Judge closes Miami courtroom for FBI undercover employees’ terror testimony

Two FBI undercover employees can testify at a terrorism trial in a Miami federal courtroom closed to the public, a judge ruled Friday, citing national security concerns.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that the public, including the media, can watch their testimony on closed circuit TV in a separate room in the downtown courthouse — but the images of the witnesses can be obscured in some manner during the June 15 trial of a Kenyan man.

Prosecutors also want to allow the witnesses to be lightly disguised, such as wearing a closely cropped beard and black-rimmed glasses. And they want the witnesses to use undercover pseudonyms to protect their true identities.

“[T]he court finds that the protective measures suggested by the government are no broader than necessary to protect the [undercover employees’] safety, their families’ safety, ongoing investigations and the [employees’] value as a counter-terrorism resource,” Ungaro concluded.

The defense attorney for Mohamed Hussein Said — accused of funneling money to al-Qaida splinter groups in a Miami-based sting operation — said she was disappointed in the judge’s ruling.

In court papers, Miami attorney Silvia Piñera-Vazquez argued the prosecution’s demands would deprive her client of a fair trial under the U.S. Constitution. She asserted the “government's actions in this case are eerily similar" to the prosecution described in Franz Kafka's The Trial.

In the classic novel, the attorney noted, “a bank teller was arrested and prosecuted by a remote, unidentified authority, of an unidentified crime, by unidentified witnesses, and eventually executed.”