February 17, 2006


Secret Data Exposed in Terrorism Case: Federal officials erred in releasing intelligence documents to an Islamic charity's defense team. (Greg Krikorian, February 16, 2006, LA Times)

Federal officials in Dallas mistakenly disclosed classified counter-terrorism information in a breach of national security that could also threaten one of the country's biggest terrorism prosecution cases, newly unsealed court records show.

The blunder exposed secret wiretap requests that commonly include classified information from U.S. agencies, foreign intelligence reports and confidential sources. [...]

The unsealed records, included in boxes of selected classified data turned over to defense lawyers in April, included what a federal prosecutor called "extraordinarily sensitive information."

But it was more than four months before FBI agents discovered, on Aug. 12, that the documents included still-secret data not intended for release.

When authorities scrambled to retrieve the secret documents from a courthouse room reserved for defense lawyers, a court security official blocked their access, records show.

According to a government legal brief filed in the case, the erroneous disclosures represent the first such misstep in the 27-year history of the nation's top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Defense lawyers have always been denied access to applications and affidavits justifying warrants for national security surveillance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2006 12:00 AM

The incompetence of the FBI would be the issue here.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at February 17, 2006 6:49 AM

I hope the big guy in the sky doesn't get sick and tired of pulling our national security chestnuts out of the fire of our gross bureaucratic stupidity.

Posted by: erp at February 17, 2006 10:11 AM

I'm mystified how this security breach could occur. When I prosecuted cases involving a FISA wiretap a few years after adoption of FISA, the FBI installed a national security safe in my office where the warrants and supporting affidavits were kept. Reason being that the documents (particularly the affidavits) contained very sensitive sourcing information. Those were the only documents in the safe. When copying other non-classified documents for disclosure to the defense, there would be no reason to open the safe. The classified documents were taken from the safe only to review them, and put back in the locked safe when you left the office, even for a cup of coffee down the hall. Someone has got some 'splainin to do as to how these classified documents were intermingled with other records. I really hope that no human sources are killed due to this blunder.

Ali: Hate to admit it, but it could be a prosecutor's incompetence.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at February 17, 2006 11:53 AM

If the classified documents safe described by Fred J. works like the ones I've seen, it has an access log. It should not be hard to zero on in on the individual responsible for the screw-up.

We're not going to shoot anyone over this, but severe sanctions are appropriate: dismissal, felony conviction, disbarment. This is a lot more serious than dusting your hunting buddy.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 17, 2006 8:46 PM