Tag Archives: lawsuit

Investigative Journalist and MIT PhD Candidate Sue CIA for Records on Illegal Surveillance of Senate Investigation into Torture

Investigative Journalist and MIT PhD Candidate Sue CIA for Records on Illegal Surveillance of Senate Investigation into Torture

WASHINGTON, DC — Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro filed a lawsuit this morning against the Central Intelligence Agency. The suit is over the CIA’s failure to comply with Leopold and Shapiro’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on the CIA’s alleged spying on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) review of the CIA’s notorious rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program.

As detailed in an exclusive report by Natasha Lennard for Vice News, through their FOIA request and lawsuit, Leopold and Shapiro seek to shed light on a critical yet little-understood ongoing controversy frequently described as a possible constitutional crisis.

Jason Leopold is an investigative journalist covering counterterrorism and human rights. He has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices.

Ryan Shapiro, a FOIA specialist, is an historian of the political functioning of national security and the policing of dissent. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security.

Leopold and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Three key elements of Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request and lawsuit:

1. The records at issue pertain directly to a possible ongoing constitutional crisis:

As editorialized by a leading newspaper opining on the matter, “Government spying from Washington has become government spying on Washington and may have escalated into a full constitutional crisis.”

Along these lines, SSCI Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) herself flatly accused the CIA of obstructing and surveilling her Senate committee’s review of the CIA’s RDI program. Highlighting the “grave implications of Executive Branch personnel interfering with an official congressional investigation[,]” Senator Feinstein declared the CIA’s actions “may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.” Feinstein continued that the CIA’s actions, “may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.” Feinstein concluded by remarking that the outcome of this affair will determine whether the Senate “can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

In like fashion, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) characterized the CIA’s actions as “Richard Nixon stuff” “dangerous to the democracy” and that “heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true.”

2. The public war of words between the Senate and the CIA, as well as the continuing inability of the American people to know the truth about confirmed CIA torture and alleged CIA spying on its Congressional overseers, led Leopold and Shapiro to file a wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA seeking:

a) A copy of all written agreements and correspondence between the SSCI (including Senators on the committee, their staff, and committee staff) and the CIA (or its agents, including contractors) which set forth the terms under which SSCI staffers would be permitted to access CIA documents at the secure CIA facility in Virginia.

b) A copy of all records documenting any CIA investigation into the search of SSCI’s computers at the secure facility in Virginia, including any records generated by the CIA’s Inspector General in the course of any investigation; records referring the incident(s) to the Department of Justice for investigation; and correspondence between the SSCI (including Senators on the committee, their staff, and committee staff) and the CIA (or its agents, including contractors) which discuss the event.

c) A copy of all records documenting any CIA investigation into the removal of the Panetta Review, including any records generated by the CIA’s Inspector General in the course of any investigation; records referring the incident(s) to the Department of Justice for investigation; and correspondence between the SSCI (including Senators on the committee, their staff, and committee staff) and the CIA (or its agents, including contractors) which discuss the event.

d) For any CIA contractor responsible for reviewing records relating to the CIA’s former Detention and Interrogation Program before access was provided to SSCI staff, a copy of the contract, the request for proposal, proposal, bid solicitation, and bid.

e) A copy of any and all talking points (in draft and final form) and any and all guidance issued to the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs about the ongoing dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) over the SSCI’s review of the CIA’s former Detention and Interrogation Program.

3. The CIA has failed to comply with Leopold and Shapiro’s FOIA request and is now in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, Leopold and Shapiro have filed a lawsuit to compel CIA compliance with their FOIA request for records on this affair.

According to Shapiro:

“The U.S. intelligence community is notorious for its profound hostility to transparency. In the present case, the CIA appears to have spied upon the very Senate intelligence committee tasked with overseeing the CIA’s torture program, while at the same time smearing that Senate committee’s review with unsupported allegations of criminality. Now, the CIA is further flouting transparency by refusing to comply with our FOIA request for records on this troubling affair. The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government. It’s time for the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community to recognize transparency not as a threat, but rather as an essential component of viable democracy.”

