NEW YORK – Federal attorneys, citing national security, urged a judge to reject a lawsuit filed by the wife of a former covert CIA employee who claims the government's conduct caused the family mental and physical suffering.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah S. Normand made the argument Monday to Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who asked both sides to submit further papers before she rules.
The U.S. District Court lawsuit by the mother and three children asserts that they were victims of unlawful conduct, breaches of contract and broken promises by the CIA after the family suffered enormous strain living a "very, very covert life," said plaintiff attorney Mark S. Zaid.
The family was not identified because the CIA has continued to label their relationship with the CIA as classified, Zaid said.
Defendants in the case are the CIA, the United States and an agency whose name is classified.
In the largely redacted lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, the wife reports that she "remains a virtual prisoner in her home" and is "constantly fearful of eventual detection" for a reason that is classified.
She argues that while she receives medical treatment and psychological counseling, the CIA has "demanded that she not disclose the basis for her apprehension to her medical professionals, while simultaneously refusing to provide her any alternative treatment."
It's unclear why the woman's husband is not a part of the lawsuit. The husband, who worked in the financial services industry, suffers from serious clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court papers. The family had tried to settle the case with the government but negotiations fell through, Zaid said.
In arguing that the lawsuit be rejected, Normand cited a submission last month by CIA Director Porter Goss, who said state secrets would be divulged that could jeopardize national security if the lawsuit proceeded.
He said it needed to be so secret that the reasons for his assertion of the state secrets privilege cannot be released even to the plaintiffs or their lawyer.
Zaid asked the judge to let him use secure telephone lines to call his clients, who live in another country, to build his case.
Zaid said the CIA is interfering with his ability to represent his clients.
"The message is that if you work in any type of covert capacity with the government you have no right to challenge any action that is perpetrated upon you," he said.
Goss said he asserted a state secrets privilege in the case because he is responsible for protecting CIA intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure.