A federal judge says the CIA is hiding behind dubious national security arguments to shield itself from a potentially embarrassing lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who earlier ruled that CIA officials committed fraud to protect a former covert agent accused in the suit, has rejected an emergency request to put the case on hold while the government appeals.
The CIA has argued that allowing the case to proceed would divulge classified information, but, in an opinion made public on Friday, Lamberth said there was no good reason to delay.
In the suit, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent claims the CIA illegally wiretapped his home when stationed in Rangoon, Burma in 1993. The agent, Richard Horn, said he became suspicious when he returned from a trip to find his government-issued rectangular coffee table had been replaced with a round one.
The case has been a test of the Obama administration's use of the so-called state secrets privilege, when the government seeks to block legal action by saying the details that would be revealed would harm national security.
Administration officials have pledged to review all state secrets claims made by the previous Bush administration, but in many cases the government is still asserting the need to prevent disclosures that it says would harm national security.
In the DEA case, Lamberth has previously rejected the state secrets claim. Government lawyers are attempting to reassert the privilege but on different grounds, but the judge isn't buying it.
"Having lost on their assertion of the state secrets privilege, the government's new refrain is heads you lose, tails we win," the judge wrote.
The court case is rooted in an old squabble between the DEA and CIA operating overseas.
Horn claims Arthur Brown, the former CIA station chief in Burma, now known as Myanmar, and Franklin Huddle Jr., the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma, were trying to get him relocated because they disagreed with his work with Burmese officials on the country's drug trade.
The CIA has not said in court filings whether or not it monitored Horn, but Horn claims he was monitored without lawful authority and in violation of his constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.