A complete copy of the complaint filed in court this morning can be viewed HERE

To arrange an interview with Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. You can follow Jason Leopold on twitter at @JasonLeopold and Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

First Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments in Lawsuit Challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

First Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments in Lawsuit Challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

[BOSTON, MA]  Yesterday members of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and their supporters packed a Boston, MA courtroom, as Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol demanded the First Circuit Court of Appeals strike down the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as a violation of the First Amendment.

The AETA is a federal criminal statute ushered through Congress in 2006 by powerful lobbyists for the fur, pharmaceutical, and meat industries. It criminalizes a broad swath of free speech activities and has cast a chill over the animal rights community. CCR filed the first civil challenge to AETA, Blum v. Holder, in support of five animal rights activists who have censored themselves and limited their lawful advocacy out of fear that their work could subject them to prosecution as terrorists.

Want to fight the silencing of a movement? Do it directly by listening to and amplifying the voices of these activists. Please watch, share, and tweet (using #AETAspeakout) this new, two-minute video by CCR, featuring the plaintiffs in Blum v. Holder. Also check out Rachel Meeropol’s accompanying blog on the Huffington Post.

The plaintiffs are animal rights activists from across the country who are chilled from continuing their lawful and important advocacy work based on the broad reach of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act…

sarahjane blum
Sarahjane Blum

lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she runs a small business with her husband. In 2003, Sarahjane co-founded GourmetCruelty.com, a grassroots coalition dedicated to exposing the abuse of ducks and geese raised for foie gras. The following year, the group released a short film, Delicacy of Despair, Behind the Closed Doors of the Foie Gras Industry, documenting their investigation of deplorable conditions on foie gras farms, and featuring the “open rescue” of a number of ducks. Sarahjane would like to continue her anti-foie gras work in Minnesota, which has become a significant foie gras producer, without breaking the law. But she is limited in her ability to do so, as the AETA criminalizes campaigns like hers that could cause a foie gras farm to lose profit, or hire extra security.

ryan shapiro
Ryan Shapiro

lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is completing a PhD at MIT. Ryan’s research focuses on disputes over animals and national security. In particular, his work explores the use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to American security from the late nineteenth century to the present. A longtime grassroots animal rights activist, Ryan co-founded GourmetCruelty.com with Sarahjane, and has focused much of his activism on factory farming issues. Ryan’s work, along with that of Sarahjane and the rest of the coalition, was instrumental in the 2004 passage of a California State law banning all foie gras production within the State. Ryan holds a degree in film and used these skills to direct Delicacy of Despair. Ryan wishes to further utilize his expertise to document and expose animal exploitation and abuse on factory farms. He is chilled from engaging in this important work, however, because documenting and distributing evidence of animal exploitation and abuse risks prosecution as a terrorist under the AETA. Read Ryan’s recent piece, Is Freeing a Duck Terrorism? on Truthout.

Lana Lehr
Lana Lehr

lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a licensed psychotherapist, and has been seeing patients in private practice for over 20 years. After adopting a rescued rabbit, Lana became interested in rabbit care and advocacy issues, eventually co-founding RabbitWise, a public charity devoted to preventing the irresponsible acquisition and care of companion rabbits, improving retention rates of rabbits already living in homes, educating people who live with or treat rabbits to give them the best possible care, and advocating for the broader welfare of rabbits in general. Lana used to supplement her rabbit advocacy by organizing and attending lawful, peaceful anti-fur protests in DC, but she is now afraid to attend such protests out of fear that even a lawful protest, which causes a fur store to lose money, would violate the AETA and risk prosecution as a terrorist.

