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Judge knocks back NYT wiretap documents suit

Details of Bush-ordered NSA eavesdropping stay secret

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A US federal judge has ruled in favour of government agencies' refusal to release classified information related to a controversial surveillance programme.

AP reports that a lawsuit filed against the Defense and Justice departments by the New York Times was dismissed, on the grounds that the information withheld was exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Times had sought information regarding the hotly-disputed National Security Agency (NSA) mass wiretapping effort against international communications from within the USA, which was authorised by President Bush in the wake of 9/11 on his sole authority.

Normally, any attempt by US intelligence to eavesdrop on US citizens must be conducted with a judicial warrant, if necessary issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FIS) federal court. The NSA programme was reportedly placed back under FIS jurisdiction in January, but details of its conduct are still unclear.

The story was broken by the Times in 2005. The paper had actually known of the NSA programme since 2004, but had been asked by the government to suppress the story on national security grounds. Now its ongoing attempts to uncover the details appear to have foundered. The judge has decided that the classified material requested by the paper would reveal US intelligence sources and methods, perhaps compromising security.

A later decision will be made regarding unclassified documents, but these are relatively unlikely to contain anything of significance.

However, the issue of enhanced powers conferred on US security and intelligence officials in the wake of 9/11 remains a live one. The Senate judiciary committee has issued subpoenas requiring that legal evaluations of the NSA programme be handed over. Other organisations are engaged in lawsuits and manoeuvres on the same general topic.

The AP report can be read here. ®

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