Royce Lamberth: Let’s Make a Deal

Royce Lamberth appears to be having a split the baby moment in the Richard Horn suit.

As you recall, back in the Clinton era, a DEA official sued the government for illegal spying on him. He alleged that State and CIA conspired to thwart his efforts to cooperate with the Burmese government on drug eradication by spying on him and using information collected to trump up reasons to get him ousted from his post. The suit had been drawing on for years, most recently through the improper invocation of state secrets. Judge Royce Lamberth went ballistic last year when he discovered the CIA and DOJ had been lying to sustain their invocation of state secrets. As predicted, in response DOJ decided to settle the suit, not least because any decision on this case was going to imperil their effort to hide behind state secret to get away with illegally wiretapping al-Haramain. Since last fall, Lamberth has been deliberating whether to let them settle the suit, and/or whether he should go on with investigations into the government’s misconduct in the suit itself.

As Josh Gerstein reports, Lamberth has proposed an implicit deal with the government: if it will treat the case as it would have under Eric Holder’s new state secrets policy, he will allow the government to settle. His proposed deal is this:

  • Al-Haramain will be permitted to submit their amicus curiae brief opposing the vacating of Lamberth’s earlier opinion in the suit, but he will allow the settlement anyway (see this post for more background on the issue)
  • Horn will get his $3 million settlement and taxpayers will, as they did with the Hatfill settlement, pay to make up for the misconduct of government officials
  • DOJ will refer the misconduct of the CIA and DOJ in this case to the Inspectors General of those agencies
  • DOJ will also alert Congress to details of the case, in particular regarding “disturbing evidence” from a sealed motion “indicating that misconduct occurred in the Inspector General’s Offices at both the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency”

Aside from the injustice (which Lamberth is bugged about, but not bugged enough to refuse the settlement) that taxpayers have to pay because government officials engaged in misconduct, this proposition will pretty much guarantee that the government gets away with its scheme to avoid legal consequences by invoking state secrets.

Plus, there’s a tremendous level of irony here. Some of the documents over which the government had invoked state secrets were IG Reports. Yet Lamberth’s proposal to make this right is to do more IG Reports? And while the CIA Inspector Generals has turned over at least twice since the misconduct in question, Lamberth is literally proposing that having CIA’s Inspector General investigate wrongdoing by CIA’s Inspector General will somehow make this right.

Update: I’ve been informed that there is a practice of having other IGs investigate when an agency’s IG is accused of misconduct.

Obama DOJ Continues To FlimFlam Judge Lamberth On State Secrets

The state secrets doctrine was born on the wings of fraud and lies by the US government in the case of US v. Reynolds in 1953. As Congress struggles to rein in the unbridled use of the doctrine to cover up illegality by the Executive Branch (see here, here and here), it is a good idea to keep focus on just how addicted the Executive Branch has become to this unitary ability to quash inquiry into their malfeasance.

It took over four decades for the outright lie in Reynolds to surface and be exposed. The government was well on their way to covering up their similar dishonesty in Horn v. Huddle for decades, if not eternity, when a relentless plaintiff was finally able to demonstrate to Judge Royce Lamberth the fraud being perpetrated upon the court, nearly a decade after the original state secrets assertion. After giving the government multiple opportunities to come clean, Judge Lamberth blistered the DOJ with an opinion literally finding their acts a fraud upon the court.

After being exposed on the record by Judge Lamberth, the government suddenly decided to settle with the plaintiff, with a non-disclosure and no admission of wrongdoing agreement of course, and then moved the court to vacate its rulings against them. The DOJ literally wants to erase the record of their fraud.

But not everybody is quite so excited about the thought of the DOJ wiping the record of their time worn proclivity to dishonesty in state secrets assertions. It important for there to be such a record, with written opinions of the court behind it, because the government is still out there seeking to shirk accountability for illegality and Constitutional malfeasance in critically important cases such as al-Haramain and Jeppesen.

