Halkin v. Helms

690 F.2d 977 (1982)

Facts: P’s are 21 individuals and 5 organizations that were protesting and attempting to end the war in Vietnam. P’s claimed the CIA violated their first, fourth, fifth and ninth amendment rights and a section of the National Security Act. P’s wanted damages from some of the D’s and declaratory and injunctive relief from officials. P’s claim the CIA was involved in 2 operations to collect information on their activities. D’s are 7 officials of the CIA and heads of FBI, Department of Defense and Secret Service. D’s were sued for damages in their individual capacities and the heads were sued in their official capacities – P’s sought injunctive and dec.

Operation Chaos

  • CIA gathered intelligence that sought to determine the extent to which foreign governments or political organizations influenced or supported US critics of the government’s Vietnam policies.
  • D/Helms was the Director of Central Intelligence during Operation Chaos. Had files on 15 of the P’s and 5 organizations Chaos Office infiltrated different antiwar groups in foreign countries and in the US to gain knowledge on their operations.
  • CIA was involved in Operation Chaos and International Electronic Communications. In Operation Chaos the CIA infiltrated antiwar groups in the foreign countries and in the US to gain knowledge on their operations – they also opened their letters.
  • CIA also got information on P’s from international communications – from telephone and radio transmissions. The CIA submitted names on a ‘watchlist’ to the National Security Agency who would scan signals and look for their names during communications.

CIA’s Argument:

  • CIA claimed the information P’s requested was protected by the state secret privilege. CIA said disclosing the information would reveal the identities of covert sources and relationships with foreign intelligence services. Therefore, all P’s information in discovery requests was privileged from discovery.
  • State Secret Privilege: State secrets privilege is a common law doctrine of evidence that allows a court to refuse to admit evidence in civil trials when the executive claims that disclosure would jeopardize national security.

Procedural Facts: District Court dismissed P’s complaint alleging the CIA violated their first, fourth, fifth and ninth amendment rights and section 102(d)(3) of the National Security Act was violated. P’s appealed.

Issue: Whether Ps had a right to compel protected state secrets/classified information for discovery in their case.

Court’s Holding:

  • Court of Appeals affirmed. District Court upheld CIA’s claim of state secrets privilege and denied P’s motion to compel discovery and dismissed P’s complaint.
  • They said without access to whether the P’s were the subject of the CIA’s surveillance, that P’s didn’t prove injury in fact. The court said District Court was right to refuse to compel production of documents on the basis of privilege.
  • Protecting sources of methods of intelligence: This responsibility is given to the Director of Central Intelligence, rather than to the Central Intelligence Agency. However, the Office of Security within the Agency has been the administrative arm to implement the Director’s duty in this regard. This authority has been read by the CIA to authorize protection of CIA personnel and facilities against any kind of “security threat” including the possibility of violent demonstrations by the public.
  • The government has an urgent and legitimate interest in protecting classified national security information.Requiring elements of classified intelligence programs to be revealed upon any discovery request in a civil suit could severely undermine such programs and the government’s efforts to fight threats.
  • Seemingly, the court has concluded that foreign policy considerations may excuse violations of a plaintiff’s statutory or constitutional rights. – extreme deference to executive
  • Ct says Constitution compels subordination of P’s interest in pursuit of claims to the exec’s duty to preserve our national security. Remedies for constitutional violations that can’t be proved under existing legal standards must be provided by Congress.

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