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Profile: Vaughn Walker

Vaughn Walker was a participant or observer in the following events:

John Yoo, the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) deputy assistant attorney general, sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft justifying warrantless surveillance of US persons. The National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic surveillance authorized by President Bush (see October 4, 2001, Early 2002, and December 15, 2005) will come to be publicly referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP). This is not the first Yoo memo supporting warrantless surveillance (see September 25, 2001), but a 2009 report on the PSP jointly issued by the inspectors general (IGs) of the Department of Defense (DOD), DOJ, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will refer to it as “[t]he first OLC opinion directly supporting the legality of the PSP.” The IGs’ report will quote from and comment on the memo, noting that “deficiencies in Yoo’s memorandum identified by his successors in the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General later became critical to DOJ’s decision to reassess the legality of the program in 2003.” According to the IGs’ report, Yoo asserts that warrantless surveillance is constitutional as long as it is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment, which only protects against “unreasonable searches and siezures.” On this point, the IGs’ report will note that Yoo’s successors were troubled by his failure to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which found the president’s wartime authority to be limited. His memo does acknowledge that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “purports to be the exclusive statutory means for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence,” but asserts that it is only a “safe harbor for electronic surveillance” because it cannot “restrict the president’s ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security.” Yoo also writes that Congress has not “made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area.” The IGs’ report will state that Yoo’s successors considered this problematic because Yoo has omitted discussion of the fact that FISA explicitly authorizes the president to conduct warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days following a declaration of war by Congress, which they considered an expression of Congress’s intent to restrict warrantless surveillance to a limited period of time and specific circumstances. The IGs’ report will also state that Yoo’s memo discusses “the legal rationale for Other Intelligence Activities authorized as part of the PSP,” and that Yoo concludes, “[W]e do not believe that Congress may restrict the president’s inherent constitutional powers, which allow him to gather intelligence necessary to defend the nation from direct attack.” The IGs’ report will say that “Yoo’s discussion of some of the Other Intelligence Activities did not accurately describe the scope of these activities,” and that Yoo’s successors considered his discussion of these other activities to be “insufficient and presenting a serious impediment to recertification of the program as to form and legality.” [Inspectors General, 7/10/2009, pp. pp. 11-13]
Memo's Existence Revealed by ACLU Lawsuit - On December 15, 2005, the New York Times will report that Bush authorized an NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program after the 9/11 attacks (see December 15, 2005). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will request records pertaining to the program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and then sue the Justice Department for the release of records. The existence of Yoo’s November 2 memo will first be revealed in an October 19, 2007 deposition filed by then head of the OLC Steven Bradbury in response to the ACLU lawsuit, which says that it “[concerns] the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.” After the 2009 release of the IGs’ report the ACLU will notify the court and the government will agree to reprocess four OLC memos, including Yoo’s November 2 memo. This memo and a May 6, 2004 memo by Yoo’s OLC successor Jack Goldsmith that disputes many of Yoo’s conclusions will be released in heavily redacted form on March 18, 2011. [ACLU.org, 2/7/2006; United States District Court of DC, 10/19/2007; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/19/2011]
Constitutional Experts Dispute Yoo's Legal Rationale - Numerous authorities on the law will question or reject the legal bases for warrantless domestic surveillance. In 2003, Yoo will leave the OLC. Goldsmith will begin a review of the PSP, after which he will conclude it is probably illegal in some respects and protest, within the executive branch, its continuation (see Late 2003-Early 2004 and December 2003-June 2004). Following the public disclosure of its existence, a January 5, 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service will find it to be of dubious legality (see January 5, 2006). On January 19, 2006, the DOJ will issue a 42-page white paper laying out the legal bases for the program (see January 19, 2006). These bases will be reviewed and rejected by 14 constitutional scholars and former government officials in a joint letter to Congress on February 2, 2006. [al [PDF], 2/2/2006 pdf file] The American Bar Association will adopt a resolution on February 13, 2006 that rejects DOJ’s arguments and calls on Congress to investigate the program. [Delegates, 2/13/2006 pdf file] On August 17, 2006, in the case ACLU v. NSA, US district judge Anna Diggs Taylor will reject the government’s invocation of the “state secrets privilege” and its argument that plaintiffs’ lack standing due to their being unable to prove they were surveilled, and will rule that warrantless surveillance is in violation of “the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA, and Title III” (see August 17, 2006). Taylor’s ruling will be overturned on appeal, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing as they cannot prove that surveillance has occurred. In another case, Al Haramain v. Barack Obama, the government will make the same arguments, but US district judge Vaughn Walker will reject these and conclude in 2010 that illegal surveillance occurred (see March 31, 2010). [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, Vaughn Walker, Ronald Dworkin, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, American Bar Association, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft, Anna Diggs Taylor, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department demands that it be allowed to review evidence obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) from retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see February 23-28, 2006). The EFF is preparing to submit the evidence under regular court seal to presiding Judge Vaughn Walker. Neither the Justice Department nor any other government agency is a named defendant in the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T for its allegedly illegal behavior in working with the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct warrantless surveillance against American citizens (see January 31, 2006). Even so, lawyers from the Justice Department say they want to see if Klein’s documentation contains classified information (it does not—see Late 2003), and if so, they intend to place Klein’s documentation into a “sensitive compartmented information facility,” which would mean it would not be kept at the courthouse but in the possession of government agents at a secure location. Such classification would make the legal proceedings more difficult for both Judge Walker and the EFF lawyers. However, the request piques the interest of the national media, and reporters begin “flooding” Klein and the EFF with requests for information and interviews. [Klein, 2009, pp. 65-66] Ironically, two news outlets, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, have all but shunned Klein before now (see February 11, 2006 and After and Mid-February - Late March, 2006). On April 4, after perusing the documents, the government lawyers return them to Walker with approval from senior Justice Department lawyer Anthony J. Coppolino to file them under ordinary court seal. Klein will later write that Coppolino’s acquiescence will undermine the government’s later efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed under the “state secrets” provision (see Late May, 2006). [Klein, 2009, pp. 66] In June 2007, the online technical news site Wired News will publish the documents after they are released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see June 13, 2007) under the headline “AT&T ‘Spy Room’ Documents Unsealed; You’ve Already Seen Them.” Wired previously published them in May 2006 (see May 17, 2006), and PBS’s Frontline also published them as part of a televised documentary on Klein and the eavesdropping program. [Wired News, 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, Anthony J. Coppolino, Los Angeles Times, US Department of Justice, New York Times, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Vaughn Walker, Wired News, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department files a brief with the US District Court of Northern California asking that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)‘s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006) be dismissed on the grounds that it would breach “state secrets” vital to “national security.” The Justice Department publicly announced its intentions of asking that the lawsuit be dismissed on those grounds two weeks ago (see April 28, 2006). EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program. The lawsuit is Hepting, et al v. AT&T, often shortened in the media to Hepting v. AT&T. The government submits a number of secret documents to Judge Vaughn Walker as evidence, along with a heavily redacted document submitted for public perusal. Other documents include affidavits from the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and the head of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Some observers believe that Walker, a conservative appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush, will quickly comply with the government’s request. However, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is working with EFF on the lawsuit (see Early January 2006), will later write, Vaughn is independent-minded and possessed of a “strong libertarian bent,” and will not be so prone to do the government’s bidding as some believe. [Klein, 2009, pp. 72-73] Walker’s first hearing on the brief will be held four days later (see May 17, 2006).

