In an unprecedented move, a federal judge Wednesday ordered prosecutors to turn over confidential court filings that launched the terrorism sting operation against a young west suburban man who was ultimately charged with plotting to set off a bomb outside a Loop bar.
“This finding is not made lightly,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman wrote in a five-page opinion giving Adel Daoud’s attorney access to the usually secret information.
Coleman’s order means that federal prosecutors will have to turn over search warrant applications – including affidavits and other materials – that were presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court in order to justify surveillance on Daoud. In terrorism prosecutions, such materials are typically viewed only by the judge and not by defense attorneys.
The applications could potentially reveal whether the investigation was sparked by the controversial government spying programs recently revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Daoud’s attorneys have said they need access to the materials in order to decide whether to challenge the search warrants on the grounds they violated constitutional protections against unlawful searches and seizures.
In her ruling, the judge acknowledged her decision to disclose the materials to the defense was unprecedented, but she said she felt it was necessary in this case to safeguard the right to effective counsel.
In an emailed response to the Tribune, Daoud’s lead attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, called the ruling “historic.”
“This decision is…courageous and very meaningful in assuring the preservation of the integrity of the adversarial process in federal terrorism related criminal prosecutions,” Durkin wrote.
Coleman said the government’s argument that national security could be compromised by releasing the document didn’t hold up because Durkin has said he has top-secret clearance through his work as civilian defense counsel in the case against alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Durkin will have to provide documentation of his credentials before being shown the materials, the judge said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment Wednesday on the ruling.
Daoud, 20, of Hillside, came under FBI scrutiny after posting messages online about killing Americans, authorities have said. He was arrested in September 2012 after allegedly trying to detonate what he thought was a car bomb outside a bar in the Loop. FBI analysts posing as terrorists exchanged messages with him and ultimately helped him plan an attack.
The case has become a lightning rod for criticism in the months since Snowden exposed the breadth of the country's secret surveillance programs. On the Senate floor a few months after Daoud's arrest, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., referred to the case as one in which the enhanced surveillance helped nab a would-be terrorist.
Daoud, who has pleaded not guilty, is set to go on trial on the terrorism charges in April. He also is facing separate charges that he tried to solicit the murder of one of the FBI agents in the investigation after he had been jailed.