WASHINGTON — An unhappy federal judge on Tuesday approved a $3 million settlement with a former narcotics officer who said the CIA spied on him overseas.
The approved settlement caps a 16-year fight for former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Richard A. Horn and California attorney Brian Leighton. It also leaves the judge grumbling over how the government handled the long-secret case.
"It does not appear that any government officials have been held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer," U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote. "This is troubling."
Driving his point home, Lamberth further noted that "there is disturbing evidence in a sealed motion that misconduct occurred in the Inspector General offices at both the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency."
After noting that the case "has already consumed too much time and too many resources for everyone concerned," however, Lamberth agreed to drop potential disciplinary proceedings against CIA officials. He'll formally do so once he's been assured that the allegations have been referred to congressional intelligence committees and the inspector general offices.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the case or what referrals might be made next.
"The check is supposed to be in the mail pretty quick," Leighton said Tuesday, while adding that "we have mixed emotions."
Leighton acknowledged that he and Horn are relieved that the case is now done. At the same time, he said, "people ought to be penalized for defrauding the court," which is what he and Lamberth both say happened in this case.
A one-time investigator in California's San Joaquin Valley, where he first got to know former prosecutor Leighton, Horn was later assigned to the DEA's office in Burma, now called Myanmar. While there, he says he clashed with State Department and CIA officials who wanted to downplay Burma's cooperation in the anti-narcotics campaign.
Forced from his position, Horn charged that his telephone calls to Leighton and others were illegally tapped. When he sued in 1994, the Justice Department made sure the lawsuit was sealed.
The lawsuit stayed sealed until last year, shortly before the Justice Department agreed to a $3 million settlement.
"While the government makes no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement, the court is persuaded that the government must have found them credible," Lamberth noted Tuesday.
When the case became public last year, Lamberth said that the CIA's attorneys had engaged in a "fraud on the court" by failing to update him on the undercover status of a key witness. Lamberth said that an unclassified declaration by CIA Director Leon Panetta "appears to significantly conflict" with a classified declaration.
Conclusions were also inappropriately manipulated in the original inspector general investigations into Horn's allegations, Leighton added. This is the alleged misconduct that Lamberth said was cited in sealed court motions.
Lamberth said then that the government's "misconduct" in misleading him was an abuse of the state secrets privilege, which has been used to keep embarrassing as well as sensitive information out of the spotlight. He sought disciplinary proceedings, which the Justice Department argued could prove dangerous.
"(Ending the proceedings) and the resulting protection of such classified and privileged information from unauthorized disclosure is also manifestly in the public interest," Justice Department attorney Alexander K. Haas argued in a legal brief.
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