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Suiting Up

Rocky Anderson prepares to take feds to task for reports of illegal spying on Salt Lakers during the 2002 Olympics


When former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson reactivated his law license, it appears he reactivated his activism. Long a civil-liberties defender, he's decided to call out the feds after reports surfaced in 2013 that the NSA and FBI allegedly conducted illegal surveillance operations on Salt Lake-area residents before and during the 2002 Winter Games. To that end, he's filing a lawsuit seeking damages from the U.S. government for unlawful invasions of privacy, and he's inviting Salt Lake-area residents to join the lawsuit. The forms, which need to be submitted no later than Monday, Aug. 17, at 10 a.m. can be reviewed at Note: City Weekly is preparing paperwork to join the lawsuit.

Anderson explains his reasoning for his lawsuit below:

The Winter Olympics were so 13 years ago. Why are you threatening to sue now?
Apparently, no one outside the NSA and FBI knew of the blanket surveillance over Salt Lake City during the 2002 Olympics until The Wall Street Journal broke the story in an article on Aug. 20, 2013. The information would probably never have been known to the public unless one or more courageous sources had provided the information.

Given that the 9/11 attacks had taken place less than six months prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics, wasn't safety a huge issue, serving to justify such drastic measures?
As mayor during the Olympics, my greatest concern, even before 9/11, was safety. In fact, the only heated words between Mitt Romney and me related to my incessant demands that we have a far more robust immediate response capacity in the event of violence or major property destruction.
However, there was absolutely no justification for the abandonment of the rule of law and unprecedented violations of the protections of individual rights, including fundamental privacy, provided by our state and federal constitutions and statutes passed by Congress to prevent these very sorts of Stasi-like governmental abuses. To accept the illegal and unconstitutional spying on people in this country by our government only helps pave the way for further disregard of the rule of law by the executive branch and, ultimately, a more totalitarian society.

Were you, as Salt Lake City mayor at the time, made aware of how the federal government was providing security for the games?
I was well aware of the extraordinary security efforts to be provided by the federal government, of which I was not only supportive but pushing for even more. I was particularly concerned that response personnel were being stationed as far away as Camp Williams and requested many times that they somehow be stationed within or just outside of Salt Lake City. However, I never had any inkling the federal government was planning to engage in wholesale spying on the communications of every person in our city. Had I known about that, I would have raised holy public hell about it.

Do you think any local officials could have been briefed on the surveillance?
I do not believe any local officials were briefed on the unprecedented blanket surveillance of every person and entity within Salt Lake City. This was a highly secret, illegal operation by the NSA and FBI.

Wouldn't employees at local phone and Internet companies have needed to cooperate? Why have none come forward?
Some employees of telecommunications services companies would have needed to cooperate. At the time, such cooperation would have constituted a federal felony, just as every instance of the surveillance by the FBI and NSA constituted a federal felony. That is exactly why, in 2008, Congress (including then-Senator Obama) voted for the unprecedented, outrageous bill granting retroactive immunity from prosecution and civil law suits for telecommunication companies that cooperated with the illegal and unconstitutional initiatives of the federal government under the Bush administration.

How do you think the federal agencies involved will respond to your notice of a lawsuit? How much could this potentially cost them (or us, as taxpayers)?
President Obama has promised that his administration will be open and transparent, acknowledging how essential openness is to a democracy. However, his words have been betrayed repeatedly, including during my recent conversation with the head of Public Affairs at the NSA, who told me that she is aware of the allegations in the Wall Street Journal article but that the NSA, “will not admit, deny, or discuss the allegations.”
There is a possibility that this lawsuit could result in the recovery of significant monetary damages. However, complacency in the face of disregard for the rule of law and massive criminality by the agencies of the federal government would create irreparable and democracy-destroying harm, betraying that which is at the core of our constitution and the republic for which so many have paid the ultimate price to create and preserve.

What's happened to the data that was captured during the Olympics?
We do not know what has happened to the data unlawfully captured by the NSA and FBI. However, the guiding philosophy of the NSA is to horde everything possible so it will be available in future years if the government seeks to investigate anyone who has been subjected to surveillance. One director of the NSA justified such hording by saying, “You have to have a haystack to find a needle in the haystack.” An unbelievable amount of data from illegal surveillance is being stored at the enormous NSA facility recently constructed in Bluffdale.

Why should local residents consider joining your lawsuit?
The executive branch will always tend toward abuses of individual civil liberties if it is allowed to get away with it. Those who remain complacent and refuse to stand up against government criminality are complicit in the crimes. Our constitutional system is based on the concept that governmental power derives from we-the-people. A constitutional republic will exist only so long as we the people are vigilant and, instead of fearing our government, make certain that our government knows that we hold it accountability.

How long does it take to fill out the paperwork?
It takes approximately 5 or 6 minutes to fill out the paperwork we have worked hard to provide to all potential claimants. The completed forms, available at with original signatures, must be provided to our office (460 S. 400 East) no later than 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.