Obama Lawyers Invoke "State Secrets" to Block Warrantless Spying Lawsuit

Oops, they did it again: lawyers for Barack Obama's Department of Justice have invoked the "state secrets" privilege to block a lawsuit seeking to reverse one of the most scandalous policies of the Bush administration.


In a motion filed in a San Francisco court on Friday, attorneys for the Obama administration moved to dismiss a challenge to the National Security Agency's notorious warrantless wiretapping program. "The information implicated by this case, which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security," DOJ lawyers argued in the 36-page brief, echoing an argument made ad nauseum by the Bush administration.

The case, Jewel v. NSA, was filed in September of 2008 on behalf of five AT&T customers "to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records," according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the civil liberties organization that brought forth the suit. "Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA."

Klein, the whistleblower who blew the lid off AT&T's participation in the NSA spying program, was an employee at AT&T for 22 years but showed no qualms about exposing the company. "If they've done something massively illegal and unconstitutional -- well, they should suffer the consequences," Klein told the Washington Post in 2007. Teaming up with EFF, Klein has played a critical role in furnishing the evidence for multiple lawsuits brought against the NSA's spying program, including Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit against AT&T itself. (That case was brought forth in 2006, before Congress passed legislation granting immunity to telecoms that participated in the government's warrantless wiretapping program.)

Although Jewel v. NSA is not a lawsuit against AT&T, the DOJ's court motion displays its full support for the company. "All of plaintiffs' claims require the disclosure of whether or not AT&T assisted the Government in alleged intelligence activities, and the (Director of National Intelligence) again has demonstrated that disclosure of whether the NSA has an intelligence relationship with a particular private company would also cause exceptional harm to national security"

It may have been fantasy to imagine that the Obama DOJ would allow AT&T -- whose corporate logo graced the official goody bags at the Democratic National Convention this summer -- to be at all vulnerable to litigation for its role in the warrantless wiretapping scheme, particularly after Obama himself cast a vote for telecom immunity. But its invoking of the state secrets privilege is a disturbing move -- particularly because it is not the first time it has done so.

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