Entity Tags: John Negroponte, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Keith Alexander, Mark Klein, US Department of Justice, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Vaughn Walker of the US District Court of Northern California holds a hearing on the government’s request to have the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)‘s lawsuit against AT&T dismissed (see May 13, 2006). The Justice Department says the lawsuit must be dismissed on the grounds that it would breach “state secrets” vital to “national security” if allowed to go forward. EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is working with EFF on the lawsuit (see Early January 2006), attends the hearing along with a small phalanx of lawyers; a woman slips a piece of paper into his hand containing her name and the telephone number for CBS News’s 60 Minutes. The AT&T lawyers are furious at Klein because an online news site, Wired News, just published his 2005 memo containing evidence against AT&T that the firm wants suppressed (see May 17, 2006). Klein will later write that he has no knowledge of how Wired News received the document, though the AT&T lawyers believe he supplied it to Wired News, and he will say he is pleased at the publication. (Wired News will later explain why it chose to publish the document—see May 22, 2006.) In the hearing, Walker refuses to order Klein to return the documents to AT&T, noting that Klein is not a plaintiff in the case and therefore Walker lacks the judicial authority to make such an order. Walker advises AT&T if it wants the documents back, it will have to sue Klein for their return. EFF lawyer Cindy Cohn challenges the government’s claim that the lawsuit should be dismissed on “state secrets” grounds, arguing that “this can be litigated without reference to any state secrets.… The question is whether the information has been acquired by AT&T in order to give it to the government and whether it’s been divulged to the government and what the government does with that information afterward, which I think could implicate state secrets, is completely irrelevant, or not necessary for us to pursue this case.” The motion to dismiss is not decided in this hearing. [Klein, 2009, pp. 73-78]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, AT&T, Cindy Cohn, Mark Klein, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency, Wired News

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Wired News logo.Wired News logo. [Source: Delve Networks]Evan Hansen, the editor in chief of Wired News, an online technical news site, explains why the site published a set of documents from AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). Klein is working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T for invading its customers’ privacy by taking part in the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretap operation (see January 31, 2006). The presiding judge, Vaughn Walker, has denied requests from the EFF and a number of news organizations to unseal the documents and make them public. For its part, AT&T wants the documents to remain sealed, claiming they are proprietary and that it would suffer harm if they were disclosed (see April 6-8, 2006). Hansen and the Wired News senior staff disagree. “In addition,” Hansen writes, “we believe the public’s right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T’s claims to secrecy.” Hansen erroneously says that the documents seem “to be excerpted from material that was later filed in the lawsuit under seal,” though “we can’t be entirely sure, because the protective order prevents us from comparing the two sets of documents.” Klein later writes that the Wired News staff “confused my 2004 memo (see January 16, 2004) with my court-sealed legal declaration” (see February 23-28, 2006); even so, Klein will write, “it was true that all of the AT&T documents were still under court seal.” Hansen says Wired News reporter Ryan Singel received the Klein documents from “an anonymous source close to the litigation.” Hansen also writes: “We are filing a motion to intervene in the case in order to request that the court unseal the evidence, joining other news and civil rights organizations that have already done so, including the EFF, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg. Before publishing these documents we showed them to independent security experts, who agreed they pose no significant danger to AT&T. For example, they do not reveal information that hackers might use to easily attack the company’s systems.” Hansen writes that Wired’s publication of the documents does not violate Walker’s gag order concerning the documents’ publication, as the order specifically bars the EFF and its representatives—and no one else—from publishing or discussing them. “The court explicitly rejected AT&T’s motion to include Klein in the gag order and declined AT&T’s request to force the EFF to return the documents,” he notes (see May 17, 2006). [Wired News, 5/22/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 75]

Entity Tags: Vaughn Walker, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Evan Hansen, Mark Klein, Ryan Singel, Wired News, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Bush administration submits a legal brief arguing that the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T, alleging that firm cooperated with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006), should be thrown out of court because of the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Justice Department lawyers want Judge Vaughn Walker to examine classified documents that they say will convince him to dismiss the lawsuit. However, the government does not want the defense lawyers to see that material. “No aspect of this case can be litigated without disclosing state secrets,” the government argues. “The United States has not lightly invoked the state secrets privilege, and the weighty reasons for asserting the privilege are apparent from the classified material submitted in support of its assertion.” [CNET News, 5/26/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Vaughn Walker, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a follow-up hearing, Judge Vaughn Walker of the US District Court of Northern California hears arguments by AT&T and the Justice Department as to whether he should dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF—see January 31, 2006). The EFF argues that AT&T violated its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s allegedly illegal domestic wiretapping project. The government asserts that the lawsuit would jeopardize “state secrets” if permitted to go forward (see May 22, 2006). In today’s hearing, Justice Department lawyer Peter Keisler admits to Walker that the documents presented on behalf of the EFF by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) and others are not classified. “None of the documents they (EFF) have submitted… implicate any privileged [classified] matters,” Keisler tells Walker. The judge says, “Including the Klein documents.” Keisler agrees, saying: “We have not asserted any privilege over the information that is in the Klein and Marcus (see March 29, 2006) documents.