"Two years ago Horn filed a lawsuit accusing U.S. officials of undermining his anti-drug efforts in Burma. That suit is still pending."
DEA agents accuse CIA of tapping phones of overseas bureausCopyright c 1996 The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (Sep 12, 1996 7:47 p.m. EDT) -- The CIA and other spy
agencies have systematically tapped the phones of overseas Drug
Enforcement Administration offices, according to a class action lawsuit
agents filed Thursday in Washington.
The lawsuit, which also names the National Security Agency and the State
Department, seeks a court order barring those agencies from any further
"These agencies have a pattern and practice of eavesdropping on DEA
agents' and employees' conversations while they are serving the government
overseas," said attorney Brian Leighton of Clovis, Calif.
But legal experts say it could be a difficult lawsuit to win, especially
since an employer -- in this case the government -- generally has a right
to listen to employee conversation on office phones. It also doesn't help
that national security was involved and that courts have held that U.S.
citizens don't have constitutional rights overseas.
"It's an uphill battle. It's going to be a tough suit," said
constitutional law expert Paul Rothstein of Georgetown University.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of all DEA agents, but the agency itself
was not part of the action.
The only DEA agent named as a plaintiff in the suit is Richard A. Horn,
currently with the agency's New Orleans bureau. Five other incidents
involving other unidentified agents are alleged.
Two years ago Horn filed a lawsuit accusing U.S. officials of undermining
his anti-drug efforts in Burma. That suit is still pending.
Leighton said subsequent contacts with other DEA personnel revealed a
pattern of similar abuses around the world.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said he could not comment directly on the
class action lawsuit, but defended his agency.
"It is not the CIA's mission, nor is it part of the operations of the
agency, to surveil in any manner U.S. officials, or other U.S. citizens
at home or abroad," Mansfield said.
The only exception would be in counterintelligence cases, he added, and
then only in consultation with senior Justice Department officials.
DEA spokesman James McGivney said he could not comment on pending
litigation, but noted that as a U.S. citizen, Horn had the right file his
John Russell, spokesman for the Justice Department, which defends the
other agencies in lawsuits, said only, "we will respond in court."
In Horn's previous case, Leighton said, the Justice Department angered
DEA agents by claiming they have no Fourth Amendment constitutional right
against wiretapping when working outside the country.
Leighton, a former federal prosecutor, said the lawsuit doesn't address
the reasons for the alleged electronic eavesdropping.
"My assumption is because they want to know what DEA is doing, they want
to rip off DEA informants, they want to know DEA contacts within foreign
governments," Leighton said. "And with the Cold War over, these agencies
are looking for a new mission."
An April 1996 letter to agents by Horn and Leighton, details the
allegation of wiretapping against the agent in Burma.
Horn's residence "was the target of a U.S. Government Agency-sponsored
electronic audio intercept," it said. "Horn had occasion to see a cable
containing his words in quotation marks, that he had spoken to another
DEA agent, set forth exactly as stated..."
The suit also reports alleged wiretaps against DEA agents in the Dominican
Republic from 1987 to 1990, in May 1993 and September 1994 at the Bangkok,
Thailand office; at the Guatemala City office in 1984, 1985 and from 1987
to 1989; and in an unidentified location in April 1987.
The suit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene, names as
defendants Secretary of State Warren Christopher, CIA Director John Deutch
and NSA Director Adm. J.M. McConnell.