lauren gazzola
Lauren Gazzola

lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works in the communications department of a non-profit legal organization. Lauren served almost three and a half years in federal prison after being convicted, along with five others, under a prior version of the AETA – The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. Lauren’s arrest and prosecution arose from her leadership role in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a grassroots campaign devoted to exposing and ending horrific animal abuse at Huntingdon Life Sciences, a corporation made infamous after undercover investigators disclosed footage of researchers dissecting a conscious monkey, repeatedly punching beagle puppies in the face, and other abuse. Lauren and the other SHAC defendants were not prosecuted for personally damaging Huntingdon property but, rather, for running a website that reported on and endorsed legal and illegal protests that caused the company to lose money. Now that she is out of prison, Lauren would like to engage in lawful animal rights work, but she cannot tell what is protected by the First Amendment and what is not, due to the broad reach and vague language of the AETA.

jay johnson
J Johnson

also lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is an undergraduate at The New School. J moved to New York recently, from his native Chicago, where he spent close to a decade organizing protests and educating the public as a leader in the Chicago-area SHAC campaign. He left Chicago due in large part to the erosion there of long standing animal rights networks and his resulting inability to effectively organize demonstrations. Upon arriving in New York, he hoped to connect with others involved in sustainable and strategic animal rights campaigns, but has had trouble finding advocates to work with, due to a chill throughout the animal rights community as whole, based on the targeting of that community as would-be terrorists under the AETA.

The AETA criminalizes a broad swath of protected First Amendment activities and is so vague as to fail to give people notice of whether or not their conduct falls under the statute’s prohibitions.

In 2011, CCR filed the first civil challenge to the law. The case was dismissed on standing by the District Court in 2012, and CCR has since filed an appeal to the First Circuit. To learn more about the CCR’s legal challenge to the AETA please visit » http://ccrjustice.org/AETA

MIT PhD Candidate Sues CIA for the Records Surrounding the 1962 Arrest of Nelson Mandela
President Obama & the first family solemnly reflect during a visit to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island | Photo, Pete Souza  

MIT PhD Candidate Sues CIA for the Records Surrounding the 1962 Arrest of Nelson Mandela

[WASHINGTON, DC]  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro filed a lawsuit this morning against the Central Intelligence Agency over the spy agency’s failure to comply with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on recently deceased anti-apartheid activist and South African President, Nelson Mandela. Shapiro wants to know why the CIA viewed Mandela as a threat to American security, and what actions the Agency took to thwart Mandela’s efforts to secure racial justice and democracy in South Africa.

Shapiro, a FOIA specialist, is an historian of the policing of dissent and the political functioning of national security. His pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro also has FOIA requests for records on Mandela in motion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Shapiro is represented by FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Two Key Issues Regarding Today’s Filing Against the CIA:

1) The CIA is widely and credibly believed to have been involved in Mandela’s 1962 arrest that led to his decades-long incarceration. Yet, the Agency has never admitted its role in this affair, and little specific public information exists on the matter. Shapiro’s FOIA efforts will begin to fill this massive hole in public knowledge of U.S. intelligence operations.

2) Despite longstanding public knowledge of U.S. intelligence assistance to apartheid South Africa in general, and in Mandela’s arrest in particular, much of the U.S. and world press has paid distressingly little attention to these issues. Even in the wake of Mandela’s death, these issues, including the fact that Mandela remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008, have for the most part remained ignored or discounted. Shapiro’s efforts will bring much-needed attention to these vital topics, as well as to the U.S. intelligence community’s continued outrageous aversion to transparency.

According to Shapiro:

“Though the U.S. intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement. Similarly, though the U.S. intelligence community is long understood to have routinely provided information to the South African regime regarding the anti-apartheid movement, little specific public information exists about these activities either. Further, despite now being universally hailed as a hero and freedom fighter against gross injustice, Mandela was designated a terrorist by the United States government and remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008.