… Mr. Klein and Marcus never had access to any of the relevant classified information here, and with all respect to them, through no fault or failure of their own, they don’t know anything.” Klein will later write that Keisler’s admission is a crippling blow to the government’s assertion that the EFF documentation would compromise national security if made public or submitted in open court. [Klein, 2009, pp. 77]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency, Peter Keisler

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Vaughn Walker of the US District Court of Northern California rejects a request by the Justice Department to dismiss a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF—see January 31, 2006) against AT&T. The EFF argues that AT&T violated its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s allegedly illegal domestic wiretapping project. The government has asserted that the lawsuit would jeopardize “state secrets” if permitted to go forward (see May 22, 2006 and June 23, 2006). According to AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, working with the EFF in the lawsuit, Walker “ridicule[s]” the government’s request for dismissal on state secrets grounds, finding that “[t]he government has opened the door for judicial inquiry by publicly confirming and denying material information about its monitoring of communications content.… AT&T and the government have for all practical purposes already disclosed that AT&T assists the government in monitoring communication content. [T]he government has publicly admitted the existence of a ‘terrorist surveillance program’ (see After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and September 2002).… Considering the ubiquity of AT&T telecommunications services, it is unclear whether this program could even exist without AT&T’s acquiescence and cooperation.” EFF had given Walker the ammunition for his finding by providing him with a raft of media stories about AT&T’s involvement in the NSA surveillance program, as well as media coverage of Klein’s assertions (see April 12, 2006 and May 17, 2006). “The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret” any longer, Walker finds (see May 24, 2006). “[D]ismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security.” Walker also rejects a separate motion to dismiss by AT&T, which had argued that its relationship with the government made it immune from prosecution. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “This cases arises against the backdrop of the accountability of the government as it pursues its surveillance program. This is a significant victory for the principle of government accountability.” AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp refuses to give a direct comment about the ruling, but says that AT&T has always protected its customers’ privacy (see February 2001 and Beyond, February 2001, and Late 2002-Early 2003). The government will obtain a stay of Walker’s ruling while it files an appeal, preventing the EFF documents from being publicly disseminated. [New York Times, 7/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 78-79]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Marc Rotenberg, US Department of Justice, Walter Sharp, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and NSA Director Keith Alexander try to get a lawsuit dismissed that alleges the NSA illegally wiretapped a Saudi charitable organization (see February 28, 2006). The organization, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, is presenting a classified US document as proof of the illegal wiretapping.
Invoking 'State Secrets' Privilege - In late 2006, Negroponte and Alexander tell the presiding judge, US District Judge Garr King, that in order to defend itself, the government would have to disclose “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) that would expose US anti-terrorism efforts. This same argument will be reiterated in July 2007, when government lawyers say, “Whether plaintiffs were subjected to surveillance is a state secret, and information tending to confirm or deny that fact is privileged.” The judge will hear arguments for and against dismissing the case on August 15, 2007. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Judicial Examination - King, in Portland, Oregon, examined the document for himself, and read classified briefs supplied by the Justice Department. Upon reading the briefs, King met with government lawyers to discuss turning over yet more documents in discovery—a decision unlikely to have been taken had King not believed the evidence did not show that the Al Haramain plaintiffs were, in fact, monitored. And, under FISA, had the surveillance been lawful and court-ordered, King would have been legally constrained to dismiss the lawsuit, since according to that law, plaintiffs can only sue if no warrant was ever issued for the alleged surveillance. “If there was a FISA warrant, the whole case would have crumbled on the first day,” says plaintiff attorney Thomas Nelson, “It’s pretty obvious from the government’s conduct in the case, there was no warrant.”
'Inherent Authority' of President - Justice Department lawyers rely on the argument that the president has the inherent authority to order surveillance of suspected terrorists with or without warrants, and that to judge the president’s decision would reveal national secrets that would alert terrorists to government anti-terrorist actions, thereby mandating that this and other lawsuits be dismissed.
