House Panel to Ask for NSA Spying Probe
A congressional panel will ask the National Security Agency's internal watchdog to investigate whether the super-secret spy agency eavesdropped without warrants on a Muslim scholar and later hid that evidence in a 2005 terror prosecution that got him a life sentence.
The House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel and the judge overseeing the case want the NSA's inspector general to find out if the government failed to disclose evidence that might have cleared the name of a Northern Virginia spiritual leader Ali al-Timimi, Rep. Rush Holt (D- New Jersey) told the New York Times.
That sort of investigation would signal a newfound willingness by the NSA's inspector general to look closely at the program and could show that the warrantless wiretapping issue will not be swept under the rug with the arrival of the Obama Administration in January.
Prosecutors say Timimi mentored young men who were convicted of helping Lashkar-e-Taiba — the separatist group suspected of the recent Mumbai terror attacks.
Court documents show that government wiretaps included Timimi's conversations with Suliman al-Buthi, a former Saudi charity director suspected of links to terrorism.
Buthi is also at the center of a California NSA wiretapping case.
In that challenge, American lawyers who defended the Oregon branch of the Al-Haramain charity during the State Department's investigation say the government accidentally gave them proof the NSA spied on them without warrants.
The State Department subsequently put the charity and Buthi on its public terrorism list.
But the two lawyers are having a complicated time trying to use the top secret document in court.
Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer in the Al-Haramain challenge to warrantless eavesdropping, says the link helps his case because he faces the odd burden of having to prove his clients were spied on using public documents. Only then can he rely on and refer to the top secret document the government accidentally gave to the charity's lawyers in 2004.
His attempt to get over that hurdle relied in part on the fact that there's public evidence that the government spied on Buthi in another case, as well. The two lawyers who spoke to Buthi say they mentioned names of terrorists with links to Al Qaeda in those conversations, as one of the attorneys was working concurrently on a civil case filed by families of those who died in the 9/11 hijackings.
If Congress is asking for an investigation after hearing from Timimi's lawyer Jonathan Turley, that must mean Turly is "on to something pretty hot," Eisenberg said, referring to allegations that the government withheld exculpatory evidence.
"An investigation by the oversight committee can only be good for the Al-Haramain case," he added.
Just last week, House Democrats scolded Attorney General Michael Mukasey's remarks about probes examining the legality of Bush's counter-terror programs, showing that they remain very interested in investigations into Bush's secret wiretapping program.
Together the stories should come as reassuring news to civil libertarians who feared the collapsing economy would suck all energy out of Democrats' efforts to learn the extent of Bush Administration's secret anti-terrorism activities.
Photo: Suliman Al-Buthi