Chicago terror cases at forefront of National Security Agency surveillance debate

February 7, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Two men arrested in Chicago in 2012 in separate terrorism cases, but both were spy targets of the National Security Agency-- and tonight they are challenging the government's intelligence gathering tactics in federal courts.

Although both men are charged as terrorist threats to America, civil libertarian groups say their cases raise serious questions about warrantless searches and unreasonable invasions on all of our rights.

At Loyola University School of Law on Friday, there was a day-long discussion of this question: Are we safer in 2014 and at what cost?

Consider the case of teenage Chicago terror suspect Adel Daoud, in the federal lockup since 2012 on charges he wanted to blow up this downtown Chicago bar as part of a personal jihad.

Late last month, in a major victory for Daoud's legal team, a federal judge ruled they should have access to government paperwork seeking permission to conduct secret surveillance. That information has never been made public.

"It's pulling back the curtain on this very cloak and dagger dragnet surveillance program which has been in place for decades but has ramped up significantly since 9/11," said Anthony Romero, ACLU national director.

At Friday's Loyola Law Conference, ACLU'S national director credits ex-government contractor Edward Snowden, whose controversial revelations have given rise to legal challenges of the NSA surveillance program.

"The Daoud case will be a case of enormous importance nationwide. The Daoud case is going to show us for the first time the actual FISC order, the first time since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been established that we actually going to see the legal order that gives us the original rationale of the government to access the communications of this particular person," said Romero.

Daoud's defense wants details of phone and internet spying used as a basis for the sting operation that netted the Hillside teenager.

Similarly, lawyers for this man-- Jamshid Muhtorov-- have filed a new court motion for access to details of how surveillance law was used in his case. Muhtorov was arrested at O'Hare in 2012, accused of supporting terrorist activity in Afghanistan. He is being prosecuted in his home town of Denver, Colo., where authorities say the plot was hatched.

Muhtorov was assisted by the ACLU in his motion for access to government surveillance information. The motion contends that government spying now "is exceptionally intrusive and it is conducted by executive officers who enjoy broad authority to decide whom to monitor, when and for how long."

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