A doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is suing the Central Intelligence Agency over documents about the late South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.
After Mandela’s death on Dec. 5, MIT student and historian Ryan Shapiro sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency requesting records that mentioned Mandela.
Shapiro, whose research includes exploring how dissent is policed, claims the CIA did not respond to his inquiry, which included a request for expedited processing. A response to that request, he alleged, was due Dec. 29. He filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The other agencies replied in some fashion to the FOIA requests, according to Shapiro's lawyer Jeffrey Light, a solo practitioner in Washington. The NSA refused to confirm or deny the existence of records, known as a "Glomar response." The FBI granted expedited processing and the DIA denied expedited processing, but had yet to respond to the substance of his request.
Shapiro is seeking information on any role the U.S. government played in Mandela's 1962 arrest-he was released in 1990-and more broadly in monitoring and responding to the anti-apartheid movement.
"Though the U.S. intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement," Shapiro said in a written statement. "Similarly, though the U.S. intelligence community is long understood to have routinely provided information to the South African regime regarding the anti-apartheid movement, little specific public information exists about these activities either."
Shapiro noted Mandela was included on the United States' terror watch list until 2008. He said he's also interested in any records that would shed light on that designation.
A CIA spokesperson declined to comment, saying in an email that the agency, as a general rule, does not comment on pending litigation.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.