Court rules FBI can block lawsuit with ‘state secrets’ privilege
The United States Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the FBI could invoke the ” state secret “ privilege to prevent a judge from reviewing evidence regarding his surveillance of a California mosque following the 9/11 attacks.
In a unanimous opinion written by conservative judge Samul Alito, the court ruled that the current State Secrets Act prohibits a lower court judge from reviewing FBI information that may be relevant to the case. .
Earlier, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a judge to review such information behind closed doors, allowing the trial against the FBI to continue without revealing the information publicly.
However, Alito wrote that “Congress did not eliminate, reduce, or alter the state secrets privilege when it enacted” FISA, so FISA does not trump state secrets laws.
The case itself is a long battle that began in 2006 when the FBI dispatched an informant to a mosque in Orange County. According to the Los Angeles Times, the informant “recorded thousands of hours of conversations and compiled names and phone numbers”, finally trying to convince some of the faithful to ” carry[ing] a terrorist attack in this country.
Some of the mosque attendees reported the informant to the FBI, and he later joined the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of such men in filing a lawsuit against the agency. The lawsuit, which has languished in lower courts since 2011, alleges that the plaintiffs were targeted because of their religion and that their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure were violated.
The case was dismissed by a federal judge in 2012, who argued that state secrets privilege allowed the FBI to keep its reasons for targeting the mosque secret. However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case in 2019 when it ruled that the agency’s evidence could be examined privately under FISA.
Friday’s ruling does not explicitly bar the case from proceeding, but does refer it to the 9th Circuit, which will be asked to reconsider whether the FBI’s evidence is crucial to the case.
The Justice Department under Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden has always maintained that revealing this evidence would compromise national security. The Supreme Court has already upheld that argument and on Thursday, in a separate ruling, barred two former CIA contractors from testifying in a Polish court about the CIA’s use of torture and waterboarding in a “black site” it is believed to be in Poland. Although the court concluded that this testimony could reveal state secrets, the existence of the CIA’s torture program and the chilling accounts of those tortured by the agency have been public knowledge for nearly a decade.
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SCOTUS sides with FBI in mosque spying case – Reuters