Feds seek to shield evidence in suicide bomb case
- Article by: ROXANA HEGEMAN
- Associated Press
- January 29, 2014 - 11:40 AM
WICHITA, Kan. — Prosecutors sought Tuesday to limit who can see some evidence in the case of a suicide bomb plot at a Kansas airport, saying the information is "far too important" to national security to be made public.
In a court filing, prosecutors asked for a hearing on whether to restrict the release of materials provided to the attorneys representing Terry L. Loewen, the 58-year-old avionics technician facing terror-related charges. They also have asked a judge to designate the case as "complex," which would ease concerns about a speedy trial.
Loewen was arrested Dec. 13 after a months-long undercover sting when he allegedly tried to drive a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, a plot prosecutors say was intended to kill as many people as possible. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use of an explosive device to damage property, and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.
"It simply is not acceptable for the government to be put in a position where its ability to interrupt the next plot to murder hundreds of innocent travelers during the height of the Christmas travel season is not protected to the greatest degree possible," prosecutors wrote.
Loewen's attorneys have expressed concern the government wants to micromanage the defense's handling of evidence.
The protective order sought by the government would limit dissemination of some of the material to witnesses and others without court permission. The government also wants to prohibit the defense from making copies of recordings without the judge's approval. For some sensitive national security material, the order would also set up a framework where the judge overseeing the case would review, outside of the defense presence, government summaries rather than full investigative files.
"These micro-management restrictions upon handling the material are unnecessary, burdensome and invasive," defense attorneys wrote in a recent filing.
The defense has argued it believes that the methods used by investigators will shed light on how two undercover FBI agents allegedly transformed "a Wichita aviation mechanic with over 30 years of experience and a former Marine who loves his family" into a terrorist prepared to carry out a suicide attack on behalf of al-Qaida.
The government contends their investigative methods — or "tradecraft" as it puts it —that it seeks to shield are critical to the FBI identifying, contacting, monitoring, tracking, gaining the confidence of and interacting with individuals who seek to disrupt national security.
Prosecutors said revealing some law enforcement methods to the public "would significantly compromise the ability of law-enforcement agents and intelligence personnel to prevent, attempt to interdict, or stop acts against the national security and interests of the United States."
Defense attorneys have contended that since it is unlikely the undercover agents disclosed national secrets or classified information during conversations with Loewen, this case shouldn't be treated differently than other sting cases.
But prosecutors countered in their filing that the defense is mistaken in asserting that bulk of the government's evidence will consist of Loewen's conversations with undercover agents. They also contended defense attorneys are wrong in saying the case will not involve materials protected by the Classified Information Procedures Act, which lays out the handing of national security material in such cases.
In seeking to designate the case as complex, prosecutors cited the large volume of evidence. Prosecutors have already turned over five DVDs that include Loewen's interview after his arrest, 11 DVDs depicting hours of surveillance, 1531 pages of documents, 636 photographs and five spreadsheets.
It expects to turn over more sensitive materials as soon as the court enters a protective order.
A search warrant for his email account has turned over 34,000 pages of material. Investigators have not yet received the search results of two computers and one cellular telephone recovered from the van at the time of Loewen's arrest as well as results from a search of computers or storage media seized from his house. Prosecutors said they expected to turn over to the defense between 37,000 and 40,000 pages, plus mirror images of at least two hard drives, downloads of a cellular telephone and dozens of hours of surveillance.
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