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The US government has been ordered to pay $US3 million to a former Rangoon-based Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer who accused Washington of spying on him whilst in Burma.
Richard Horn, who was the most senior DEA officer in Burma at a time when the country dominated the world’s heroin market, filed litigation in a federal court in 1994 in a case at the time described as ‘sealed’ for secrecy.
Last week judges approved an out-of-court settlement, 16 years after the case was first lodged, likely to prevent much of the information regarding the case coming out in court.
Although some details had leaked by 2004, the case was only ‘unsealed’ last year by the US justice department. Horn alleges that not only were his phone calls tapped but that he was immediately at loggerheads with US embassy charge d’affairs Franklin Huddle Jr., and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief of station in Burma at the time, Arthur M. Brown.
Horn said that Brown had tried to sabotage his job, which involved working with the Burmese government to eradicate the narcotics industry.
Horn reportedly became suspicious that he was being bugged when he returned to his Rangoon home to find his government-issued square table replaced with a round one, according to AP.
According to Horn’s attorney, Brian Leighton, the DEA officer had made progress in working with the military government, a situation that countered Huddle and Brown’s attempts to portray the junta in a wholly negative fashion.
After the 30 March ruling, Judge Lamberth was quoted by AP as saying: “Again, it does not appear that any government officials have been held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer. This is troubling to the court.”
Lamberth asked US attorney general Eric Holder whether there would be an internal investigation after the government initially threw the case out, citing the State Secrets Privilege that can be invoked for “national security”.
Holder announced in September that he would seek a rethink of State Secrets Privilege, an announcement that Lambeth applauded after working on the case.
Lamberth noted that there was “misconduct” by both the state department and CIA detailed in the sealed evidence and that the government deemed to counter national security.
The court found that “the allegations of wrongdoing by the government attorneys in this case are not only credible, they are admitted”, and as a result Lamberth lamented the “misgivings” of the court that it had to end the case with a pay-out.
The DEA’s regional office in Bangkok refused to comment, stating that it had a lack of authorisation to talk on the matter, while the press attaché claimed to not know of the case.