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New paper on “The Mosaic Theory”

The Mosaic Theory, National Security, and the Freedom of Information Act by David Pozen, Yale University Law School, Yale Law Journal, Vol. 115, No. 3, 2005.

The “mosaic theory” describes a basic precept of intelligence gathering: Disparate items of information, though individually of limited or no utility to their possessor, can take on added significance when combined with other items of information. Combining the items illuminates their interrelationships and breeds analytic synergies, so that the resulting mosaic of information is worth more than the sum of its parts.

The first work to explore the “mosaic theory” in detail, this Note documents the theory’s evolution in FOIA national security law and highlights its centrality in the post-9/11 landscape of information control. After years of doctrinal stasis and practical anonymity, federal agencies began asserting the theory more aggressively after 9/11, thereby testing the limits of executive secrecy and of judicial deference. Though essentially valid, the mosaic theory has been applied in ways that are unfalsifiable, in tension with the purpose and text of FOIA, and susceptible to abuse and overbreadth. This Note therefore argues, against precedent, for greater judicial scrutiny of mosaic claims.

Keywords: Mosaic Theory, National Security, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Government Secrecy, Judicial Review

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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