Lawsuit Alleges Illegal Wiretaps by NSA
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Civil rights attorneys have sued the National Security Agency, claiming it illegally wiretapped conversations between the leaders of an Islamic charity that had been accused of aiding Muslim militants and two of its lawyers.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland asks that electronic surveillance by the NSA be shut down, arguing the agency illegally wiretapped electronic communications between a local chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, both attorneys in Washington, D.C.
The complaint also seeks $1 million in damages for each of the plaintiffs.
It alleges the NSA did not follow procedures required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and failed to obtain a court order authorizing electronic surveillance of the charity and its attorneys.
Dave Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Oregon, said the complaint is similar to other lawsuits the ACLU has filed recently.
``The law couldn’t be clearer on this issue,″ he said. ``Not only is the NSA’s spying program unauthorized by federal law, but we suspect that conversations of thousands of Americans have been subjected to illegal surveillance by the NSA.″
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland had not yet seen the lawsuit but likely would be unable to comment, based on national security concerns, said Barry Sheldahl, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut.
The chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a defunct Saudi Arabian charity, was established in Ashland in 1997 as a prayer house that also distributed Islamic literature.
The chapter was indicted in February 2004 for allegedly laundering $150,000 in donations to Chechnya in 2000. Attorneys for the Al-Haramain chapter have insisted the money was used only for charities, but federal prosecutors claimed the money could have been used to assist Muslim militants.
Prosecutors later asked a federal judge to dismiss the charges against the Ashland chapter, which was granted over the objections of attorneys for Al-Haramain, who wanted the government to show what evidence it had against the charity.
The two men who founded the chapter, Pete Seda and Soliman Al-Buthe, are fugitives. Seda is believed to be in his native Iran and Al-Buthe, a Saudi national, is believed to have returned to that country. Neither have extradition treaties with the United States.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the two Washington attorneys and the Al-Haramain chapter by three Portland civil rights lawyers: Steven Goldberg, Zaha Hassan and Thomas Nelson.
``This case will show how the illegal program was implemented and used to the injury of United States citizens and charities,″ Nelson said. He declined to elaborate, saying evidence was likely to be sealed by the court.
The lawsuit also names the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, alleging it relied on information the NSA obtained without a warrant to designate the Al-Haramain chapter in Oregon a ``specially designated global terrorist″ in September 2004. It says the former parent charity in Saudi Arabia has never been designated a terrorist organization.