The Obama administration invoked the controversial "state secrets" privilege again on Friday, arguing that if U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker were to permit a legal case against the government to proceed, he would be putting national security at risk.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement about the case, Shubert et. al v. Obama, that "there is no way for this case to move forward without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence activities that we rely upon to protect the safety of the American people."
The case is a class action suit brought by four Brooklynites alleging that the Bush administration engaged in wholesale dragnet surveillance of ordinary Americans in which they were unjustly caught because they regularly made phone calls and sent emails to individuals outside the U.S., specifically in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Egypt, the Netherlands, and Norway.
Obama administration officials argued that even addressing or attempting to refute the plaintiffs’ claim would require the administration "to disclose intelligence sources and methods, or the lack thereof."
Holder said he was invoking the privilege despite having outlined new policies and procedures last month containing new internal and external checks and balances for the Justice Department to follow before invoking the privilege, requiring "a thorough, multi-stage review and rely(ing) upon robust judicial and congressional oversight."
Holder said the "core claims in this case involve questions about ongoing intelligence operations, and allowing it to proceed would disclose critical activities of high value to the national security of this country." He insisted the Justice Department was not invoking the privilege "to conceal government misconduct or avoid embarrassment, nor are we invoking it to preserve executive power."
"The Obama administration has essentially adopted the position of the Bush administration in these cases," said Kevin Bankston, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "even though candidate Obama was incredibly critical of both the warrantless wiretapping program and the Bush administration's abuse of the state secrets privilege."
The EFF is involved in similar litigation in a different case.
The Obama-Biden campaign website describes in part "The Problem" as the Bush administration having "invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court." But President Obama has invoked the state secrets privilege in a number of cases since taking office.