438 F.Supp.2d 754 (E.D.Mich. 2006), 06-CV-10204, American Civil Liberties Union v. National Sec. Agency

Docket Nº:06-CV-10204.
Citation:438 F.Supp.2d 754
Party Name:AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation; American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan; Council on American-Islamic Relations; Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan; Greenpeace, Inc.; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; James Bamford; Larry Diamond; Christopher Hitchens; Tara Mckelvey; And Barne
Case Date:August 17, 2006
Court:United States District Courts, 6th Circuit, Eastern District of Michigan

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438 F.Supp.2d 754 (E.D.Mich. 2006)

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation; American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan; Council on American-Islamic Relations; Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan; Greenpeace, Inc.; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; James Bamford; Larry Diamond; Christopher Hitchens; Tara Mckelvey; And Barnett R. Rubin, Plaintiffs,


NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY / Central Security Service; and Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander, in his official capacity as Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service, Defendants.

No. 06-CV-10204.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division.

Aug. 17, 2006

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Ann Beeson, New York City, Jameel Jaffer, New York City, Kary L. Moss,

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Detroit, MI, Michael J. Steinberg, Detroit, MI, Margaret A. Costello, Detroit, MI, for plaintiffs.

Andrew Tannenbaum, Washington, DC, Anthony J. Coppolino, Washington, DC, Saul A. Green, Detroit, MI, Larry J. Saylor, Detroit, MI, Hugh M. Davis, Jr., Detroit, MI, Richard A. Samp, Washington, DC, for defendants.


ANNA DIGGS TAYLOR, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This is a challenge to the legality of a secret program (hereinafter "TSP") undisputedly inaugurated by the National Security Agency (hereinafter "NSA") at least by 2002 and continuing today, which intercepts without benefit of warrant or other judicial approval, prior or subsequent, the international telephone and internet communications of numerous persons and organizations within this country. The TSP has been acknowledged by this Administration to have been authorized by the President's secret order during 2002 and reauthorized at least thirty times since. 1

Plaintiffs are a group of persons and organizations who, according to their affidavits, are defined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (hereinafter "FISA") as "U.S. persons." 2 They conducted regular international telephone and internet communications for various uncontestedly legitimate reasons including journalism, the practice of law, and scholarship. Many of their communications are and have been with persons in the Middle East. Each Plaintiff has alleged a "well founded belief" that he, she, or it, has been subjected to Defendants' interceptions, and that the TSP not only injures them specifically and directly, but that the TSP substantially chills and impairs their constitutionally protected communications. Persons abroad who before the program spoke with them by telephone or internet will no longer do so.

Plaintiffs have alleged that the TSP violates their free speech and associational rights, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; their privacy rights, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution; the principle of the Separation of Powers because the TSP has been authorized by the President in excess of his Executive Power under Article II of the United States Constitution, and that it specifically violates the statutory limitations placed upon such interceptions by the Congress in FISA because it is conducted without observation of any of the procedures required by law, either statutory or Constitutional.

Before the Court now are several motions filed by both sides. Plaintiffs have requested a permanent injunction, alleging that they sustain irreparable damage because of the continued existence of the TSP. Plaintiffs also request a Partial Summary Judgment holding that the TSP violates the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"); the Separation of Powers doctrine; the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and the statutory law.

Defendants have moved to dismiss this lawsuit, or in the alternative for Summary Judgment, on the basis of the state secrets evidentiary privilege and Plaintiffs' lack of standing.

II. State Secrets Privilege

Defendants argue that the state secrets privilege bars Plaintiffs' claims because

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Plaintiffs cannot establish standing or a prima facie case for any of their claims without the use of state secrets. Further, Defendants argue that they cannot defend this case without revealing state secrets. For the reasons articulated below, the court rejects Defendants' argument with respect to Plaintiffs' claims challenging the TSP. The court, however, agrees with Defendants with respect to Plaintiffs' datamining claim and grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment on that claim.

