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ACLU sues Obama administration officials in NSA phone surveillance case

June 11, 2013 at 5:36 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 11 (UPI) -- A civil liberties watchdog Tuesday sued a clutch of Obama administration officials in federal court in New York, challenging its phone surveillance enterprises.

The American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit in U.S. District Court names National Intelligence Director James Clapper, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The ACLU is challenging the phone surveillance program the NSA has pursued under the auspices of the Patriot Act, contending the agency's collection of metadata has violated Americans' constitutional rights of free speech, association and privacy.

The suit came a day after the ACLU went to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking the release of secret court opinions on the Patriot Act's Section 215, which has been interpreted to authorize the warrantless collection of phone records.

"Collecting those details -- 'metadata' that reveals who people talk to, for how long, how often, and possibly from where -- allows the government to paint an alarmingly detailed picture of Americans' private lives," the ACLU's Brett Max Kaufman said in a statement.

"The FISC order cited Section 215 as its legal basis, yet the breadth of the authority it granted to the government is simply incompatible with the text of the statute.

The employer of Edward Snowden, who claimed responsibility for leaking U.S. intelligence surveillance operations, said Tuesday it fired him the day before.

Meanwhile, Russian officials said they would weigh whether to grant asylum to Snowden, who holed up in a Hong Kong hotel until Monday when he checked out. His whereabouts are unknown.

In a statement, Booz Allen confirmed Snowden "was terminated June 10, 2013, for violations of the firm's code of ethics and firm policy."

The statement said he was employed for less than three months and assigned to a team based in Hawaii.

"News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm," the statement said. "We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter."

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday if Russian authorities receive an asylum request, "we will consider it," business daily Kommersant reported.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked during his daily press briefing in Washington, whether the United States wants to prosecute Snowden, pointed out there is an investigation taking place "and it is for the investigators to determine whether or not crimes have been committed and to decide what charges, if any, will be brought."

Carney also disputed the contention by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that Clapper didn't give "straight answers" on the NSA surveillance effort at a March hearing and said the president "certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that he's given, and has actively engaged in an effort to provide more information about the programs that have been revealed through the leak of classified information."

When pressed by a reporter who said even Clapper has acknowledged he wasn't as forthcoming as he could have been, Carney said the thought the director "has been aggressive in providing as much information as possible to the American people, to the press about these very sensitive and very important programs that are authorized by Congress under Section 702 and Section 215 of the Patriot Act -- a public statute, a much-debated public statute that has been passed into law and reauthorized I believe three times by Congress with bipartisan majorities."

Snowden, 29, a former CIA computer technician who was an intelligence contractor, said Sunday he was the source of recent leaks about the NSA's cellphone and Internet monitoring program known as "Prism."

Snowden has sought asylum since leaking the top-secret NSA documents to media, the British publication The Daily Telegraph reported.

"The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me," Snowden told The Guardian, suggesting he could seek protection in Iceland. The Guardian broke the story.

Snowden's disclosures also raised questions about outsourcing U.S. intelligence operations, the Telegraph said. More than half the 25,000 employees of Booz Allen, Snowden's employer, hold government security clearances.

"The process has just been a great wealth transfer to the private sector," former CIA case officer Bob Baer told the Telegraph. "And I hate the systems they've built because they never caught a terrorist."

Snowden's disappearance came as the Justice Department began assembling information for a possible case against him, The New York Times reported.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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