Justice Department accidentally releases secret surveillance documents

Breach could jeopardize criminal prosecution.

Published February 16, 2006 5:54PM (EST)


In what appears to have been an effort to bury defense attorneys in mountains of paperwork, Justice Department lawyers accidentally revealed "classified counter-terrorism information in a breach of national security that could also threaten one of the country's biggest terrorism prosecution cases," the Los Angeles Times is reporting.

The mistake was made last year in a criminal case against officials from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which the Times describes as a "a now-defunct Islamic charity with alleged ties to terrorists." As part of the discovery process in that case, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Dallas provided defense attorneys with access to thousands of pages of documents "piled indiscriminately in unmarked boxes." Four months after the document dump, the Times says, FBI agents figured out that the papers included classified documents that weren't supposed to be released, including wiretap requests to and orders from the supposed-to-be-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and "about 80 volumes of translated summaries of conversations."

Court documents show that the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case tried to retrieve the documents by demanding access to the room in the federal courthouse that had been set aside for defense attorneys to review them. When a court security officer and defense attorneys refused to let him in, the prosecutor went to the judge handling the case, who has since taken custody of the documents and ruled them "off-limits" to both sides, the Times says.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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