(CN) — A CIA contractor whom James Risen depicted as a “con artist” behind one of the most dangerous hoaxes in U.S. history has no evidence this is an unfair portrait, a federal judge ruled.
The Pulitzer Prize winner’s latest book, “Pay Any Price,” dissects what Risen called the “homeland security industrial complex.”
Inside the Pentagon’s ledger of War on Terror contracts, Risen found what he describes as a sinkhole for $12 billion in unaccounted-for funds — and U.S. moral credibility.
For Risen, an emblem for that rot is Dennis Montgomery, a former confidential informant to Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s office turned computer programmer who contracted with the CIA, Air Force and White House.
“Montgomery was the maestro behind what many current and former U.S. officials and others familiar with the case now believe was one of the most elaborate and dangerous hoaxes in American history, a ruse that was so successful that it nearly convinced the Bush administration to order fighter jets to start shooting down commercial airliners filled with passengers over the Atlantic,” Risen wrote.
One of Montgomery’s contracts sold the CIA on the idea that al-Qaida embedded coded messages for future terrorist attacks in Al Jazeera’s broadcasts.
Risen reported that this “fantasy” inspired the President George W. Bush administration to ground multiple international flights before Christmas 2003, and that senior CIA official went to the White House a week after the holiday for a “brief but serious discussion about whether to shoot down commercial airliners over the Atlantic based on the intelligence.”
Playboy magazine first dubbed Montgomery “The Man Who Conned the Pentagon” in a 2010 profile describing the story of the grounded airplanes.
Montgomery and his lawyer, conservative gadfly Larry Klayman, disputed this history and stood by the technology in a defamation lawsuit against Risen.
Though originally filed in Florida, the case was transferred to Washington. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras dismissed the case Friday based on Montgomery’s refusal to let Risen’s legal team access a copy of the software.
Without that software, the court found, Montgomery has no evidence other than his say-so that his technology was anything but a sham.
“The only evidence in the record that Montgomery points to which might create a genuine issue of fact are his own, vague representations that the technology worked,” the 74-page opinion states.
In 2011, the Department of Justice invoked the state-secrets doctrine to keep details of the government’s deal with Montgomery under wraps in a separate lawsuit in Nevada. Montgomery cites the purported classification of the information as a reason to withhold production.
Judge Contreras said that he has “serious reason to doubt that the software is, in fact, classified,” but that its purported sensitivity is irrelevant Montgomery’s case.
“Whether because the information is classified or because Montgomery gave it away to the government without retaining a copy, the simple fact is that the software, and therefore any ability to confirm whether or not it works, is absent from the record,” he wrote.
Risen reported that two of Montgomery’s once-trusted associates denounced the man in public documents.
One was Montgomery’s former lawyer Michael Flynn, whom the ruling quotes calling his ex-client a “hacker,” “fraud” and “con man.”
Another was Montgomery’s financial backer Warren Trepp, who told the FBI that his business partner puffed up his computer expertise, according to the ruling.
Even if these sentiments were Risen’s, rather than his sources, the judge noted that they qualify as protected opinions.
“A person’s opinion concerning which events rank among the greatest hoaxes in American history is a quintessential example of a subjective opinion,” the ruling states. “There is simply no method to objectively verify where an event ranks among the greatest hoaxes in American history — or whether a particular event even makes the list.”
In a phone interview, Montgomery’s lawyer Klayman said he was considering an appeal, taking issue with what he called the judge’s “flippant” introduction to his ruling.
“The twists and turns of this case could fill the pages of a book,” Contreras quipped in the opening line. “In fact, much of it already has.”
For Klayman, these lines show judge preparing for the sequel.
“He’s going to start writing where the book left off,” Klayman argued. “That’s not his job. His job is to give it to the jury.”
Risen’s attorney did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
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