OPEN GOVERNMENTThe Recorder in San Francisco reports that a federal judge yesterday cleared the way for a groundbreaking suit that would let lawyers peek behind the curtain of the Bush administration's warrantless electronic surveillance program, in a case long stalled because proof of the wiretapping relied on classified documents.

Northern District of California Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that lawyers for Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation can access material long held secret by the government. But he also wrote that the press and the public must now be kept largely in the dark.
    His ruling simultaneously granted Al-Haramain's motion under §1806(f) of (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) to review the classified document and denied the government's third motion to dismiss the group's case. He sided with Al-Haramain against the government's "circular" argument that surveillance could never be proved unless the government itself admitted it had spied.
    Anthony Coppolino, the government's lead counsel, referred requests for comment Monday afternoon to Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller, who said the DOJ is "currently reviewing the court's ruling."
    Walker's decision sets in motion a process that seemed unlikely a few months ago: The government must now give Walker a copy of the secret document within two weeks and complete top-secret security clearances for Eisenberg and up to two other plaintiffs lawyers by Feb. 13, so that they can also review the document.
    The public, however, could be excluded, Walker wrote.
    "The court's next steps will prioritize two interests: protecting classified evidence from disclosure and enabling plaintiffs to prosecute their action," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the important interests of the press and the public in this case cannot be given equal priority without compromising other interests."