An MIT PhD candidate and Cambridge resident is trying to shed light on the darkest, most clandestine corners of the federal government.
Ryan Shapiro has become an aggravating thorn in the side for some of America’s most powerful spies and cops through litigation and hundreds of public records requests.
Shapiro is currently suing multiple national security organizations in an attempt to force the release of troves of documents he says should be part of the public record. In one instance, he is trying to force the CIA to release records pertaining to a contentious U.S. Senate investigation of the agency’s past torture program.
There’s an ongoing dispute between the CIA and a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the committee’s review of the CIA’s torture program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which was the the committee charged with investigating past CIA torture allegations, has said the agency violated its written agreement with her subcommittee and possibly broke the law by searching the committee’s computers.
Now, Shapiro, along with Jason Leopold, a California-based journalist, have filed suit, seeking a copy of all written correspondence between the subcommittee and the CIA, all records documenting the CIA investigation into the search of the committee’s computers, as well as other documents that may have been produced during various investigations into the CIA.
“The CIA appears to have spied upon the very Senate intelligence committee tasked with overseeing the CIA’s torture program, while at the same time smearing that Senate committee’s review with unsupported allegations of criminality,” he said.
Suing law enforcement agencies in an attempt to compel them to release documents is nothing new for the 38-year-old Washington D.C. native.
In addition to the CIA litigation, Shapiro, who studies the political functioning of national security and the policing of dissent, currently has half-a-dozen lawsuits that attempt to compel the FBI to comply with some of his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Those suits cover about 200 of his ongoing 800 active FOIA requests he has made to the FBI. He has at least one ongoing suit against the NSA. In one of the suits, the FBI is arguing that his methodology of FOIA research for his dissertation presents a threat to national security.
Shapiro’s dissertation in progress studies “the use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to the state from the late 19th century to the present.”
Shapiro says that while FOIA is one of the more “under appreciated aspects of the American experiment,” it is toothless, without the proper penalties to ensure compliance, hence all the litigation.
“The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government,” said Shapiro recently. “It’s time for the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community to recognize transparency not as a threat, but rather as an essential component of viable democracy.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, which is handling the CIA suit on behalf of that agency, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.