Justice Department Official Kenneth C. Bass III Dies at 65

"The concept of the [NSA] having near-real-time access to information about every call made in the country is chilling," Kenneth C. Bass said. (Family Photo)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Kenneth C. Bass III, 65, the Justice Department official who helped write the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the federal government with the approval of a special court to spy on foreigners suspected of espionage in the United States, died of cancer April 27 at his home in Great Falls.

Mr. Bass, an appellate lawyer with Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein and Fox since 2002 and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's law school, was a frequent commentator on national security issues throughout his career. He also was appointed by then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) to a 1987 advisory panel that looked into Judge Robert Bork's background when Bork was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Bass also played a pivotal role in recent intellectual property issues. He was co-counsel in a major patent law case that went to the Supreme Court, principal author of IBM's brief in a case that led to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's acceptance of patents for software on computer media and co-author of the petitioner's brief in Wal-Mart v. Samara, in which the Supreme Court established a significant principle for protection of product packaging.

His work on FISA, which President Jimmy Carter signed in 1978, came in response to extensive investigations by Senate committees into the legality of domestic intelligence activities by the FBI and CIA, some of them stemming from the complex of crimes that became known as the Watergate scandal. He was the first person to be chief of the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, which was created by then-Attorney General Griffin Bell.

He remained skeptical of domestic spying by the government. In one of his many interviews with reporters, he told the New York Times in 2006 "the concept of the [National Security Agency] having near-real-time access to information about every call made in the country is chilling."

A native of Richmond, Mr. Bass graduated from Duke University. While at Yale University's law school, a law journal article he wrote on credit card fraud provided the basis for passage of national legislation limiting consumer liability for credit card losses. He graduated in 1969 and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black during the 1969-1970 term.

Mr. Bass left government work after 1981. In the early 1990s, he experimented with the idea of a "hyper brief," a digital legal document in which electronic hyperlinks replaced traditional footnotes, a then-innovative way to link readers to sources. Hyperlinks formed the basis of the still-new World Wide Web; Mr. Bass demonstrated this in 1996 at the American Intellectual Property Law Association Conference on the Law of Computer-Related Technology.

For the past dozen years, he taught appellate law at Georgetown and taught writing classes for law students and young lawyers in various continuing legal education programs. He was a fellow and former president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers and a deacon at McLean Baptist Church, where he played in the bell choir.

Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Shirley Bass of Great Falls; two sons, Timothy Bass of Bethesda and Christopher Bass of Herndon; a sister; and four grandchildren.

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