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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Monday, December 26, 2005

CIA: Nizari Assassin Cult Is Classified Topic Due To National Security

By J.M. Berger

All documents dealing with the 11th-century Assassin cult have been deemed classified by the CIA due to national security concerns, according to an Agency spokesman.

The classification was disclosed in a Dec. 15, 2005 letter (link to document), sent in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by INTELWIRE requesting any and all documents dealing with the Nizari Ismailis, more popularly known as the Assassins, and the cult's founder, Hassan i-Sabbah.

The letter cited a FOIA loophole which allows the agency to withhold documents because they are "properly classified pursuant to an executive order" by the president "in the interest of national defense or foreign policy." (link to text of exemptions)

The letter also claimed that the disclosure of such documents would compromise "intelligence sources and methods."

The specific exemptions cited are most often used in response to requests that would identify specific employees of the Agency. In such cases, the CIA refuses to confirm or deny that the requested documents exist, in order to prevent FOIA requesters from discovering -- even by implication -- whether a specific individual is employed by the CIA.

In keeping with the cited exemptions, the CIA refused to confirm or deny whether documents regarding the Assassin cult actually exist.

However, other requests by INTELWIRE for comparable material of primarily historical interest have been refused with an explanation that the documents could not be found, or a stipulation that the topic of the request is not relevant to the CIA's mission.

None of INTELWIRE's comparable historical requests were refused on the basis of the national security interest or disclosure of intelligence sources and methods exemptions.

J.M. Berger of INTELWIRE has written a four-part analysis, on behalf of the Rotten Library, which examines known parallels and even possible historical connections between al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups and the Nizari (link to index of stories).

INTELWIRE will file an administrative appeal of the FOIA refusal. The results of that appeal will be posted when they become available.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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