WASHINGTON — A federal district judge ruled Monday that the CIA repeatedly misled him in asserting state secrets were involved in a 15-year-old lawsuit involving allegedly illegal wiretapping.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth also ordered former CIA director George Tenet and five other CIA officials to explain their actions or face potential sanctions.
Lamberth questioned the credibility of current CIA director Leon Panetta, saying Panetta's testimony in the case contained significant discrepancies, and rejected an Obama administration request that the case continue to be kept secret. He released hundreds of previously secret filings.
"The court does not give the government a high degree of deference because of its prior misrepresentations regarding the state secrets privilege in this case," Lamberth wrote.
His ruling comes at a delicate moment for the CIA. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this year accused the agency of lying to her about its use of waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and the House Intelligence Committee has launched an investigation into why the panel wasn't told for eight years that the CIA was pursuing a secret plan reportedly aimed at assassinating suspected al-Qaida operatives.
The documents released Monday reveal a number of instances where Lamberth said the CIA misrepresented facts in the case, which was filed in 1994 by a former Drug Enforcement Agency officer, Richard Horn, who said that his phone calls had been illegally intercepted while he was on duty in Myanmar and that the eavesdropping had resulted in his being ousted from his post.
The suit named a U.S. diplomat, Franklin Huddle Jr., and a CIA officer, Arthur Brown, as defendants. It had been under seal since it was filed in 1994, and former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had sought its dismissal on national security grounds.
Lamberth was especially angered by the CIA's failure to reveal that Brown, once undercover, had had his cover lifted in 2002. That fact wasn't revealed until 2008.
The judge concluded the CIA's attorneys engaged in a "fraud on the court" by not revealing that Brown's name no longer needed to be kept secret. In fact, Lamberth had dismissed the case in 2004, citing Brown's undercover status. An appeals court overturned that decision.
Lamberth ordered that Tenet, Brown, former CIA assistant general counsel John Radsan and CIA attorneys Jeffrey Yeates, John Rizzo and Robert Eatinger explain their actions.