Defense

Family of Slain Navy Cryptologist Sues NSA, Verizon for Massive Snooping Operation

An aerial view of the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, Thursday, June 6, 2013.

An aerial view of the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, Thursday, June 6, 2013. // Rick Bowmer/AP

The family of a Navy cryptologist killed on Aug.  6, 2011 while supporting a Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan has filed the first class action lawsuit over the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of telephone call metadata. The suit seeks $12 billion in damages.

Michael Strange was killed west of Kabul in a Chinook helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of another 29 American personnel, including 17 SEALS, and eight Afghan troops.

As a Navy cryptologist technician, Strange provided the SEALS with the same kind of network analysis skills used by NSA at its Ft. Meade, Md., headquarters, according to a job description provided by John Donaldson, a spokesman for the Naval Network Warfare Command.

His duties included “providing in-depth analysis on a variety of complex digital communications signals using sophisticated communications equipment and computer technology." He also was tasked with providing intelligence information and operating "sophisticated state-of-the-art strategic and tactical signals collection and analysis systems,” Donaldson said.

The Chinook was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by an Afghanistan insurgent and 15 of the 17 SEALS onboard were from SEAL Team Six, which three months earlier, on May 2, 2011, carried out the raid in Pakistan that killed Taliban leader Osama  bin Laden.

Charles Strange, Michael’s father, charged last month at a Washington press conference that the helicopter was shot down because it carried 15 members of SEAL Team Six  and was targeted because Vice President Joe Biden had revealed earlier that SEAL Team Six had conducted the raid. The elder Strange threatened a lawsuit against the administration at that time.

In their lawsuit against the NSA, President Obama and Verizon, Charles Strange and his wife Mary Ann, allege that NSA and Verizon accessed their phone records due to their “vocal criticism” of the administration “regarding the circumstances surrounding the shoot-down of their son’s helicopter in Afghanistan…..”

The suit against the NSA – filed with Larry Klayman, founder of the conservative Judicial Watch public interst law firm and Freedom Watch, a conservative advocacy firm – seeks damages for more than 100 million Americans whose phone call records Verizon turned over to NSA on a daily basis.      

The lawsuit -- which also names Attorney General Eric Holder and Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees NSA snapping -- alleges “outrageous conduct” through the mass collection of telephone metadata that exposed them to an “Orwellian regime of totalitarianism.” 

Rich Young, a Verizon spokesman, said the company views the suit filed by Klayman and the Strange family as "without merit."

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// April 19