Court Temporarily Halts CIA Secrets Case

" ... Administration officials have pledged to review all state secrets claims made by the previous Bush administration, but in many cases the government is still asserting the need to prevent disclosures that it says would harm national security. ... Horn claims 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. ... "

By DEVLIN BARRETT (AP)

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has put a lawsuit against the CIA on hold temporarily, disagreeing with a lower court judge who claimed the agency was hiding behind dubious national security arguments to shield itself from potential embarrassment.

The decision by a federal appeals panel on Thursday to grant an emergency stay will likely put off the questioning of a key witness in the case. The CIA has argued that allowing the case to proceed would divulge classified information.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected a similar request to put the case on hold. In an opinion written last week, but made public on Friday, Lamberth said there was no good reason to delay.

In the suit, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent claims the CIA illegally wiretapped his home when stationed in Rangoon, Burma in 1993. The agent, Richard Horn, said he became suspicious when he returned from a trip to find his government-issued rectangular coffee table had been replaced with a round one.

The case has been a test of the Obama administration's use of the so-called state secrets privilege, when the government seeks to block legal action by saying the details that would be revealed would harm national security.

Administration officials have pledged to review all state secrets claims made by the previous Bush administration, but in many cases the government is still asserting the need to prevent disclosures that it says would harm national security.

In the DEA case, Lamberth has previously rejected the state secrets claim. Government lawyers are attempting to reassert the privilege but on different grounds, but the judge isn't buying it.

"Having lost on their assertion of the state secrets privilege, the government's new refrain is heads you lose, tails we win," the judge wrote.

Yet the appeals court decision suggests the CIA may well win their continued claim to maintain secrecy in the matter.

The court case is rooted in an old squabble between the DEA and CIA operating overseas.

Horn claims 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 CIA 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.

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