In bringing suit against the CIA to compel compliance with my Freedom of Information Act request, I seek access to records that will begin answering the following questions:

What was the extent and purpose of the U.S. intelligence community’s surveillance of Nelson Mandela prior to his arrest? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in Mandela’s arrest and prosecution? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in the broader effort to surveil and subvert the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and for what objectives, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil Mandela following his release from prison? To what extent, if any, did the U.S. intelligence community continue providing information regarding Mandela to the apartheid regime following Mandela’s release from prison? What information did the U.S. intelligence community provide American policymakers regarding Mandela and the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and to what ends, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil the anti-apartheid movement in the United States? How did the United States government come to designate Nelson Mandela a terrorist threat to this country? How did this designation remain unchanged until 2008? And what was the role of the U.S. intelligence community in this designation and the maintenance thereof?”

FOIA LawsuitYou can read the full text of today’s court filing against the CIA HERE.

To arrange an interview with Ryan Shapiro please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. You can follow Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

Legal Team for Defendants in Chevron’s RICO Suit File Motion to Strike Testimony of Aberto Guerra, Company’s Star Witness

Legal Team for Defendants in Chevron’s RICO Suit File Motion to Strike Testimony of Aberto Guerra, Company’s Star Witness

[NEW YORK, NY]  Today, the legal team for Steven Donziger and the Ecuadorian Defendants in Chevron’s RICO suit filed a motion to strike the testimony of the company’s star witness, Alberto Guerra, on grounds that Chevron’s compensation for his testimony is tantamount to a bribe, not unlike the dozens Guerra admitted on the stand to making and taking during his years as a corrupt lawyer and judge in Ecuador.

The motion details how Chevron’s monetary and non-monetary compensation package clearly runs afoul of the federal Anti-Gratuity statute, as well as the Rules of Professional Conduct of New York, has provided an overwhelming incentive to lie and exaggerate in order to gain a better bargaining position with Chevron, as he testified he did repeatedly in court last week.

The motion notes the view of prominent legal scholar and law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in a sworn declaration for the Defendants 

“if a party or its counsel were permitted to pay a testifying witness for physical evidence, beyond the reasonable value of that evidence, and to pay the witness a salary in exchange for an agreement to testify, there would be little left of the rule against compensating fact witnesses.”

We encourage you to read the motion in its entirety as it also highlights the admitted lies, the contradictions, and the suspect assertions in Guerra’s testimony, as well as the total lack of anything approaching corroborating evidence for his explosive allegations of ghostwriting and bribery.

Click here to read the motion [PDF document] & see below for additional comments.

Comment of Chris Gowen, spokesperson for Steven Donziger, and Professor of Legal Ethics at American University, Washington College of Law »

“The Chevron payments to Guerra constitute outright bribes that violate both criminal laws and the ethical rules governing the legal profession. As a practicing trial attorney, I know that if I ever put a witness like Mr. Guerra on the stand, the state bar would have every right to revoke my license to practice law.”

Comment of Han Shan, spokesperson for the Ecuadorian RICO Defendants »

“Guerra and his obsequious storytelling seem to Chevron a magic bullet to evade accountability for the destruction and suffering it has caused in Ecuador. But it won’t work; the District Court in New York cannot act as an appellate court to the Ecuadorian judiciary, and deny the communities of the Amazon the court victory they fought for and won.”

Chevron Withdraws Key Element in RICO Lawsuit Against Ecuadorian Pollution Victims & Their US Advocates

[NEW YORK, NY]  With the first week of trial in Chevron’s RICO case over, it is becoming clear that the oil giant is facing significant hurdles as it attempts to salvage a verdict that will allow it to block international efforts to enforce the $19 billion Ecuador judgment.

After the first four witnesses, several issues have come into sharp focus. First, Chevron is willing to give up major portions of its RICO claims to avoid compelling evidence of its environmental pollution and corrupt activities in Ecuador from coming out in court.

At the same time, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan is doing everything he can to assist the oil giant’s case. Kaplan has blocked most lines of questioning about environmental contamination, blocked evidence of Chevron’s surveillance of Donziger, granted Chevron a trial preparation room five times the size of that used by Donziger and Ecuadorian defendants Hugo Camacho and Javier Piaguaje, and most notably, has twice taken over the questioning of Chevron witnesses.

