United States v. Hasbajrami, Docket No. 15-2684-L

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtGERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee, v. AGRON HASBAJRAMI, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberDocket No. 17-2669-CON,Docket No. 15-2684-L
Decision Date18 December 2019

AGRON HASBAJRAMI, Defendant-Appellant.

Docket No. 15-2684-L
Docket No. 17-2669-CON


August Term, 2018
Argued: August 27, 2018
December 18, 2019

Before: LYNCH, CARNEY, and DRONEY, Circuit Judges.

Agron Hasbajrami was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in September 2011 and charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. After he pleaded guilty, the government disclosed, for the first time, that certain evidence involved in Hasbajrami's arrest and prosecution had been derived from information obtained by the government without a warrant pursuant to its warrantless surveillance program under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Hasbajrami then withdrew his initial plea

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and moved to suppress any fruits of the Section 702 surveillance. The district court (Gleeson, then-J.) denied the motion to suppress and Hasbajrami again pleaded guilty, this time pursuant to a conditional guilty plea that allowed him to appeal the district court's ruling denying his motion to suppress.

He now appeals, arguing inter alia that the warrantless surveillance and the collection of his communications violated the Fourth Amendment. We conclude that the collection of the communications of United States persons incidental to the lawful surveillance of non-United States persons located abroad does not violate the Fourth Amendment and that, to the extent that the government's inadvertent targeting of a United States person led to collection of Hasbajrami's communications, he was not harmed by that collection. [Redacted] Because there is insufficient information in either the classified or the public record in this case to permit us to determine whether any such querying was reasonable, and therefore permissible under the Fourth Amendment, we REMAND the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

MICHAEL K. BACHRACH, Law Office of Michael K. Bachrach, New York, NY, Joshua L. Dratel, Joshua L. Dratel, P.C., New York, NY, and Steve Zissou, Steve Zissou & Associates, Bayside, NY, for Defendant-Appellant Agron Hasbajrami.

SETH D. DUCHARME, David C. James, Saritha Komatireddy, Assistant United States Attorneys, Joseph F. Palmer, Attorney, National Security Division, United States Department of Justice for Richard P. Donoghue, United Stales District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn, NY, for the United States of America.

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PATRICK TOOMEY and Ashley Gorski, American Civil Liberties Foundation, New York, NY, Mark Rumold and Andrew Crocker, Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco, CA, Amici Curiae American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

GERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge:

This case concerns the Fourth Amendment implications of the government's increasing technological capacity for electronic surveillance in foreign intelligence and terrorism investigations, and the balance our constitutional system requires between national security and individual privacy.

On September 6, 2011, Defendant-Appellant Agron Hasbajrami ("Hasbajrami") was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Turkey at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York. His luggage contained a tent, boots, and cold-weather gear. The government, which had collected Hasbajrami's electronic communications, charged him with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, alleging that he intended to travel to the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, where he expected to join a terrorist organization, receive training, and ultimately fight "against U.S. forces and others in Afghanistan and Pakistan." App'x at 44. During the course of the prosecution, the government disclosed that it had collected some of its

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evidence under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 ("FISA"), Pub. L. No. 95-511, 92 Stat. 1783 (1978), codified at 50 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq., and that it intended to introduce FISA-derived evidence at any eventual trial. Faced with the evidence, including his own incriminating communications, Hasbajrami ultimately pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339A. He was sentenced to 180 months in prison.

Hasbajrami was already serving his sentence when the government provided him with a supplemental letter disclosing, for the first time, that some of the evidence it had previously disclosed from FISA surveillance was itself the fruit of earlier information obtained without a warrant pursuant to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act ("Section 702"), Pub. L. No. 110-261, 122 Stat. 2436 (2008), codified at 50 U.S.C. § 1881a.

It is that Section 702-derived evidence — primarily electronic communications between Hasbajrami and individuals without ties to the United States and located abroad — that is at issue in this appeal. Following the disclosure of Section 702 surveillance, the district court (John Gleeson, then-J.) permitted Hasbajrami to withdraw his plea; Hasbajrami subsequently moved to suppress all evidence seized by the government under its Section 702 programs,

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as well as any fruits of that surveillance, including the evidence obtained pursuant to FISA warrants and inculpatory statements Hasbajrami made upon arrest. The district court denied the motion to suppress, and Hasbajrami again pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the district court's denial of his suppression motion.

The vast majority of Section 702 surveillance at issue here involves information the government collected about Hasbajrami incidental to its surveillance of other individuals without ties to the United States and located abroad. [Redacted] 1

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In light of that disclosure, and the evidence in the public and classified record, we reach three principal conclusions:

First, the "incidental collection" of communications (that is, the collection of the communications of individuals in the United States acquired in the course of the surveillance of individuals without ties to the United States and located abroad) is permissible under the Fourth Amendment. We therefore conclude, in agreement with the district court, that, at least insofar as the record available to the district court is concerned, the vast majority of the evidence detailed in the record was lawfully collected.

Second, the "inadvertent collection" of communications of those located within the United States (that is, the acquisition of communications accidentally collected because an intelligence agency mistakenly believes that an individual is a non-United States person located abroad and therefore targets that individual's e-mail address under its Section 702 authority) raises novel constitutional questions. We do not reach those

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questions today because we are satisfied that, to the extent such accidental collection occurred in this case, any information thus acquired did not taint the investigation or prosecution of Hasbajrami.

Third, querying databases of stored information derived from Section 702-acquired surveillance also raises novel and difficult questions. Querying, depending on the particulars of a given case (such as what databases are queried, for what purpose, and under what circumstances), could violate the Fourth Amendment, and thus require the suppression of evidence; therefore, a district court must ensure that any such querying was reasonable. But no information about any queries conducted as to Hasbajrami was provided to the district court, and the information provided to us on this subject is too sparse to reach a conclusion as to the reasonableness of any such queries conducted as to Hasbajrami.

Given these conclusions, further proceedings are necessary to determine (a) what (if any) evidence relevant to Hasbajrami was obtained by the government by querying databases, (b) whether any such querying violated the Fourth Amendment and, if so, (c) whether any such violation tainted other lawfully-collected evidence. We therefore REMAND the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


This appeal concerns the legal status of evidence of Hasbajrami's electronic communications with individuals located abroad, which was collected by the

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government without a warrant pursuant to the government's authority under Section 702. The background to this appeal may be easily summarized: Hasbajrami sought to suppress evidence the government acquired under Section 702, arguing that the government had violated his Fourth Amendment rights when it seized his communications without a warrant, and that those communications, and any information that the government later collected as the fruit of that initial warrantless surveillance, should therefore be suppressed. The district court declined to suppress the evidence, and Hasbajrami pleaded guilty while reserving his right to appeal the district court's decision.

But our disposition of the case turns in part on the particulars of how Section 702-acquired surveillance was used in Hasbajrami's prosecution; a fuller accounting of the facts of Hasbajrami's case and the nature of Section 702 surveillance is therefore necessary. First, we begin by describing Hasbajrami's arrest and the initial proceedings in which he pleaded guilty, the subsequent disclosure of Section 702 surveillance, Hasbajrami's withdrawal of his guilty plea, and his subsequent motion to suppress. Second, we describe in broad terms the operation of Section 702 surveillance. Third, we turn to the district court's discussion of the use of Section 702 evidence (that it was aware of) in this case,

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and its denial of the suppression motion. Finally, we describe the proceedings at the district court following its denial of the suppression motion, and the proceedings on appeal.

I. Allegations and Initial...

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