Last week it emerged that the Department of Justice had adopted the unprecedented tactic of employing a subpoena in order to recover copies of a classified document that had been provided without authorization to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The use of a subpoena was not intended as a threat, a government attorney wrote (pdf) to the court, but was issued in response to a “request” from the ACLU, so that the organization would not have to voluntarily surrender the document without “due process”:
“The Government issued the subpoena based on [...] what it believed to be the ACLU’s request for a subpoena in lieu of voluntarily returning the then-classified document.”
Further background is available in “Government Backs Down in its Attempt to Seize ‘Secret’ Document,” ACLU, December 18, and “Prosecutors Drop A.C.L.U. Subpoena in Document Fight” by Adam Liptak, New York Times, December 19.