Where did the phrase “I can neither confirm nor deny” come from?

Where did the phrase "I can neither confirm nor deny" come from?

Answer: The CIA

Not only does this ambiguous phrase have cold-war era roots, but it actually has a technical name. In United States law, the phrase “I can neither confirm nor deny” is called the Glomar response, or Glomar denial, which refers to a response to a request for information that will “neither confirm nor deny” (NCND) the existence of the information sought. This term came directly from the mouths of our intelligence agency in the 1970s.

During the era of fuel price increases, rising insurance rates, safety concerns, emissions controls, and the 1973 oil crisis, the CIA organized a covert mission known as “Project Azorian“, which was an attempt to salvage a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean floor in 1974. In order to do so, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) utilized the USNS Hughes Glomar Explorer, a large salvage vessel. A year later, in 1975, the Los Angeles Times let it be known that it was going to publish an in-depth story about Project Azorian. Moreover, the publication was also going to highlight how the CIA had tried to censor the story and stop the LA times from sending it to print altogether. Before publication, journalist Harriet Ann Phillippi requested that the CIA provide disclosure of both the Glomar project and its attempts to censor the story, to which the CIA chose to “neither confirm nor deny” both the project’s existence and its attempts to keep the story unpublished. Phillippi’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was initially rejected, but then later confirmed with the new administration in 1977.

ryan gosling GIF

The “Glomar response” precedent made it past the turn of the century and has been used in FOIA cases as late as in 2004. Ten years later, in 2014, when the CIA created it’s twitter account their very first tweet paid homage to the infamous phrase.

Cover Photo: President Gerald R. Ford Meeting with Members of the Commission on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Activities within the U.S. in the Oval Office after Receiving Their Report. Journalist Harriet Ann Phillippi’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was rejected, though when the Ford administration was replaced by the Carter administration in 1977 after the 1976 presidential election, the government position on the particular case was softened and both of Phillippi’s claims were confirmed.