In this regard, the attorney for al-Haramain, Jon Eisenberg, has just taken the extraordinary step of seeking leave to file an amicus brief to Judge Lamberth in the Horn v. Huddle case objecting to the government’s attempt to vacate the court’s opinions. The amicus filing by Eisenberg is brief, but a thing of beauty. And he nails the government for continuing dishonesty with the court by pointing out Read more

Buying Off Victims of Illegal Wiretapping at $3 Million a Pop…

…That could get expensive.

That’s what the federal government agreed to pay to Richard Horn to settle his 15-year old suit against the government for wiretapping him in Burma.

The U.S. Government has agreed to pay $3 million to a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who claims he was spied on by a CIA agent and a U.S. diplomat while working at the U.S. Embassy in Burma more than a decade ago.

The settlement of a long-running lawsuit brought ex-DEA agent Richard Horn was filed tonight in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Still unsettled, though, is whether this will convince Royce Lamberth to ignore all the lies the CIA told the Court in an attempt to use state secrets to make the suit go away.

The government states that “a significant reason” it entered into the settlement is to pursue the possibility of vacating two recent court orders from Lamberth relating to the issues of state secrets and the issuance of clearances. One of the orders the government is seeking to vacate was cited by the plaintiffs in the most viable legal challenge to the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama.

“Leaving intact non-precedential rulings that resolve significant constitutional questions involving separation of powers does not serve the public interest, particularly when the parties have agreed to forego further review to achieve a consensual resolution,” the Justice Department wrote in a separate motion filed tonight.

Update: Josh changed the last quoted paragraph–which makes it all that more interesting. The government is trying to erase Lamberth’s ruling on state secrets. We’ll see how Lamberth feels about that.

As Predicted, the Administration Folds on Horn State Secrets Claims

After Eric Holder came out with his "new" state secrets policy last week, I had this to say:

As I pointed out last month, the Horn case in DC and the al-Haramain case in San Francisco are moving in remarkably parallel direction towards a CIPA-like process, in which the government can be required to provide substitutions for classified information, thereby allowing a suit to move forward even in the case of highly classified information. In both cases, the judge had advocated such a CIPA-like process. Because the government basically took its toys home and refused to cooperate in both cases, both cases either have (in the case of Horn) or will be (in the case of al-Haramain, regardless of what Judge Walker rules) headed to the Circuit Court in the near future. There are reasons to believe the Circuit would support the CIPA-like process in both cases.


Word is that Holder will use the "new" policy to withdraw the state secrets claim in one case, and by all appearances that one case will be Horn (I don’t know whether that means they will try to settle Horn, or whether they’ll just move forward with what amounts to a CIPA-like process without a state secrets claim behind it.)

Now of the three cases in question (Horn, al-Haramain, and Jeppesen), Horn is the one that was the biggest slam dunk legally to support a CIPA-like process (because of the fraud involved and the Circuit Court’s earlier limitation on the state secrets claim). It’s the one in which the Bush Administration’s claim to state secrets was most bogus. And it’s the least risky one to settle or litigate.

By withdrawing the claim of state secrets in Horn (if that is indeed what will happen), the Administration will avoid having the DC Circuit joining the 9th in supporting some kind of CIPA-process in state secrets, while still giving the Administration hopes of dismissing Jeppesen and al-Haramain based on state secrets.

Well, today we’ve got news that the government–after fighting Horn’s suit for 15 years–has all of a sudden decided to settle.

The Obama Administration may be in the process of heading off a court battle over the Executive Branch’s power to control classified information.

Read more

The Royce Lamberth-Vaughn Walker Golf Match

Call me crazy. But reading yesterday’s Royce Lamberth opinion on the Richard Horn case (see bmaz’ post for background) makes me think that Lamberth–Chief Judge for the DC District–and Vaughn Walker–Chief Judge for the 9th District–have been playing golf together recently at some Chief Judges August retreat or something. Because Lamberth’s opinion could have been written by Walker in the al-Haramain case, except of course the underlying facts–but not the Obama Administration’s legal stance–are totally different.

