The requested document, National Security Presidential Directive 54, is classified top secret, but portions of it are unclassified, Courthouse News Service reported Wednesday.
President George W. Bush sent the document to "a select and limited group" of top advisers, said the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed the suit.
EPIC requested the directive in 2009 from the National Security Agency under the Freedom of Information Act.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said the document did not fall under the FOIA because the NSA did not create it.
Howell noted in her 25-page ruling the Bush White House expressly stated no one who received the document should distribute or disclose its contents without permission.
U.S. administrations have voluntarily released some directives, the judge said, but people or groups who have directly asked for them have been uniformly denied.
However, Howell found the NSA violated the FOIA by limiting its interpretation of what records could be released only to those given "to the NSA" rather than "to any federal agency charged with implementing the cybersecurity scheme."