Privacy Law

Lawyer sues to learn whether the FBI accessed his law firm's computers

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A Virginia lawyer wants to know whether the FBI obtained access to his law firm’s computers as part of an investigation into his possession of three classified documents.

Kel McClanahan filed a federal suit last Friday in Washington, D.C., seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act that would answer his questions, McClatchy News reports.

McClanahan says his computer and email accounts developed technical problems shortly after he met with FBI agents who asked permission to search his office and to take possession of his computer. McClanahan refused, though he did agree to delete the documents in the presence of FBI officials. The FBI accepted the offer last year.

At issue were three documents, the story says. Two were articles in a CIA in-house journal about another FOIA case McClanahan had filed against the CIA. McClanahan says the articles were faxed to him, and he contacted a Justice Department official involved in the case when he realized the articles were not public.

The third document was an FBI account of an interview with an American citizen jailed in Yemen for alleged links to al-Qaida. McClanahan is handling FOIA litigation in that case, and he got the unredacted document, filed in a Yemeni court, from lawyers for the suspect in Yemen. McClanahan says he compared the unredacted document with a redacted version he received from the FBI, and he believes information was blacked out to hide FBI misconduct. McClanahan emailed a Justice Department lawyer to ask if he could use the unredacted version in court.

“I don’t have definitive proof that the FBI read my emails,” McClanahn told McClatchy. “I have, however, a large stack of circumstantial evidence that they did, … specifically, unexplained problems with my email accounts only days before they showed up unannounced at my door to try to strong-arm me into giving them unrestricted access to my records. … It could be a huge coincidence … but it would be a huge coincidence.”

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