By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
A federal judge has ruled that government officials committed fraud while defending a lawsuit brought by a former DEA agent who accused a CIA operative of illegally bugging his home.
In rulings unsealed Monday, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote that he was considering sanctions against five current and former agency lawyers and officials, including former director George J. Tenet, for withholding key information about the operative's covert status.
The rulings, issued in recent months, highlighted what the judge called fraudulent work by CIA lawyers in defending a suit that Lamberth said had a lengthy and "twisted history." Brought in 1994 by DEA agent Richard A. Horn, the suit alleged that the CIA illegally bugged his residence in Rangoon, Burma, while he was serving in the country.
Horn said that portions of a telephone conversation with a subordinate were used by the head of the U.S. mission, Franklin Huddle, to oust him from his post.
Horn, 63, returned to the United States and retired from the DEA in 2000, according to his attorney. His suit was sealed at the government's request.
The CIA operative and Huddle, represented by the Justice Department, fought the suit and asked Lamberth to throw it out, invoking the state's secrets privilege. The government argued that the case involved information, including the operative's identity, that was too sensitive to be revealed in court.
Lamberth agreed and dismissed the suit in 2004. Three years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned Lamberth, ruling that Horn could try to prove his case against Huddle by using unclassified information. The court upheld Lamberth's decision to remove the CIA operative from the suit.
Early last year, the Justice Department informed Lamberth that the CIA operative's cover had actually been lifted in 2002 but nobody told the judge or the appeals court about the change. A CIA lawyer learned about it in 2005 but did not alert the Justice Department, Lamberth or the appeals court, Lamberth wrote.
Lamberth identified that lawyer as Jeffrey W. Yeates. In his rulings, Lamberth chastised the former CIA operative, identified as Arthur Brown, for not informing the courts about his change in status and reinstated Brown as a defendant. Brown claimed in court papers that he told top CIA lawyers about his cover being lifted as early as 2002.
Lamberth called the decision to withhold the information a "fraud on the court."
"The CIA was well aware that the assertion of the state secrets privilege as to Brown was a key strategy in getting the case dismissed," Lamberth added.
In an order issued Monday, Lamberth ordered Yeates, Brown, Tenet and three current or former CIA lawyers -- John Rizzo, Robert J. Eatinger and A. John Radsan -- to file court documents explaining why he should not sanction them for the government's conduct. Attorneys for the officials and lawyers declined to comment or could not be reached. CIA spokesman George Little said the agency "takes seriously its obligations to U.S. courts."
Horn's attorney, Brian C. Leighton, said Lamberth's rulings showed that the CIA was trying to "cover up wrongdoing."