The ACLU has asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to release the secret orders the court issued regarding the National Security Agency's wiretapping program. Now the court has asked the Bush administration for its views about such a release, The Washington Post reports.
The move is highly unusual, because the court -- which approves warrants for electronic surveillance within the United States by intelligence and counterterrorism agencies -- operates in almost total secrecy and has made only one ruling public in its 29-year history.
The government has until Aug. 31 to respond to the ACLU's request. The group must then file a rebuttal by Sept. 14.
"This is an unprecedented request that warrants further briefing," wrote U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who serves as the intelligence court's presiding judge.
The ACLU is asking the court for copies of orders it issued in January, as well as orders issued in the spring that concluded that parts of the program are illegal. Those orders led to Congress allowing intel agencies to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order.
David B. Rivkin Jr., a partner at Baker Hostetler and a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, said it's unclear the court has the power to release the documents if the Administration objects.
"The order is unusual, and the request is also unusual," Rivkin said. "But I would be amazed if that request were granted in the end."