(PresidentialWire.com)- The Supreme Court this week grappled with whether plaintiffs could proceed with their claims against the FBI, or whether the FBI’s actions are within the scope of the federal government’s privilege.
The case at hand is a surveillance operation that happened after 9/11 targeting a particular Muslim community in California. The issue specifically is how courts should be able to handle the federal government’s various assertions of state secrets privilege.
That privilege is a legal doctrine that allows some information to remain concealed if the disclosure of that information is deemed to potentially threaten national security.
Some of the justices on the high court apparently signaled they would be in favor of a narrow path that could permit the three plaintiffs to continue pursuing claims against the FBI. The plaintiffs are all Muslim men who the FBI targeted as part of the operation.
At the same time, the justices wanted to see whether they could also allow the high court to defer some of the “thornier questions” about privilege.
In 2006, the FBI started a counterterrorism operation that lasted 14 months. As part of it, the agency surveilled members of the Muslim community in Southern California.
An FBI informant posed as a person who converted to become a Muslim. The man, Craig Monteilh, then recorded conversations he had with other Muslims at various places, including mosques.
The twist to the story is that halfway into the investigation, Monteilh himself started making some provocative statements regarding jihad. Those statements alarmed some of his new acquaintances eventually ended up reporting him to the FBI.
The FBI eventually parted ways with this confidential informant. After they did so, Monteilh released the details of the FBI’s operation to the public. Since that time, the FBI confirmed their informant did in fact make secret recordings while he was working under cover.
Three of the men who the FBI spied on sued the agency in 2011. They were alleging many things, including that they were targeted illegally based only on their religion.
When the suit was filed, the FBI invoked the government’s state secrets privilege, asking as a result that the judge dismiss all the relevant claims. They alleged that litigation in the case would force the FBI to disclose protected information.
The court granted that request, and the plaintiffs eventually appealed.
That decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, which allowed the three Muslim plaintiffs to continue forward with their claim.
In their decision, the appeals court said the lower court erred because it applied rules made by the court to make a decision on the privilege claim made by the government when it should’ve used a procedure called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that was passed in the 1970s.
Supreme Court justices who were weighing in on the case this week were trying to decide whether the judge at the district level, dismissed the plaintiffs’ case prematurely.