The widows (plaintiffs) of three civilians brought a wrongful death suit against the United States government (defendant) after the civilians were killed when the Air Force aircraft upon which they were making observations crashed. The flight of the aircraft was for the purpose of testing secret electronic equipment. The widows sought to obtain the production of the Air Force’s official accident investigation report. The government objected to the request on the grounds of governmental privilege. The district court ordered the government to produce the report so that the court could make a determination on whether it contained privileged information. The government refused to do this, and the Secretary of the Air Force issued a formal claim of privilege. The court entered an order determining that the facts contained in the report would be viewed in the widows’ favor on the issue of negligence. The district court then found in favor of the widows. The court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.