Situation report on the al-Haramain wiretap case

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By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Max Fisher of The Atlantic Wire provides an excellent situation report on the recent decision by a US district court, which faulted the US government for unconstitutionally wiretapping a US-based Saudi charity. The charity, al-Haramain, was taken to court in September 2004 by the US government, which accused it  of having links to terrorist groups. But the charity has now successfully demonstrated that the National Security Agency (NSA) engaged in illegal spying against it, under the Bush administration’s STELLAR WIND warrantless spying program. Drawing from articles by a number of commentators, Fisher explains why the case took five years to conclude, pointing to the difficulty the plaintiffs had to prove that the NSA spied on the charity. Normally, this is close to impossible, as the NSA is not in the habit of disclosing information on its operations. In this case, however, the government unintentionally shared with the plaintiffs several classified documents, which effectively proved the warrantless tapping. Fisher also explains that this case was the first in US legal history where the infamous ‘state secrets’ clause failed to shield the US government of facing the consequences of illegal conduct. This controversial clause is used by the government to terminate lawsuits against it, when “grave harm to national security” can be caused by a case proceeding. This time, however, this usually effective card failed to work. Finally, Fisher reminds that the government is still considering whether to appeal the court’s decision. An appeal, however, seems unlikely, he explains, because the case does not really affect the legality of government-sponsored wiretapping, and is thus too limited in its influence to seriously concern the US government. There is no question that the STELLAR WIND program was unlawful –in fact criminal. But this does not mean that anyone in government is going to be penalized as a result.

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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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