Secrecy News

More on State Secrets and the Hatfill Case

Attorneys for former government scientist Steven J. Hatfill, who is suing the New York Times for linking him to the 2001 anthrax attacks, filed a vigorous rebuttal (pdf) earlier this month against a Times argument that the “state secrets” doctrine should dictate dismissal of the lawsuit.

The Hatfill rebuttal was filed in sealed form on January 12. On the same day, however, the Court dismissed the case for unrelated reasons that have not yet been published.

In a December 12 motion, the New York Times had argued that classification restrictions imposed on government witnesses were equivalent to an assertion of the state secrets privilege and that the case should be dismissed on that basis, since the restrictions limited the Times’ ability to obtain the information needed for its defense.

That’s nonsense, said Dr. Hatfill’s attorneys.

“For one thing, a court may not even consider dismissal of a case on “state secret” grounds until after a department head of a government agency invokes that doctrine, something that has never occurred here,” they wrote.

“And the notion that the inability of The Times to obtain any of this imagined evidence should relieve The Times of the burden of defending itself based on what it actually knew when it ruined Dr. Hatfill’s life is nothing short of offensive.”

Since the case has now been dismissed, it is unlikely that the Court will resolve the dispute over the applicability of the “state secrets” doctrine. But the sealed opposition from Dr. Hatfill’s attorneys has just been released in redacted form.