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US govt. can't ‘search and destroy’ leaked secrets

The shoplifting ex-spy and the myserious overseas mission

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A US judge has turned down a Justice Department request to seek out and delete online records about classified information that temporarily became public as the result of a lawsuit.

AP reports that legal experts considered the government motion "highly unusual" because it failed to name the computers on which the information was held nor specify how the government would retrieve and destroy information already made public.

Assistant US Attorney Kristin S Door in Sacramento told the news agency that she was reviewing legal material for grounds on which the government might renew its request.

The sensitive data relates to court documents filed by a former FBI counterintelligence agent, Lok T Lau, who is suing his former employer for wrongful dismissal. Lau was dismissed in the late 1990s for shoplifting. He claims this "aberrant" behaviour resulted from the stress of these undercover assignments, which the government failed to take into account when considering his case.

Court documents in the case, which contain references to a classified one-month undercover overseas trip by Lau to an unnamed country in late 1987, were available at the courthouse for 19 days and published on the Net by groups including the California First Amendment Coalition, AP reports.

US District Judge Garland E Burrell Jr. supported a government request to exorcise classified documents from court files on the case but he rejected a broader request to would have allowed Justice Department officers to "seek and destroy" electronic copies of the classified documents.

The FBI usually abandons attempts to protect classified documents once they become widely accessible to the public. In this case, the government has decided to go the extra yard in its attempts to put the Genie back into the bottle. ®

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