The Supreme Court is set to hear a dispute involving the government’s authority to have cases dismissed on the grounds that they might divulge secrets that would jeopardize national security.
A group of Muslim men from Southern California is the subject of the case before the Supreme Court on Monday. Following 9/11, they launched a class-action complaint alleging that the FBI spied on them and hundreds of others in a surveillance program. The group, which was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, claimed religious discrimination and other rights breaches, alleging that they were spied on simply because of their beliefs.
After the government claimed that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would expose “state secrets” about who the agency was investigating and why, a lower judge rejected practically all of their arguments. However, an appeals court overturned that judgment, ruling that the lower court should have first privately seen the data the government claimed was state secrets to determine if the alleged monitoring was legal.
The Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, is attempting to persuade the justices that their judgment was incorrect.
Craig Monteilh, a confidential informant who worked for the FBI from 2006 to 2007, is involved in the case. Monteilh claimed to be a fresh convert to Islam in order to blend into the Muslim community in Southern California.
Monteilh pretended to be a fitness consultant, but he was actually part of Operation Flex, a monitoring operation. Monteilh claimed he was urged to gather as much information on as many individuals as possible at the Islamic Center of Irvine in Orange County, which he often went. Using a camera hidden in a shirt button, he gathered names and phone numbers and discreetly recorded thousands of hours of talks and hundreds of hours of video.
Monteilh’s supervisors eventually instructed him to inquire about jihad and exhibit a readiness to engage in bloodshed. Members of the community reported him to the FBI and other authorities, and sought a restraining order against him as a result of his queries.
Monteilh was identified as an informant by the FBI, and the case was covered widely in the media, notably on NPR’s “This American Life.”
Three of the individuals allegedly videotaped by Monteilh filed a lawsuit, claiming damages and demanding that the government erase or return the information it had obtained.
Since the start of the current term in October, the court has considered two cases touching the state secrets privilege. The court heard a case last month concerning a Guantanamo Bay inmate and the state secrets privilege.