LOS ANGELES, May 14 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Justice Department hascalled for
an end to an eavesdropping lawsuit against AT&T Corp., citing possible
damage from the litigation to national security, the Los Angeles Times reported
The call won the support from John D. Negroponte, director of
national intelligence, and from Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the
National Security Agency (NSA), according to the paper.
It quoted officials as saying that the lawsuit by AT&T customers would
bring up matters too sensitive for public discussion.
The lawsuit was brought up in San Francisco after press reportsshowed that
the NSA had access to domestic calling records from three of the four major
telephone companies including AT&T since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The
NSA interception of international phone calls was described by the Bush
Administrationas the country's most highly classified spy project.
A number of legal experts said the program appeared to violate privacy laws
and restrictions on spying within U.S. borders.
The San Francisco case dates from earlier reports, including accounts that
the NSA listened in on phone calls with one end in the United States, and that
the agency was conducting widespread data-mining, scanning the activities of
phone company customers insearch of patterns or connections to terrorists.
None of the activities were approved by the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court, which was established in 1978 to secretly authorize taps on
the communications of suspected foreignagents on U.S. soil.
The administration was attempting to avoid congressional and public debates
on the details of the NSA's controversial surveillance activities since the
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Referring to the case, Negroponte and Alexander said they couldneither
confirm nor deny specific allegations without risking the disclosure of secret
In the new court papers, Justice Department officials argued that whether
the operations were legal or not, they involved secrets.
"Adjudication of whether the alleged surveillance activities have been
conducted within lawful authority cannot be resolved without state secrets,"
wrote Assistant Atty. Gen. Peter D. Keisler and other lawyers on the case.
But customers in the lawsuit said privacy and laws cannot be sacrificed
under the cloak of national security.
"The government is trying to shove the NSA and AT&T illegal spying
operation under an impenetrable cloak of secrecy," said Kevin Bankston of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group representing AT&T
customers in the lawsuit. "They are essentially arguing that no one can ever go
to court to stop illegal surveillance, so long as they claim it was done in the
name of national security."
Bankston said that the essentials of the spying program had been widely
reported, so that no real secrets would be revealed.
But law experts said the lawsuit against AT&T was unlikely to succeed
since many previous court challenges had been derailed by the national security
argument, known formally as the state secrets privilege.
The government was not originally a party to the case, which instead seeks
to hold AT&T responsible for divulging private information to the NSA. Now
that it has joined the fight, it couldpresent insurmountable obstacles, law
experts said. Enditem