NEW YORK (AP) — Claims by a lawyer for Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law that the defense team in his terrorism case needs protection from “willy-nilly” eavesdropping by the government were promptly rejected Monday by a judge who said there was no evidence of it.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said “not a shred of evidence” had been offered to support the defense’s claim in the case against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.
Abu Ghaith attorney Stanley Cohen had sought a restraining order to prevent the government from secretly listening in on the defense team’s work, citing revelations by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The fugitive systems analyst has been charged with unauthorized communication of national defense information, willful communication of classified communications intelligence information and theft of government property.
The government says Snowden leaked to the news media that the NSA used two highly classified surveillance programs to gather telephone and Internet records to find terror plots.
Cohen asked Kaplan last week to ban the United States from conducting certain surveillance and blocking any agencies which do collect information from forwarding any of it to prosecutors and investigations. Cohen at a hearing Monday said Snowden’s revelations show the government “is allowed to willy-nilly monitor” communications.
Cohen, who has traveled to the Middle East twice to gather evidence for trial, said the possibility of surveillance has a chilling effect on witnesses and potential witnesses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Cronan assured Kaplan that no investigators were spying on defense phone and Internet communications.
“Let me be perfectly clear,” Cronan said. “The prosecution team has had absolutely no exposure whatsoever to any privileged communications.”
In court papers, the government said the section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that matters in the defense request cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States, including Abu Ghaith’s lawyers.
Abu Ghaith was brought to the United States in March to face charges that he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaida’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He has pleaded not guilty and has been held without bail.