On Friday, the US Supreme Court decided that the FBI can invoke the “state secrets”Privilege to prevent a judge from reviewing evidence regarding its surveillance of a California Mosque in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
A unanimous opinion by Justice Samul Alito (conservative) ruled that state secrets laws currently prohibit lower-court judges from looking at information from FBI relevant to the case.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would permit a judge behind closed doors to review this information, allowing for the proceeding against the FBI without revealing any intelligence publically.
Alito, however, stated that “Congress did not eliminate, curtail, or modify the state secrets privilege when it enacted”FISA cannot override state secrets laws, so FISA doesn’t trump them.
This case is an ongoing battle. It began when the FBI sent an informant to a mosque in Orange County in 2006. According to Los Angeles Times, informant “recorded thousands of hours of conversations and compiled names and phone numbers,”Finally, trying to talk into some faithful “carry[ing] out a terrorist attack in this country.”
Some of the mosque’s attendees reported the informant to the FBI, and he then joined the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of these men in bringing a lawsuit against the agency. This lawsuit has been languishing in lower courts ever since 2011. It alleges that plaintiffs were targeted because of their faith and their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches or seizures have been violated.
A federal judge dismissed the case in 2012. He argued that state secrets privilege enabled the FBI to conceal its motives for attacking the mosque. However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case in 2019 when it ruled that the agency’s evidence could be examined in private under FISA.
Friday’s ruling does not explicitly block the case from proceeding, but sends it back down to the 9th Circuit, which will be asked to reconsider whether the FBI’s evidence is crucial to the case.
According to President Obama, Trump, and Biden’s Justice Department, revealing such evidence would be a threat to national security. The Supreme Court has deferred to this argument before, and in a separate ruling on Thursday blocked two former CIA contractors from testifying before a Polish tribunal about the CIA’s use of torture and waterboarding at a “black site”The suspect is believed to have been in Poland. While the court found that this testimony could reveal state secrets, the existence of the CIA’s torture program and the grizly accounts of those tortured by the agency have been public knowledge for nearly a decade.