A law firm that represents clients at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan is warning its Vermont clients that it believes the federal government has been monitoring its phones and computer system. In a letter sent to clients of the St. Johnsbury firm of Gensburg, Atwell & Broderick, the three attorneys said they can't guarantee their communications were confidential. "Although our investigation is not complete, we are quite confident that it is the United States government that has been doing the phone tapping and computer hacking," said the letter, dated Oct. 2.
The attorney for Robert Gensburg, David Sleigh of St. Johnsbury, said Thursday that it could turn out there is an innocent, nongovernmental reason for the problems with the telephone and the firm's office computer system.
"Bob is an incredibly cautious and deliberate guy," Sleigh said. "We don't want to make allegations that are not supportable. We do have hard evidence that his phone was compromised and his computer was compromised."
U.S. Attorney Thomas D. Anderson, the federal government's top law enforcement official in Vermont, said Thursday that he couldn't comment. Verizon has consistently refused to comment on whether it is involved with national security issues, spokeswoman Beth Fastiggi said Thursday.
A Verizon Vermont technician who investigated problems with Gensburg's phone last month found crossed lines, but didn't explain what caused the problem, Sleigh said.
A forensic examination of Gensburg's computer found an application that disabled all security software and would have given someone access to all information on the computer, Sleigh said.
Sleigh said it could be a routine infection introduced into the machine by e-mail.
"Given the phone situation, a number of another anomalies we've observed over time ... we think we have legitimate cause for concern," Sleigh said.
Gensburg represents a client in Afghanistan and one of the prisoners held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.
Sleigh said that under federal law, he thought the U.S. government could argue it was entitled to tap Gensburg's phone and computer without a warrant.
This summer, Congress passed a surveillance law that allows the government to eavesdrop without a court order on communications conducted by a person reasonably believed to be outside the United States, even when the communications flow through the U.S. communications network -- or if an American is on one end of the conversation -- so long as that person is not the intended focus or target of the surveillance.
The Bush administration said this was necessary because technological advances in communications had put U.S. officials at a disadvantage.
Congress is considering a bill to extend that law.
Last month, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Gensburg complained to the Vermont Public Service Board, which oversees utilities in the state, about the alleged monitoring of Gensburg's phone lines.
The Public Service Board is trying to decide whether to investigate if Verizon Vermont and AT&T gave the federal government access to Vermont residents' phone records as part of an anti-terrorist surveillance program.
Sleigh said that to the best of his knowledge, none of the firm's clients has expressed concern that their legal communications could have been overheard.