WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court is preparing to hear a case on the government’s ability to push for an end to lawsuits, arguing they will reveal secrets that threaten national security.
The case, which was brought to the Supreme Court on Monday, concerns a group of Muslim men from Southern California. They filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the FBI spied on them and hundreds of others during a surveillance operation following the 9/11 attacks. The group, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and others, claimed religious discrimination and violations of other rights, claiming they were spied on solely because of their faith.
The lower court dismissed nearly all of their claims after the government said the trial could reveal “state secrets” – who the government is investigating and why. But the appellate court overturned that decision, stating that the lower court first had to privately examine the evidence, which the government claimed was state secret, to ascertain that the alleged surveillance was unlawful.
The Biden administration, like the previous Trump administration, tells judges that the decision is wrong.
The case concerns the confidential informant Craig Monteil, who was used by the FBI from 2006 to 2007. Montail pretended to be a convert to Islam to become part of the Muslim community in Southern California.
Montey told People that he was a fitness consultant, but he was actually working on a surveillance program known as Operation Flex. Montey regularly visited the Irvine Islamic Center in Orange County and said that he had been ordered to collect as much information as possible about as many people as possible. He collected names and phone numbers and secretly recorded thousands of hours of conversations and hundreds of hours of video using a camera hidden in a shirt button.
In the end, Monteil’s handlers told him to ask about jihad and express his readiness for violence. These questions led community members to report him to the FBI and other authorities and demand a restraining order against him.
The FBI admitted that Montey was an informant, and the story was covered in the media, including the National Public Radio program This American Life.
Three of the men allegedly listed have sued, demanding damages and asking the government to destroy or return the collected information.
This is the second state secret case that has been pending in court since the start of its new term in October. Last month, a court heard a case involving a detainee in Guantanamo Bay, which also involved state secrets.