Saturday, August 9, 2008

FBI Illegally Obtained Reporters' Phone Records

The FBI violated internal policies and federal law to obtain phone records of four reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post, according to an article published by the Times yesterday.

The reporters involved were all based in Indonesia: Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez of the NYT and Ellen Nakashima and Natasha Tampubolon of the WaPo.

FBI director Robert Mueller [photo] revealed the violations in private phone calls with the executive editors of the two papers.

Reports from Perlez and Nakashima have been highlighted on this blog in the past -- with Perlez reporting about Pakistan and Nakashima reporting about security checks at the border.

According to the NYT:
The records were apparently sought as part of a terrorism investigation, but the F.B.I. did not explain what was being investigated or why the reporters’ phone records were considered relevant.
The WaPo editor can't figure it out for himself, either:
Mr. Downie said it was not clear to him why the F.B.I. was interested in his reporters’ records in the first place.

“I want to find more about what this is about,” he said. “We will be asking our general counsel to advise us on what more we should be doing about this.”
Perhaps in the mythical golden age of American journalism, when the press posed as an adversary to the government, the FBI would have had a reason for spying on reporters. But nowadays there's really no reason, is there?

Meanwhile the nation's top law enforcement agency continues to show its contempt for the law:
An initial report by the inspector general last year found that the F.B.I. had violated its own policies in tens of thousands of cases by obtaining phone records in terrorism investigations through what are known as national security letters, without first getting needed approval or meeting other standards. In some cases, the F.B.I. used a whole new class of demands — emergency or “exigent” letters — that are not authorized by law. The emergency records were used in the Indonesian episode.
And in this case we see the usual remedy -- an top-secret internal investigation which is said to put the matter right, but of which no details are ever released to the public.

As the NYT phrases it:
The inspector general’s findings have prompted outrage in Congress, with leading lawmakers calling for greater checks on the F.B.I.’s ability to gather private information in terrorism investigations. But bureau officials say they have instituted internal reforms to solve the problem.
This story was brought to my attention by Larisa Alexandrovna, who wrote:
And you wonder why people have stopped reporting the truth. At least some of them are unable to guarantee source protection. You want a free press? Really? Then scream long and loud about this!
I suppose her explanation cuts some ice. But not very much.

The mainstream press stopped reporting the truth decades ago -- as part of the program of psychological warfare against the thinking citizenry which began under Harry Truman.

And we only found out about the FBI spying on journalists yesterday.

Cause typically precedes effect, no?


Meanwhile ... is Brian Ross having any trouble protecting his sources?

Larisa's subsequent post (about the Bruce Ivins / anthrax story) does a much better job of showing us why we're not getting the truth -- in my cold and humble opinion.