After 15 years, ex-DEA agent wins settlement from U.S.

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Two colleagues who once fought drugs in California have won satisfaction in a 15-year legal battle that shone a bright spotlight on the nation's spies.

Capping a remarkable courtroom ride, former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Richard Horn and attorney Brian Leighton secured a $3 million financial settlement from the Justice Department. The confidential settlement filed Tuesday ends a lawsuit that embarrassed past and present CIA officials.

"No one should have to endure what we did for 15 years," Leighton said Tuesday evening. "The government greatly miscalculated our endurance and resolve."

In the original lawsuit filed by Leighton in U.S. District Court in Washington, Horn claimed a CIA officer and a diplomat had collaborated in illegally eavesdropping on his conversations.

Leighton declined Tuesday to describe how the $3 million would be divided, but he called the payment "big time." As is customary, the settlement doesn't include any admission of wrongdoing by the Justice Department or individual defendants.

"It might also light a fire under future plaintiffs to vindicate their rights," Leighton said.

The Justice Department, too, gets something out of the settlement. After succeeding for years in keeping the entire lawsuit sealed, government officials were facing the possibility that sensitive practices and prior investigations would be exposed.

"This case has been pending for 15 years, and the parties and the United States have now reached a comprehensive, global settlement of claims after extensive negotiations," Justice Department attorney Alexander Haas stated in a legal filing Tuesday night.

A 59-year-old former federal prosecutor, Leighton worked closely with Horn when the DEA agent served in California's San Joaquin Valley. Since leaving the Justice Department, Leighton has primarily made his mark representing San Joaquin Valley agricultural clients.

Horn went on to serve as the DEA's top agent in Burma, where he said he ran afoul of a State Department diplomat.

"I am not inclined to talk about what I am doing now," Horn said via e-mail earlier this year. "I strive to live a quiet and anonymous life."

In one legal filing, Horn claimed he wanted "the truth (concerning) Burma's drug enforcement efforts, which were substantial, be told to the U.S. Congress and the executive branch; whereas the (State Department) and CIA . . . desired to deny Burma any credit for its drug enforcement efforts."

Horn claims the conflict came to a head in 1993 when the CIA officer Arthur Brown illegally wiretapped him — including telephone conversations he had with Leighton, who was still in Clovis, Calif. — and shared the results with diplomat Franklin Huddle. Horn's DEA career subsequently ended after he was withdrawn from his Burma post.

Leighton agreed as part of the settlement to stop seeking contempt-of-court sanctions on former CIA Director George Tenet, former CIA officer Brown and four CIA attorneys. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth suggested that the past and present CIA men may have perpetrated a "fraud on the court" through inaccurate declarations.

"The court does not give the government a high degree of deference because of its prior misrepresentations," Lamberth wrote in July, adding later that the "misconduct by the government . . . (raises) very serious implications."

Until Lamberth's angrily worded July decision, government attorneys had successfully argued that the lawsuit, first filed in August 1994, must be sealed to protect state secrets.

The conflict over secrets led Lamberth to take the highly unusual step of ordering that Leighton be granted the security clearances necessary for reviewing certain documents.

"This case has already been delayed long enough by the government's failure to disclose information that had long been unclassified," Lamberth said in September.

Tellingly, Lamberth further hinted in September that the government could be on a losing course if the case went to trial, as he suggested that "the only secret the government might have left to preserve is the fact they did what Horn alleges."


Judge rules that he, too, can grant access to U.S. secrets

'Bulldog' lawyer gets break in 15-year court battle with CIA

Fresno-area lawyer not shy about taking on the CIA

Judge accuses CIA officials of fraud, unseals secret files

Follow the latest legal affairs news at McClatchy's Suits & Sentences

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service