The state secrets privilege is an evidentiary rule developed to prevent the disclosure of information which may be detrimental to national security. There are two distinct lines of cases covering the privilege. In the first line of cases the doctrine is more of a rule of "non-justiciability because it deprives courts of their ability to hear suits against the Government based on covert espionage agreements." El-Masri v. Tenet, 437 F.Supp.2d 530, ----, 2006 WL 1391390 at *7 (E.D.Va.2006). The seminal decision in this line of cases is Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105, 23 L.Ed. 605 (1875). In Totten, the plaintiff brought suit against the government seeking payment for espionage services he had provided during the Civil War. In affirming the dismissal of the case, Justice Field wrote:

The secrecy which such contracts impose precludes any action for their enforcement. The publicity produced by an action would itself be a breach of a contract of that kind, and thus defeat a recovery. Totten, 92 U.S. at 107.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed Totten in Tenet v. Doe, 544 U.S. 1, 125 S.Ct. 1230, 161 L.Ed.2d 82, (2005). In Tenet, the plaintiffs, who were former Cold War spies, brought estoppel and due process claims against the United States and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (hereinafter "CIA") for the CIA's alleged failure to provide them with the assistance it had allegedly promised in return for their espionage services. Tenet, 544 U.S. at 3, 125 S.Ct. 1230. Relying heavily on Totten, the Court held that the plaintiffs claims were barred. Delivering the opinion for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote:

We adhere to Totten. The state secrets privilege and the more frequent use of in camera judicial proceedings simply cannot provide the absolute protection we found necessary in enunciating the Totten rule. The possibility that a suit may proceed and an espionage relationship may be revealed, if the state secrets privilege is found not to apply, is unacceptable: "Even a small chance that some court will order disclosure of a source's identity could well impair intelligence gathering and cause sources to 'close up like a clam.' " (citations omitted). Tenet, 544 U.S. at 11, 125 S.Ct. 1230.

The second line of cases deals with the exclusion of evidence because of the state secrets privilege. In United States v. Reynolds, 345 U.S. 1, 73 S.Ct. 528, 97 L.Ed. 727 (1953), the plaintiffs were the widows of three civilians who died in the crash of a B-29 aircraft. Id. at 3-4, 73 S.Ct. 528. The plaintiffs brought suit under the Tort Claims Act and sought the production of the Air Force's official accident investigation report and the statements of the three surviving crew members. Id. The Government asserted the states secret privilege to resist the discovery of this information, because the aircraft in question and those aboard were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force. Id. at 4, 73 S.Ct. 528. In discussing the state secrets privilege and its application, Chief Justice Vinson stated:

The privilege belongs to the Government and must be asserted by it;

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it can neither be claimed nor waived by a private party. It is not to be lightly invoked. There must be formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter, after actual personal consideration by that officer. The court itself must determine whether the circumstances are appropriate for the claim of privilege, and yet do so without forcing a disclosure of the very thing the privilege is designed to protect. Reynolds, 345 U.S. at 8, 73 S.Ct. 528.

The Chief Justice further wrote:

In each case, the showing of necessity which is made will determine how far the court should probe in satisfying itself that the occasion for invoking the privilege is appropriate. Where there is a strong showing of necessity, the claim of privilege should not be lightly accepted, but even the most compelling necessity cannot overcome the claim of privilege if the court is ultimately satisfied that military secrets are at stake. Reynolds, 345 U.S. at 11, 73 S.Ct. 528.

The Court sustained the Government's claim of privilege, finding the plaintiffs' "necessity" for the privileged information was "greatly minimized" by the fact that the plaintiffs had an available alternative. Reynolds, 345 U.S. at 11, 73 S.Ct. 528. Moreover, the Court found that there was nothing to suggest that the privileged information had a "causal connection with the accident" and that the plaintiffs could "adduce the essential facts as to causation without resort to material touching upon military secrets." Id.

In Halkin v. Helms, 598 F.2d 1 (D.C.Cir.1978) (Halkin I), the District of Columbia Circuit Court applied the holding in Reynolds in a case in which the plaintiffs, Vietnam War protestors, alleged that the defendants, former and present members of the NSA, the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service engaged in warrantless surveillance of their international wire, cable and telephone communications with the cooperation of telecommunications...

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