Declaring that the need to protect government secrets overrides all other considerations, a federal court yesterday dismissed (pdf) a lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency filed by family members of a former CIA clandestine officer who alleged injuries that are largely classified.
The CIA invoked the state secrets privilege in its motion for dismissal, and the court said it had no choice but to grant the Agency’s motion.
Relatively little about the case — captioned Jane Doe, et al v. Central Intelligence Agency — is on the public record. The plaintiffs are the wife and children of a former CIA officer who remains under cover. According to the heavily redacted complaint (pdf), the officer was “summarily separated from his CIA employment.” He and his wife both suffered symptoms of severe depression, but CIA “refused to provide any assistance, medical or otherwise.” The lawsuit sought compensation for loss of income and other damages.
Last March, then-CIA Director Porter Goss invoked the state secrets privilege in opposing the lawsuit.
“No procedures exist that can adequately safeguard the sensitive classified information implicated in this case and prevent its unauthorized disclosure during the course of litigation,” Director Goss wrote.
Plaintiffs disputed that uncompromising assertion. It’s “yet another example of an abuse of the privilege,” said Mark S. Zaid, attorney for Jane Doe.
But yesterday the court sided with the CIA.
“Although the claims that Plaintiffs have attempted to litigate are… very serious ones that appear to go to matters fundamental to the lives of the plaintiff family members, the Court is constrained to dismiss this case,” wrote Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the Southern District of New York in a January 4, 2007 order.
“Even the most compelling necessity cannot overcome the claim of privilege if the court is ultimately satisfied that… secrets are at stake,” the Judge wrote, quoting from the 1953 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Reynolds.
An earlier stage of the Doe case was reported in “Citing Security, C.I.A. Seeks Suit’s Dismissal” by Julia Preston, New York Times, April 18, 2006. Selected case files from Jane Doe et al v. CIA are posted here.
“Plaintiff Jane Doe alleges that she … ‘lives in constant fear’,” Judge Swain’s new order noted in passing. But “the reason for her alleged fear is redacted as classified.”