Lawsuit halted in 15-year-old CIA wiretap case

Judge Lamberth

Judge Lamberth

A lawsuit against an alleged illegal wiretap operation by the CIA, which was initially filed 15 years ago, was put on hold late last week by a US federal appeals court. The court imposed the temporary hold in an apparent disagreement with US District Judge Royce Lamberth, who last July said CIA attorneys committed fraud in alleging that US national security would be threatened if details of the lawsuit were openly discussed. Judge Lamberth ruled that the CIA had kept the case secret for years in order to avoid embarrassment. But the appeals court appears to have accepted the CIA’s claim that discussing the case openly will reveal operational secrets and harm US national security. A simultaneous decision by the appeals court to order the government to grant security clearances to lawyers on both sides of the argument probably means that the case, which briefly surfaced last July after Judge Lamberth’s decision to reveal it to the public, will disappear once again under the “state secrets” clause. The case was filed in 1994 by retired Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer Richard A. Horn, who claimed that CIA agents illegally wiretapped his conversations while he was stationed in Burma. It appears that, at the time, the US diplomatic representation in Burma and the CIA station in Rangoon were at loggerheads with the DEA. The latter, represented by special agent Horn, had a policy of publicly commending the Burmese government for its significant efforts to end the illegal drug trade in the country. But the US embassy in Rangoon, supported by the CIA, felt that giving the government of Burma credit for its drug enforcement efforts would effectively amount to publicly supporting the Burmese military, which has controlled the country since 1990. Horn claims that, in an effort to sabotage the DEA activities in the country, Franklin Hurdle Jr. (who was then US ambassador to Burma) and CIA officer Arthur Brown (who later headed the CIA’s East Asia division) illegally eavesdropped on his telephone communications with his DEA superiors and others.

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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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