“I don’t think there’s a lawyer in the world who would guess that this is a RICO case had they sat through the first week of trial,” said Christopher Gowen, the spokesman for Donziger. “Chevron clearly wants to retry the Ecuador case that it lost in its preferred court”.

Gowen said Chevron’s case rests largely on a veritable parade of witnesses “who seem to personally dislike Steven Donziger” but have little information relevant to the legal claims in the case. “Chevron will continue to use this proceeding to try to destroy Donziger’s reputation by distorting facts about him, which seems to be central to their strategy,” he added.

The most stunning development occurred the first day when Chevron dropped a key predicate RICO act alleging that Donziger and his colleagues pressed for prosecutors in Ecuador to file “bogus” criminal charges against Ricardo Reis Veiga, a top Chevron lawyer. Just as lawyers were about to confront Reis Veiga with evidence that the charges were based on scientific proof that he designed and supervised a fraudulent remediation, Chevron agreed to drop that issue.

That move “completely validates everything Steven Donziger has been saying about this issue for years.” said Gowen. “It was manufactured by Chevron to put pressure on Donziger and harm his reputation, and it was false.”

“We were prepared to prove that Veiga orchestrated a major fraud in Ecuador to try to get Chevron out of its huge liability, and that the criminal charges against him had a valid basis,” Gowen continued. “You may draw your own conclusions about why Chevron dropped this claim.”

Another of Chevron’s key witnesses, a former technical consultant for the rainforest communities named David Russell’s written testimony, authored by Chevron’s lawyers, stated that Donziger pressured him to put out an inflated damages estimate in 2003 to pressure the company into a settlement. Curiously, Mr. Russell had a much different tone during a 2003 interview with The Wall Street Journal where, in his own words, he called the Ecuadorian contamination “larger than the Chernobyl disaster”.

Under cross-examination on the stand, Russell testified that he spent days putting together the assessment based on assumptions then available from limited data, and did so with no interference from Donziger.

Whether the thousands of dollars Mr. Russell has made from Chevron for his “testimony prep” influenced his testimony is rather obvious. Russell even admitted that Chevron lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher wrote his testimony for him in the first person.

Chevron scientist Sara McMillen was caught having to admit that the company’s technical experts were told to only look for “clean” soil samples during the judicial inspections. Donziger has long accused Chevron of engaging in junk science to defraud Ecuador’s court. (For a copy of his own claims against Chevron that Judge Kaplan would not let go forward, see here).

McMillen also conceded that Chevron called its own paid experts “independent” – the exact same term used by Donziger and his colleagues that Chevron claims was inappropriate.

“Chevron’s witnesses have affirmed what the victims of Chevron’s contamination have known all too well for decades – that a huge area where Chevron operated is horrifically polluted,” said Han Shan, spokesperson for the Ecuadorians named in Chevron’s RICO suit. “Chevron’s attempts to run from this basic truth adds insult to injury for thousands of people who continue to suffer the impacts of the company’s reckless conduct.”

Chevron’s RICO has three main problems »

First, the main activity in the case took place outside the U.S. in Ecuador, while the statute only applies to acts in the country. Second, now that Chevron has dropped money damages claims to avoid a jury, there is no equitable relief remedy available (such as an injunction blocking enforcement). Third, and most notably, Mr. Donziger did not commit a “predicate act” as clearly required by the RICO Statute, according to Gowen.

“Chevron figured out how to avoid a jury because the company knew full well New Yorkers would have seen through its charade,” he added.

» The Sparrow Project was grateful to be able to assist the Ecuadorian pollution victims in securing favorable media coverage on Huffpost Live [HERE & HERE], as well as Democracy Now! and Breaking the Set in hopes to juxtapose much of the business-centric articles like this one in Bloomberg Businessweek.