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The empire strikes back

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May 17, 2006

The Bush Administration, in a legal response to a lawsuit against AT&T’s collaboration with the government to spy on Americans is taking the position that he can’t discuss why it spies on who it wants, when it wants and by whatever means it wants.

Writes Bob Egelko in The San Francisco Chonicle:

The Bush administration has launched a multi-pronged attack on a lawsuit that accuses AT&T of collaborating with the U.S. government in illegal electronic surveillance, arguing that customers can’t prove their phones were tapped or that the company or the government broke the law _ and that, in any event, the entire case endangers national security.

Those assertions in a move for dismissal were based on arguments and evidence that the government submitted to a federal judge under seal, keeping them secret from the public and from the privacy-rights group that filed the suit on behalf of AT&T customers.

The sealed documents and a heavily edited public version were submitted in federal court in San Francisco early Saturday along with declarations from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, and Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency. Both officials attest to the need for secrecy as a reason to keep the lawsuit, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, from going forward.

"Any attempt to proceed in this case will substantially risk disclosure of … privileged information and will cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States," Alexander said in a public filing accompanying his sealed statement.

The foundation filed suit in January accusing AT&T of illegally giving the NSA access to its voice and data network and its customer databases to help the agency’s surveillance program.

The message is clear. Mess with us and we’ll mess with you.

The Chronicle’s report continues:

In Saturday’s filing, government lawyers wrote that "the lawfulness of the alleged activities cannot be determined without a full factual record, and that record cannot be made without seriously compromising U.S. national security interests."

Without evidence of how the program operated and whom it targeted _ evidence that the Justice Department argued can’t be made public _ the plaintiffs have no chance of proving the essential elements of their case, the government said.

In other words, the Bush Administration’s position "we could defend ourselves here but it we did we’d have to kill you."