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Court reverses ruling on secret court records

Published: Monday, June 16, 2014 11:15 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Attorneys for a 20-year-old man accused of trying to ignite a bomb in Chicago will not be allowed unprecedented access to secret intelligence court records, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Monday, reversing a trial court and handing a victory to the federal government.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unusually quick ruling, releasing its opinion just days after oral arguments in a case that touched on hotly debated surveillance issues raised by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Prosecutors argued in their written appeal that letting Adel Daoud’s lawyers see records submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, would be a dangerous “sea change” in established procedures and endanger national security.

In its Monday opinion, the appellate court agreed.

“Our own study of the classified material has convinced us that there are indeed compelling reasons of national security for [the records] being classified” and kept from the defense, the appellate court opinion said.

Snowden’s revelations about expanded U.S. phone and Internet spying and how the FISA court secretly signed off on them raised a furor over the practices.

Daoud, a U.S citizen, has denied allegations he accepted a phony car bomb from undercover FBI agents in 2012, parked it by a Chicago bar and pressed a trigger. His trial is scheduled to start Nov. 10.

Since Congress created the FISA court in 1978, no defense attorneys had been told they could go through a FISA application – until U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman’s January 29 ruling in Daoud’s case. At the time, she said the fact that no judge had ever granted such FISA access before wasn’t a reason not to do it now.

The defense has said the FISA documents – submitted with a request to secretly record Daoud – could indicate that expanded surveillance led investigators to target Daoud. If so, they could challenge all subsequent evidence on constitutional grounds.

During oral argument, defense attorney Thomas Durkins said Daoud was working on a term paper about Osama bin Laden around 2012 and that the FISA records could shed light on whether U.S. investigators flagged Daoud because of Internet searches regarding bin Laden.

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