Here are the similarities:

Appeals Court Ruling in Favor of State Secrets Set Aside

In both cases, the Appeals Court in question at least partly ruled in favor of the government’s State Secrets invocation only to have something set that aside. In the Horn case, it was the discovery that the CIA had been lying its ass off in its declarations for years. In the al-Haramain case, it was Walker’s ruling that FISA trumped State Secrets.

This is of course the biggest difference between the underlying facts: the Appeals Court has already substantially rejected the State Secrets invocation in this particular case, whereas in al-Haramain, a statute has (at least for now) been ruled to set aside the State Secrets invocation. But the practical result is the same: the government is still, functionally, insisting on treating the litigation as if State Secrets still held and with that stance, basically arguing that executive authority over classification and secrecy trumps separation of powers. 

Government Refusal to Acknowledge a Court Ruling

In order to proceed as if the State Secrets claim still held in each case, the government is simply proceeding as if the Court judgments have no authority. In al-Haramain, the government repeatedly refused to acknowledge Walker’s decision that FISA did trump State Secrets, continuing on as if it still could protect all the information in the suit. In so doing, it was basically trying to negate the very idea that FISA restricted executive branch actions.

In Horn, the government is trying to claim privilege to prevent the plaintiff from making even a circumstantial case that the government illegally wiretapped him.

Notably, the government’s protective order, supposedly based on the assertions of privilege by Director Panetta, would not even allow the plaintiff to build a circumstantial case that U.S. Government eavesdropping equipment was used to eavesdrop on him, because the protective order would prohibit the plaintiff even from making this argument.


The government’s interpretation of Panetta’s assertion of the privilege, if sustained, would eviscerate the Court of Appeals decision that the very subject matter of Horn’s action is not a state secret.

Read more

CIA Fraud In State Secrets Assertions

There is a new case causing a stir on the state secrets front today. The case is Horn v. Huddle et. al, is filed in the DC District, and has been quietly going on behind the scenes since 1994. From Del Wilber at the Washington Post:

A federal judge has ruled that government officials committed fraud while defending a lawsuit brought by a former DEA agent who accused a CIA operative of illegally bugging his home.

In rulings unsealed Monday, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote that he was also considering sanctions against five current and former agency lawyers and officials, including former director George Tenet, for withholding key information about the operative’s covert status.

The rulings, issued in recent months, highlighted what the judge called fraudulent work by CIA lawyers in defending a suit that Lamberth said had a lengthy and "twisted history."

Here is the ruling issued by Judge Royce Lamberth today that set off the firestorm.

There is a lot of great background on the case, and events behind it, in an old post from Bill Conroy at Narco News in 2004:

Former DEA agent Richard Horn has been fighting the U.S. government for the past 10 years trying to prove the CIA illegally spied on him as part of an effort to thwart his mission in the Southeast Asian country of Burma.

After being removed from his post in Burma, Horn filed litigation in federal court in Washington, D.C., in 1994 accusing top officials for the CIA and State Department in Burma of violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

After languishing in the federal court system for some 10 years, Horn’s case was dismissed in late July of this year [2004] after crucial evidence in the case was suppressed on national security grounds.

What really happened in the Horn case, though, is not supposed to come out, if the government has its way. From the start, Horn’s litigation was sealed and critical evidence that could have supported his claims censored by the court.

Specifically, the evidence – two federal Inspector General (IG) reports that centered on Horn’s accusations – was determined by the court to be protected from disclosure based on something called state secrets privilege. The privilege, which was established as part of a 1953 Supreme Court ruling known as the Reynolds case, allows the government to deep-six information if it is deemed a threat to national security.

“Having determined that state secrets privilege bars disclosure of the IG Reports and certain attachments … the case cannot continue and Read more