Jeffrey Feldman had a Kos diary yesterday evening that was a stunner in terms of how far the Bush Administration may be willing to go to stop the public from learning more about the illegal NSA wiretapping of Americans via the EFF lawsuit against AT&T.  He quoted a story from Wired which I think deserves a lot more of a wide read by everyone.

The government is not admitting, however, that AT&T aided the National Security Agency in spying on American’s phone calls and internet communications.

"[T]he fact that the United States will assert the state secrets privilege should not be construed as a confirmation or denial of any of Plaintiffs’ allegations, either about AT&T or the alleged surveillance activities," the filing reads. "When allegations are made about purported classified government activities or relationships, regardless of whether those allegations are accurate, the existence or non-existence of the activity or relationship is potentially a state secret."

The Justice Department has not formally invoked the privilege yet.

While the DoJ hasn’t filed the actual motion as yet, filing the notice late on a Friday is a common Bush Administration tactic of trying to sneak one by the American public. And I don’t intend to let them sneak this one by at all.

It seems the NYTimes had the same feeling on this:

The class-action suit, which seeks an end to the collaboration it alleges, is based in part on the testimony of Mark Klein, a retired technician for the company who says Internet data passing through an AT&T switching center in San Francisco is being diverted to a secret room. There, Mr. Klein says, the security agency has installed powerful computers to eavesdrop without warrants on the digital data and forward the information to an undisclosed place.

The foundation has filed documents obtained by Mr. Klein that ostensibly show detailed technical information on N.S.A. technology used to divert Internet data. He has also said in a deposition that employees of the agency went to the switching center to oversee special projects.

The company has declined to address the suit publicly, saying it will have no comment on matters of national security or customer privacy.

In its action Friday, the government filed a statement of interest asserting military and state secret privilege in asking the judge, Vaughn R. Walker, to dismiss the suit. Separately on Friday, AT&T also filed two motions to dismiss.

The government’s filing said the authorities "cannot disclose any national security information that may be at issue in this case." The document went on to say that the filing should not be construed as either a confirmation or a denial of any of the claims made by the civil liberties group about government surveillance activities.

Elsewhere in the document, however, the government said President Bush had explained that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he authorized the security agency to intercept communications into and out of the United States by people linked to Al Qaeda and related organizations. The agency is ordinarily prohibited from intercepting the telephone and digital communications of American citizens without a warrant from a special intelligence court.

Oh yeah, no admission that there is some sort of wholesale Hoover vaccuum-type data mining here. Nope. Let’s all look elsewhere and the hell with the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the FISA laws and Congress. Oh, and the American public — you should just trust George Bush — because he’s been so honest thus far.

Mmmmm hmmmm.

If you think this isn’t part of some general pattern by the Bush Administration, then you haven’t been paying attention to the far-reaching chilling effect this can have.  Read, for instance, this op-ed in today’s WaPo as to how far they may be willing to go to silence critics and keep an eye on potential whistleblowers within the Administration itself.

UPDATE:  And on a personal note, Arthur Silber (who is a fantastic writer and blogger) is having a bit of a rough patch.  If you can contribute a bit to him, I’m certain it would be much appreciated.  (h/t to C&L for the heads up on this)

UPDATE #2Glenn hits this issue as well this morning, giving some great background on the state secrets privilege issue and why it’s been so little used — until now.  The Bush Administration — giving new meaning to the term CYA on a daily basis.

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com