FBI Muslim spying lawsuit against US is tossed by judge
By VICTORIA KIM | Los Angeles Times | Published: August 15, 2012
SANTA ANA, Calif. - A federal judge Tuesday threw out a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government and the FBI over the agency's spying on Orange County, Calif., Muslims, ruling that allowing the suit to go forward would risk divulging sensitive state secrets.
Comparing himself to Odysseus navigating the waters between a six-headed monster and a deadly whirlpool, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney wrote that "the state secrets privilege may unfortunately mean the sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of national security."
The judge said that he reached the decision reluctantly after reviewing confidential declarations filed by top FBI officials, and that he was convinced the operation in question involved "intelligence that, if disclosed, would significantly compromise national security."
Carney allowed the suit to stand against individual FBI agents and supervisors on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-related claims.
The class-action lawsuit was brought by a group of Orange County Muslims who contended that their constitutional rights were trampled when the FBI sent an undercover informant into their midst to illegally spy on them.
The controversy revolves around the actions of Craig Monteilh, who alleges that he posed as a Muslim convert at the behest of the FBI to collect information at Orange County mosques. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued on behalf of community members who alleged that the FBI engaged in a "dragnet" investigation that indiscriminately targeted Muslims based on their religion, planted bugs in offices and homes, and listened in on private religious conversations.
The U.S. government asserted the state secrets privilege in the case, contending that divulging their targets in counterterrorism investigations, as well as how and why, would endanger national security.
Monteilh, a convict who the FBI acknowledges worked as an informant on a case dubbed Operation Flex, has since taken his story public and filed lengthy court papers for the ACLU outlining his FBI work.
"That information could cause harm for years to come," Department of Justice attorney Anthony Coppolino told Carney in court Tuesday.
While acknowledging that asserting the state secrets privilege could be seen as "unfair or harsh," Coppolino said it was necessary for the greater public good.
ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham argued that the government should not be allowed to "shut the courthouse door" simply by citing national security. "It's contrary to the basic notion that the judiciary determines what the law is and holds the government to it," he said. "We're exempting huge swaths of government activity to judicial oversight."