The nation's spy court said Tuesday that it will not make public its documents regarding the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in a rare public opinion, said the public has no right to view the documents because they deal with the clandestine workings of national security agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked the court to release the records in August. Specifically, the organization asked for the government's legal briefs and the court's opinions on the wiretapping program.
Writing for the court, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates refused. Releasing the documents would reveal closely guarded secrets that enemies could used to evade detection or disrupt intelligence activities, he said.
"All these possible harms are real and significant and, quite frankly, beyond debate," Bates wrote.
One of the key documents being sought were court orders that allowed the Bush administration to bring the wiretapping program under the court's purview in January. Previously, the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program allowed investigators to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or from the U.S. without court oversight.
The White House said in January that it no longer needed the program because the spy court had established standards that satisfied the administration. The ACLU said it wanted to know what those standards are, how they were set up and how they were justified.
Bates acknowledged that the public would benefit from seeing the documents. The decision-making process would be understood, he said, and public oversight could help safeguard against government abuse. But the dangers of releasing such sensitive materials far outweigh that public benefit, Bates said.
ACLU lawyers did not immediately comment on the opinion.
Check back from more on this developing story.