National News

September 10, 2013

Feds plan to release details of secret spy court

SAN FRANCISCO — The Obama administration is releasing hundreds of previously classified documents detailing activities of the country’s long-secret spy court that authorizes domestic surveillance programs.

In a court filing last week, the U.S. Department of Justice said it will turn over the documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation by Tuesday. EFF officials said they’ll receive the documents in disk form and it will take some hours for technicians to upload the documents to the civil liberty group’s website later Tuesday.

The DOJ told a federal judge in Oakland last week it was turning over the documents to partially settle a lawsuit EFF filed for access to court orders, administration memos and other information government officials relied on to design and implement a domestic surveillance program. That program was initially revealed a decade ago by newspapers and a telecom worker who claimed first-hand knowledge of the surveillance.

The EFF’s lawsuit against telecommunication companies for allegedly participating in the surveillance was tossed out when Congress granted the industry immunity. The group’s lawsuit against the government seeking the documents was languishing for years until former intelligence worker Edward Snowden released detailed information about the domestic surveillance program earlier this year, reigniting public debate and prompting widespread calls for more public information about the surveillance programs and the secret federal court that authorizes them.

EFF lawyers called the Snowden disclosure a “tipping point” for the Obama administration that “forced their hand” for more disclosure.

Steven Aftergood, head of a project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said he hopes the documents will show how the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court operates.

The surveillance court, known as FISC, was established in 1978 to oversee domestic surveillance operations, and little is known about it. The court’s proceedings are conducted behind closed doors, and all its rulings are considered classified. Up until now, only a few of the court’s opinions have been made public.

Aftergood said he is particularly interested in how judges interpreted federal law concerning espionage in crafting their rulings allowing surveillance. He’s also looking to see how government officials interpreted those rulings.

“There are indications that there have been some very creative interpretations,” Aftergood said. “There’s a lot we just don’t know, and there are likely to be a few surprises.”   

The DOJ said in a court filing last week that it would turn over to EFF “orders and opinions of the FISC issued from Jan. 1, 2004, to June 6, 2011, that contain a significant legal interpretation of the government’s authority or use of its authority under” a section of the U.S. Patriot Act.

The section of the act allows the government to seize a wide range of documents. It requires the government to show that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the records are relevant to an investigation intended to “protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

The DOJ said it will also release “significant documents, procedures, or legal analyses incorporated into FISC opinions or orders and treated as binding by the Department of Justice or the National Security Agency.”  

DOJ lawyers are also reviewing a second batch of documents for declassification by Oct. 31.

The Obama administration’s decision in the case comes just two weeks after it declassified three secret FISA opinions — including one in response to a separate EFF lawsuit in the federal court in Washington. In that October 2011 FISA opinion, Judge James D. Bates rebuked government lawyers for repeatedly misrepresenting the operations of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. He said the government’s “upstream” collection of data — taken from internal U.S. data sources — was unconstitutional. Portions of that order remain blacked out.

On Wednesday, while the Justice Department said it would declassify documents in the California case, it asked a judge in the Washington case to rule that it can continue to black out those materials in the October 2011 FISA opinion. Among other reasons given, the government says that disclosure could damage national security.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Indian film awards arrive in Tampa, Fla., but why?

    The so-called Bollywood Oscars have been held in Macau, Singapore, London — and now, Tampa?

    April 23, 2014

  • Indictment: Prosecutor targeted in kidnapping plot

    A North Carolina prosecutor was the intended target of an elaborate kidnapping plot, but the kidnappers looked up the wrong address on the Internet and abducted the prosecutor’s father instead, according to an indictment released Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Republican activists push party on gay marriage

    As bans against gay marriage crumble and public opinion on the issue shifts rapidly, some Republicans are pushing the party to drop its opposition to same-sex unions, part of a broader campaign to get the GOP to appeal to younger voters by de-emphasizing social issues.

    April 23, 2014

  • Missouri executes inmate for 1993 farm slaying

    Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday only a few miles from the farm where prosecutors say he orchestrated the 1993 killing of a couple whose cows he wanted to steal.

    April 23, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday.

    April 22, 2014

  • A bipolar doctor probes the brain on 'Black Box’

    ABC’s brainy new medical drama “Black Box” does a neat trick: It dares viewers to imagine for themselves the cost-benefit ratio of addiction, and does it without taking a firm stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • Courthouse violence unpredictable despite security

    When Utah’s new federal courthouse opened last week, it came with security improvements that are becoming standard around the country: separate entrances and elevators for judges, defendants and the public; bullet-resistant glass and paneling; and vehicle barricades to keep car bombs at bay.

    April 22, 2014

  • Lucey is tops in Iowa’s ‘Beautiful Bulldog’ event

    Lucey is a slobbering 18-month-old pooch whose human family dreams of making her a therapy dog.

    April 22, 2014

  • Cuban-American leaders helped ’Cuban Twitter’

    Leaders with the largest nonprofit organization for young Cuban-Americans quietly provided strategic support for the federal government’s secret “Cuban Twitter” program, connecting contractors with potential investors and even serving as paid consultants, The Associated Press has learned.

    April 22, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

    April 22, 2014