Published July 20, 2009
WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has ruled that CIA officials committed fraud to protect a former covert agent against an eavesdropping lawsuit and is considering sanctioning as many as six who have worked at the agency, including former CIA Director George Tenet.
According to court documents unsealed Monday, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth referred a CIA attorney, Jeffrey Yeates, for disciplinary action. Lamberth also denied the CIA's renewed efforts under the Obama administration to keep the case secret because of what he calls the agency's "diminished credibility" and the "twisted history" in the case.
The judge also criticized CIA Director Leon Panetta, saying he's given conflicting accounts about what should be revealed in the case. The ruling led to the unsealing Monday of more than 200 unclassified versions of classified filings in the 13-year-old case.
"The court does not give the government a high degree of deference because of its prior misrepresentations regarding the state secrets privilege in this case," Lamberth ruled.
The court case comes amid increased scrutiny and allegations of lying against the spy agency.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in May that she believes the CIA lied to her about its harsh interrogation program in 2002. Panetta said in June that the CIA had not notified Congress about a secret program to develop hit squads for al-Qaida terrorists. And Congress is investigating whether the agency broke the law by not informing lawmakers about that and other secret activities.
The eavesdropping lawsuit was brought by a former agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Richard Horn, who says his home in Rangoon, Burma, was illegally wiretapped by the CIA in 1993. He says Arthur Brown, the former CIA station chief in Burma, and Franklin Huddle Jr., the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma, were trying to get him relocated because they disagreed with his work with Burmese officials on the country's drug trade.
The agency has not said in court filings whether or not it monitored Horn, but Horn claims he was monitored without lawful authority and in violation of his constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Horn says he became suspicious when he came back from a trip out of town to find his government-issued rectangular coffee table replaced with a round one.
Lamberth criticized Panetta for claiming at one point that the CIA's methods for conducting electronic surveillance are state secrets, even though the type of transmitter that Horn claims was used on his coffee table is unclassified and on display at Washington's Spy Museum.
Horn also points to a cable that Huddle sent to Washington quoting his private telephone conversation, which Lamberth labeled "highly suspicious."
Horn sued Brown and Huddle in 1994, seeking monetary damages for violations of his civil rights because of the alleged wiretapping.
Tenet filed an affidavit in 2000 asking that the case against Brown be dismissed because he was a covert agent whose identity was a state secret that must not be revealed in open court. Lamberth granted the CIA's request and threw out the case against Brown in 2004.
But Lamberth found out last year that Brown's cover had been lifted in 2002, even though the CIA continued to file legal documents saying his status was covert. The judge found that the CIA intentionally misled the court and reinstated the case against Brown.
The former acting CIA general counsel, John Rizzo, said in a court filing that the CIA's office of general counsel did not know Brown's cover status changed until 2005, three years after the fact.
Rizzo said that one CIA attorney, Yeates, knew about the change but did not tell the court or his supervisors.
Brown disputes Rizzo's account. In a statement to the court, Brown says that he met personally with two other CIA attorneys, Robert J. Eatinger and John Radsan, in 2002, within a few months of the CIA rolling back his covert status and notified them of the agency's action.
While Lamberth referred Yeates for disciplinary action for intentionally misleading the court, he delayed action until he determines if others, including Rizzo, Eatinger, Radsan, Tenet and Brown himself, should face contempt charges or sanctions for failing to notify the court of Brown's change in status. He has given the five others a month to explain why they shouldn't be held responsible.
CIA spokesman George Little offered a brief response to the case, saying that the agency takes its obligation to the U.S. courts seriously. The CIA refused to confirm the employment status of the officials in the case. A spokesman for Tenet declined to comment.