier such as originator, date, title, subject, the National Archives and Records Administration accession number, or other applicable unique identifying number. Broad or topical MDR requests for records on a particular subject, such as "any and all documents concerning" a subject do not meet this standard.
Federal government agencies do not process MDR requests for which the following applies:
- The requested information is exempt from search and review under certain sections of the National Security Act of 1974;
- The information is the subject of pending litigation; and/or
- The information was reviewed for declassification under MDR within the past 2 years
An MDR request must be submitted in writing to the applicable agency. Requests for MDRs must include the following:
- “This is a request for a mandatory declassification review (MDR), under the terms of section 3.5 of E.O. 13526 of the following…”
- Specifically describe the document(s) being requested.
- When possible, include a title, date, and document number.
- Ask that the agency release “all reasonably segregable material.”
- Limit the request as much as possible to increase the chances of receiving a timely decision.
- Include contact information, including a correct/current return mailing address.
- Include a statement that the requester understands that the request may incur processing charges.
Information on where to send MDR requests at each agency can be found on ISOO’s website at http://www.archives.gov/isoo/contact/mdr-contact/html. You may submit your request for National Reconnaissance Office records to the following:
National Reconnaissance Office
COMM/Information Review and Release Group
14675 Lee Road
Chantilly, VA 20151-1715
Fax: (703) 745-0833
Please write “Mandatory Declassification Review” on the envelope or the subject line of your fax or email.
MDR Versus FOIA:
Is the request targeted to a single document or narrow series of documents?
- Yes: Submit either an MDR or FOIA request
- No: Submit a FOIA request.
The same person may not file a FOIA request for the same information concurrently with an MDR request.
- In accordance with Section 2001.33(f) of Title 32, Code of Federal Regulations, if a requester asks for the same record under the FOIA and the MDR, the agency shall ask the requester to select one process or the other. If the requester fails to select one or the other, the request will be treated as a FOIA request unless the requested materials are subject only to a Mandatory Declassification Review.
If NRO has reviewed the information within the past 2 years, or the information is the subject of a pending litigation, NRO shall inform the requester of this fact and of the requester’s appeal rights.
Requesters who are denied declassification and release of information pursuant to an MDR request can file an administrative appeal with the NRO’s Appeals authority. A negative decision by the appellate authority may be appealed by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), the highest appellate body for MDR decisions.