"It was techy-talk, a disciplined process moving from point A to point B," Wiebe said. "A lot of people didn't pay attention to it. … It was a way to get better engineering practices."

He said the government might be trying to classify the information, not because it's top secret, but to keep him and his group from using it for future endeavors. He said he is encouraged that the federal judge in the civil case, Richard D. Bennett, is the one who presided over Drake's criminal trial and called the government's actions "unconscionable."

In court papers, the government says that, at least in Wiebe's case, the 10-page document and computers contain information that is classified.

The material was reviewed by a man identified in court documents only as Steven E.T., the deputy chief of staff for the Signals Intelligence Directorate at NSA, which intercepts communications from across the world. The computers and hard drives were scanned by Tony T., identified as a computer forensic examiner at the NSA.

According to the court documents, Steven E.T. said that divulging the contents of Wiebe's computer would harm "the NSA's foreign intelligence electronic information collection network," which, he adds, "has taken years to develop at a cost of billions of dollars and untold human effort."

"In order to allow NSA to successfully perform its SIGINT [signal intelligence] mission, its activities must be done in secrecy," he wrote. The official wrote in his affidavit that an additional 150 pages of information remains under review.

Wiebe, Drake and others argued in November that in addition to the 10-page document, their computer hard drives contained personal information, such as address books, family recipes, tax returns, graduate school papers and family photos.

Tony T., the forensic examiner, said in court papers that it is impossible to fully erase the classified information from the computer hard drives.

The only solution, prosecutors said, is to copy unclassified information onto another device and give that back to the people involved in the lawsuit.

Barnard, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, said in his court filing that "given the volume of the hard disk drives, and the time it will take to perform a complete review to separate classified from unclassified information, a time-consuming process is expected." He wrote, "Petitioner has been unwilling to cooperate … in this process."

In his court filings, Barnard included email exchanges he had with Wiebe, offering at one point to let a federal magistrate supervise the review and "help you get back everything that is lawfully yours."

Wiebe has made it clear he wants all his seized computers and hard drives returned. He responded to the email saying he preferred take the issue to court. He notes in his email that he was never charged with a crime.

"In my eyes, the government's actions in this regard have been, and continue to be, unlawful," he wrote. "The government has my property and denied me the use of it. So, for me, there is nothing to negotiate. A wrong has been done. Now it is time to find justice under the law."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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