To the surprise of many, it turns out that Canada’s chief security intelligence agency – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) –may not legally collect covert intelligence abroad. That is at least one interpretation of a Canadian Federal Court decision issued in October 2007, but only released publicly in 2008. At issue was whether the court had the jurisdiction to issue a warrant under the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act (CSIS Act) in investigations concerning Canadians taking place overseas. CSIS had sought the warrant because the targets of the investigations, as Canadians, potentially enjoyed privacy rights under Canada’s constitutional bill of rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Faced with this conundrum, there were two plausible courses of action open to the court. First, it could have concluded that the CSIS Act’s warrant provisions extended only as far as authorizing searches and seizures in Canada. While this approach would have left open the question whether constitutional rules applied to CSIS’s extraterritorial conduct, it would have allowed the court to avoid the incongruity of a Canadian court “legally” authorizing an invasion of privacy taking place in a foreign jurisdiction whose own laws would probably be violated by the action.
Second, the court could have reached even further and concluded that CSIS itself has no statutory authorization to conduct extraterritorial investigations, pursuant to its core, statutory mission to collect intelligence relating to threats to the security of Canada. This approach would avoid the constitutional question entirely, but with the consequence of greatly limiting the scope of CSIS’s basic jurisdictional competence.
In June 2010, journalists for the Associated Press reported the arrest often Russian spies, all suspected of being “deep-cover” illegal agents in the United States. Seeking to convey the magnitude of this event, the journalists wrote that this “blockbuster series of arrests” might even be as significant as the FBI’s “famous capture of Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel in 1957 in New York.” The reference may have been lost on many Americans, but Colonel Abel’s story of American justice at a time of acute anxiety about the nation’s security is one that continues to resonate today. The honor, and error, that are contained in Colonel Abel’s story offer lessons worth remembering as the United States struggles against a new enemy: international terrorists. One important lesson is that ad hoc departures from the requirements of constitutional criminal procedure, even in the pursuit of seemingly exigent and unique national security threats, tend to cause more trouble than they are worth. Another is that these lessons have been repeatedly learned and, it would seem, repeatedly forgotten. We should be in the process of relearning these lessons today. In that spirit, after briefly summarizing Colonel Abel’s case and some of the themes it shares with contemporary cases, this article presents selected aspects of Colonel Abel’s arrest, trial, and appeal.
Early in the morning of June 21, 1957, almost exactly fifty-three years before the June 2010 arrests, Special Agents Edward Gamber and Paul Blasco of the FBI pushed their way into Room 839 at the Hotel Latham in Manhattan. The FBI agents sat a sleepy and half-naked Abel on his bed, identified themselves as charged with investigating matters of internal security, and questioned him for twenty minutes, insinuating knowledge of his espionage activities by addressing him as “Colonel.” The FBI agents told Abel that “if he did not ‘cooperate,’ he would be arrested before he left the room.” When Abel refused, the FBI signaled to agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the INS, then under the authority of the Department of Justice), who were waiting outside. Under the close observation of the FBI agents, the INS agents arrested Abel, searched him and the contents of his room, and seized several items as evidence of Abel’s alienage.
On December 6, 2007, the Central Intelligence Agency publicly disclosed that in 2005 it had destroyed videotapes of CIA interrogations of alleged terrorist Abu Zubaydah conducted in 2002 and asserted that the destruction was “in line with the law.” The disclosure resulted in calls for congressional investigations; a motion for contempt in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); emergency motions in Guantánamo detainee cases; questions about the case of Zacharias Moussaoui; and an angry op-ed from the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission. The crux of these public reactions – as with the criminal investigation that resulted – was primarily the narrow issue whether the destruction of the tapes was illegal because they were relevant to pending or foreseeable cases or investigations.
The release of formerly classified documents and government cables by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks in 2010 poses a dilemma. The government often has exclusive possession of information about its policies, programs, processes, and activities that would be of great value to informed public debate. But government officials often insist that such information be kept secret, even from those to whom they are accountable –the American people. How should we resolve this dilemma? The issue is complex and has many dimensions.
Following release of the documents, the Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination (SHIELD) Act was introduced in Congress. The proposed legislation would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States, “any classified information . . . concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States or . . . concerning the identity of a classified source or informant” working with the intelligence community of the United States.
The filling of a judicial vacancy provides a unique opportunity to examine not only the appointment or election process, but also the court itself and its work. For obvious reasons, this has been recognized in connection with the Supreme Court of the United States,1 where vacancies are often the subject of much conjecture but, because of life tenure, remain essentially unpredictable. On a less lofty plane, the opportunity to take stock also occurs in other courts, and the timing, at least, is less a matter of speculation in non-Article III courts, where judges serve for fixed terms.
A case in point is the expiration of Chief Judge Andrew S. Effron’s term on the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (referred to here as the Court of Appeals) on September 30, 2011. It is appropriate to consider the process for filling his seat; the standards that, based on the law and past experience, must, could, or should not be taken into account in choosing a successor; and the possible impact on the court and its jurisprudence.
While national security law covers a broad swath, military justice is a key component, since good order and discipline are integral to a credible military capacity, and notwithstanding the remarkable trend towards the use of high technology in national defense, uniformed personnel – human beings – and their conduct (both actual and desired) remain the heart of the matter. Hence, the filling of Judge Effron’s seat is properly viewed as potentially impacting on national security.