Classified Documents Show NSA Secretly Helped Convict People in US Courts
An Uzbekistani man who immigrated to the United States in 2009 has become another victim of the United States’ warrantless surveillance programs. The man, whose name is Fazliddin Kurbanov, arrived in the United States as a refugee who had converted from Islam to Christianity. Kurbanov moved to Boise, Idaho and began taking classes to learn how to become a truck driver. A few years after Kurbanov arrived in the United States he converted back to Islam, and it was at this point that the FBI began putting him under surveillance. Kurbanov’s emails and chat logs were being intercepted and read by the government. The FBI had one informant who became roommates with Kurbanov, and another informant who attended the truck driving school with him. In May of 2013, Kurbanov was arrested and charged with providing material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and for possessing materials to make bombs.
Kurbanov ended up being convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, and after he has served his sentence he will be deported back to Uzbekistan. However, prosecutors did not disclose to Kurbanov and his attorney, Chuck Peterson, that Kurbanov’s conversations had been intercepted through the NSA’s PRISM internet surveillance program. The PRISM surveillance program was exposed when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the illegal warrantless surveillance program.
The PRISM surveillance program was justified under an expansion of FISA which was passed in 2008. Section 702 of FISA authorizes the bulk collection of communications, whereas the original FISA law only allowed surveillance of specific targeted individuals and organizations. PRISM allows the government to obtain bulk internet traffic without a warrant, without probable, and without even reasonable suspicion. According to a 2011 FISA court ruling, it is estimated that every year 250 million electronic communications on the internet are intercepted through surveillance authorized by FISA Section 702.
The FBI frequently searches the database of information collected under FISA Section 702. Before leaving office, President Barack Obama approved expanding law enforcement agencies access to raw NSA intercepts. A never before released top secret slide from the NSA leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden was recently released by The Intercept and shows a PRISM Reporting Highlight which shows that Kurbanov was under warrantless NSA surveillance in 2013. The NSA was intercepting Kurbanov’s Skype conversations from between October of 2012 to April of 2013. The PRISM Highlight stated that Kurbanov believed he was under surveillance but was not deterred.
The NSA believed Kurbanov was raising money for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or was trying to build a car bomb. In a trial, the government is supposed to disclose the sources of all evidence against the defendant. During Kurbanov’s trial the FBI disclosed to him that his conversations had been monitored but they did not disclose that the information against Kurbanov was collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). Kurbanov’s attorney demanded that evidence against Kurbanov which was collected under FISA Section 702 be disclosed and suppressed. Former Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that disclosing the evidence was collected under FISA Section 702 would “harm the national security of the United States.”
According to a 2014 report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, over 100 terrorism related arrests were made based on information under surveillance conducted under FISA Section 702. However, only 75 defendants were notified that evidence against them was obtained through FISA, but none of those defendants were notified that the information was collected through the NSA’s warrantless surveillance programs being conducted under FISA Section 702. Other unpublished documents obtained by journalists from Edward Snowden show that many other defendants before the Kurbanov case were being spied on without a warrant. The documents show that there was at least one instance where a United States citizen was wrongly labeled as a foreigner.
Law enforcement and prosecutors hide the origin of evidence through the use of a process called parallel construction. NSA William Binney explains parallel construction as, “You use that data to substitute for the NSA data that was originally used to arrest them. And you substitute the parallel constructed data in the courtroom, which I’ve called perjury. They’re lying to the courts and they’re subverting our entire judicial process.”