WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Friday reversed a lower court ruling that allowed the CIA to refuse to confirm whether it had information on the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists.

A lower court federal judge had sided with the CIA and dismissed a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking those records. In response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act request, the CIA said merely confirming the existence of drone records would reveal classified information.

Friday’s ruling by a three-court panel sends the case back to the lower court, where the agency can argue that the records it has on drones are exempt from FOIA disclosure requirements.

The initial refusal to even confirm the existence of a record is a Cold War-era legal defense known as the Glomar response after the Glomar Explorer, a ship built to try to raise a Soviet submarine from the ocean floor. The CIA had said that confirming or denying records in this case would reveal “among other things, whether or not the CIA is involved in drone strikes or at least has an intelligence interest in drone strikes.”