US Judge allows legal challenge of warrantless wiretapping

Pete Seda, fmr head of Al-Haramain

Pete Seda, fmr head of Al-Haramain

Ever since September 2004, when they were taken to court accused of terrorist links by the US government, the directors of Al-Haramain, a Saudi-based Islamic charity with offices in Oregon and Missouri, have suspected their telephones had been tapped under the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Their suspicions were confirmed last July, when US government prosecutors mistakenly gave the charity’s legal team a classified document showing that the FBI had indeed tapped the group’s office phones. The group’s legal team used the classified document as a basis to sue the Bush Administration, claiming that warrantless wiretapping violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). However, the presiding Judge, Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker, ruled that the lawsuit rested on a classified document that Al-Haramain’s lawyers were not supposed to have access to in the first place. He therefore dismissed the case and ordered the Islamic charity’s legal team to return the document to the FBI.

Later on that month, Al-Haramain’s lawyers gave Judge Walker the transcript of a public speech by an FBI official, in which the latter stated that the Bureau had employed “surveillance” in investigating the charity. They subsequently requested that the case be reopened, this time based on publicly available information. Earlier this week, Judge Walker ruled that Al-Haramain’s legal challenge of the legality of the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping scheme could indeed go ahead. Moreover, he has now asked the US government “to consider declassifying the secret evidence” relating to Al-Haramain’s prosecution.

Last month, Thomas M. Tamm, a former US Justice Department official, revealed himself as the source who initially tipped off The New York Times about NSA’s operation STELLAR WIND, a domestic warrantless spying program, which was secretly authorized by the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11. New York Times journalists James Risen and Eric Lichtblau eventually revealed the program in a front page article, relying on interviews with nearly a dozen undisclosed insiders.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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