Seal of the United States Department of Justice

Seal of the United States Department of Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The U.S. Department of Justice notified The Associated Press on Friday, May 10, that it had secretly obtained telephone records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP journalists and offices, including cell and home phone lines in 2012.

The White House said didn’t know about it. Something strange or that  at  least has to lead to an investigation and look for responsibilities in that lack of information between the Department and the President in a matter related with press freedom.

Press Secretary James Carney said that “on the issue of what is a Department of Justice investigation, as I understand it, the President is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and facilitate a free flow of information.” The spying on journalists is not a good example of that.

In this story,  that implies a spying on Journalists in the U.S., a Country proud of their record of freedom of speech and press freedom, I think the best is to read what the same Associated Press is saying. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt protested the massive intrusion into AP’s newsgathering activities in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, May 13. In the letter Pruitt states:

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.” “We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

The AP story about what happened said that

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot.

The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaeda plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States. In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP’s source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”

Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual and largely unprecedented. In the letter notifying the AP received Friday, the Justice Department offered no explanation for the seizure, according to Pruitt’s letter and attorneys for the AP.

The records were presumably obtained from phone companies earlier this year although the government letter did not explain that. None of the information provided by the government to the AP suggested the actual phone conversations were monitored. Among those whose phone numbers were obtained were five reporters and an editor who were involved in the May 7, 2012 story.

The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of leaking classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined.

Later the report says:

News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption’s wording, might “pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

After that story, the Ap received a letter from the DOJ that didn’t satisfied the news organization.
“We appreciate the DOJ’s prompt response, but it does not adequately address our concerns. The letter simply restates the law and claims that officials have complied with it. There are three significant concerns:
The scope of the subpoena was overbroad under the law, given that it involved seizing records from a broad range of telephones across AP’s newsgathering operation. More than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones. How can we consider this inquiry to be narrowly drawn? Rather than talk to us in advance, they seized these phone records in secret, saying that notifying us would compromise their investigation.

They offer no explanation of this, however. Instead they captured the telephone numbers between scores of AP journalists and the many people they talk to in the normal business of gathering news. How would narrowing the scope of the phone records have compromised their investigation?

In their response today, the DOJ says the seized records cover only a portion of April and May of 2012. However, in their original notification to us on May 10, they say they have “received toll records from April and May 2012,” and then list 20 different numbers for AP offices and staff. Finally, they say this secrecy is important for national security.It is always difficult to respond to that, particularly since they still haven’t told us specifically what they are investigating.

We believe it is related to AP’s May 2012 reporting that the U.S. government had foiled a plot to put a bomb on an airliner to the United States. We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed. Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.

The White House had said there was no credible threat to the American people in May of 2012. The AP story suggested otherwise, and we felt that was important information and the public deserved to know it”.

About Olga Brajnović

Journalist. In my fifties. I've worked for 26 years in a newspaper in Spain. I worked for two years as a stringer and correspondent in the US, and went as a special envoy to other places like the Balkans. Sea lover. Avid reader. Classic Music enthusiast.

Category

Americas, Ethics, Ideals, Journalism

Tags

, , , , , ,