A federal judge Thursday tossed a lawsuit filed by Utahns who allege the government used “blanket” warrantless surveillance of Salt Lake City-area residents and visitors during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The request for dismissal came from Rocky Anderson — the lawyer for the six plaintiffs and the mayor in Salt Lake City during the Games — who wrote in court papers that it won’t be possible for them to get to the truth of whether the National Security Agency spied on Americans and others. He says government attorneys have repeatedly refused to disclose information, citing a court rule that allows them to keep private documents and evidence if it might detail sensitive information that threatens national security.
As an example, Anderson points to a 13-hour deposition he conducted of former NSA Operations Director Wayne Murphy — which was peppered with hundreds of objections from government lawyers, dozens of times when lawyers instructed Murphy to not answer questions and dozens of citations of the “state secrets doctrine.”
“We’re up against this court-made doctrine,” Anderson said Thursday, “that really makes it impossible for people in this country to get the truth about what our government is doing.”
Anderson asked U.S. District Judge Dustin Pead on Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in 2015, saying that pursuing the case any further would be a waste of judicial resources and would be “unduly burdensome” to the plaintiffs.
“Plaintiffs do not know exactly where the truth lies,” Anderson wrote, adding there appears to be evidence that the spying did occur, but the federal government is seeking to “hide the truth.”
The lawsuit accused former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and others associated with government intelligence agencies of monitoring emails, text messages and phone calls throughout the Olympics. These alleged actions followed significant security concerns raised in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack.
Anderson’s clients say there is “compelling evidence” of government spying, including a sworn statement by former NSA official Thomas A. Drake. In that declaration, he wrote a “surveillance cone” was placed over the Salt Lake City area — and massive surveillance of the contents and metadata of text messages, emails and telephones calls in the area was conducted.
Anderson had argued in the lawsuit that the warrantless searches violated Utahns’ right to be free of unlawful search and seizure and broke wiretap laws.
NSA directors denied the allegations in sworn declarations filed in the court case last March.
Government attorneys asked last year for a federal judge to toss the case, but U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby refused. He ruled that the six plaintiffs — who all lived or worked in Salt Lake City during the Games — made legally sufficient allegations that the agency had conducted a widespread, warrantless surveillance program during the event.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, was the first to report in 2013 that the NSA and FBI “monitored the content of all email and text communications in the Salt Lake City area” around the 2002 Games.