Consolidation of Lawsuits - An August 2006 court ruling ordering that the Al Haramain case be consolidated with 54 other NSA-related lawsuits, under US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, damaged the government’s argument that it cannot be sued in court. Walker has presided over the year-old class-action lawsuit brought before his court by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T for the telecom firm’s cooperation with the NSA program (see January 31, 2006); Walker ruled in July 2006 that the case would proceed, against government requests that it be thrown out because of national security requirements. Walker ruled that because the government had already admitted to the existence of the program, the state secrets privilege does not apply. (The Justice Department is appealing Walker’s decision.) As for Al Haramain, its lawyers want that case to be adjudicated separately, because the court has sufficient evidence to decide on the case without waiting for the appellate court decision. Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jon Eisenberg, tells Walker in February 2007, “You need only read the statutes to decide, ‘Does the president have the right to do this without a warrant?’” Walker has yet to rule on that request. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Thomas Nelson, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Jon Eisenberg, John Negroponte, AT&T, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Garr King, Keith Alexander, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes a set of three non-classified documents secured from telecommunications giant AT&T by former AT&T technician and current whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein has used the documents to prove his assertions that AT&T colluded with the National Security Agency to illegally eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). The EFF has sued AT&T for violating its customers’ privacy, and Klein and the documents are key elements of its case (see February 23-28, 2006). After years of opposing their public disclosure and attempting to force their return (see April 6-8, 2006), AT&T acquiesced to the documents’ disclosure earlier this week after the EFF threatened to take the corporation to a federal appeals court. The documents were released in part by Wired News over a year ago against AT&T’s wishes (see May 17, 2006), and PBS also made them public as a part of a Frontline documentary. The Justice Department considered classifying the documents, then rejected the idea (see Late March - April 4, 2006). According to EFF’s Cindy Cohn, AT&T agreed to the disclosure of those portions to escape the embarrassment of arguing that documents available on the Internet for more than a year were secret. Wired’s Ryan Singel writes: “There are no surprises in the AT&T documentation… which consist of a subset of the pages already published by Wired News. They include AT&T wiring diagrams, equipment lists, and task orders that appear to show the company tapping into fiber-optic cables at the point where its backbone network connects to other ISPs at a San Francisco switching office. The documents appear to show the company siphoning off the traffic to a room packed with Internet-monitoring gear.” The EFF also releases a formerly sealed, signed declaration by Klein (see February 23-28, 2006) and a written analysis of the documentation by Internet expert J. Scott Marcus (see March 29, 2006). Marcus’s analysis, which had previously remained largely under court-ordered seal, is “the most interesting” of the releases, Singel writes. Marcus said the AT&T technical configuration allowed the NSA to conduct “surveillance and analysis of Internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic,” and found it probable that AT&T had “15 or 20” secret facilities around the country, not just the few facilities of which Klein was aware. AT&T, with the Justice Department, is trying to prevent EFF’s lawsuit from continuing, insisting that such a trial would expose “state secrets” (see April 28, 2006 and May 13, 2006). Judge Vaughn Walker has already considered and dismissed that claim (see July 20, 2006); AT&T and the government hope an appeals court will find in their favor. Cohn tells Singel she hopes the documents will show the public that their case is based in fact and not speculation, and that the government’s claim of a national security risk is overblown: “It really paints them into a corner, how unreasonable their claims of state secrets are. I’m hoping [the document release] demonstrates we are right and know what we are talking about and that we don’t need much more to win our case. We are much closer than people think.” [Wired News, 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: J. Scott Marcus, Cindy Cohn, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, Wired News, Ryan Singel, US Department of Justice, Vaughn Walker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). [Wired News, 1/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Vaughn Walker, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Asim Ghafoo, Jon Eisenberg, Bush administration (43), Wendell Belew, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Jon Eisenberg, Asim Ghafoo, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Eric Holder, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal judge Vaughn Walker dismisses Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency and senior Bush administration officials over the administration’s warrantless surveillance program (see September 18, 2008). Walker rules that the privacy harm to millions of Americans from the illegal spying dragnet was not a “particularized injury” but instead a “generalized grievance” because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and Internet service. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn says: “We’re deeply disappointed in the judge’s ruling. This ruling robs innocent telecom customers of their privacy rights without due process of law. Setting limits on executive power is one of the most important elements of America’s system of government, and judicial oversight is a critical part of that.” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The alarming upshot of the court’s decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional. With new revelations of illegal spying being reported practically every other week… the need for judicial oversight when it comes to government surveillance has never been clearer.” The EFF indicates it will appeal Walker’s decision. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/21/2010] The Obama administration echoed claims made in previous lawsuits by the Bush administration, invoking the “state secrets” privilege (see Late May, 2006) and supporting previous arguments by the Bush-era Justice Department. The administration even went a step further than its predecessor in arguing that under the Patriot Act, the government can never be sued for illegal wiretapping unless there is “willful disclosure” of the communications. [Klein, 2009, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Security Agency, Vaughn Walker, Kevin Bankston

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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