U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is asking a federal judge not to release certain evidence against a Massachusetts man accused in a terror plot, saying the disclosure of "top secret" materials could harm national security.
Tarek Mehanna, of Sudbury, is accused in an indictment of conspiring to kill American troops in Iraq in support of al-Qaida. Prosecutors have also said he conspired with two other men to shoot shoppers in U.S. malls and assassinate two politicians.
In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, Holder says evidence gathered through electronic surveillance and physical searches under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act should be reviewed by a judge privately and not turned over to the defense.
"The FISA Materials contain sensitive and classified information concerning United States intelligence sources and methods and other information related to efforts of the United States to conduct counterterrorism investigations, including the manner and means by which those investigations are conducted," Holder stated in the memo filed last week.
"As a result, the unauthorized disclosure of the information could harm the national security interests of the United States."
J.W. Carney Jr., one of Mehanna's lawyers, said the defense does not know what information the government is seeking to withhold.
"We're boxing with a ghost. It's tough to land a punch when your opponent is invisible to you," Carney said.
Attorney Janice Bassil, who also represents Mehanna, has said previously that prosecutors built their case on anti-American statements made by Mehanna in instant messages protected by the First Amendment.
Bassil argued during a bail hearing in February that in the instant messages, Mehanna expressed his opposition to U.S. involvement in the Middle East, particularly the war in Iraq, and made statements about his admiration for Osama bin Laden. She said the messages do not show that Mehanna ever planned to try to kill anyone.
Prosecutors have said that Mehanna traveled to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp and supported al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations by translating and distributing videos and textbooks intended to encourage others to participate in violent jihad. They've said the men never came close to pulling off an attack and were unsuccessful in their alleged attempts to seek training at terrorist camps.
Mehanna's lawyers have said he went to Yemen to seek "religious study."
Mehanna in scheduled to go on trial in October on charges that include conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and making false statements.