Monday, May 15, 2006

Scary If True

Via RAW STORY, ABC's Brian Ross and Richard Esposito report at the ABC NEWS blog, The Blotter that a senior federal law enforcement official warned them that the government is tracking news organization phone calls to plug up leaks.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

Hopefully more will come out about this, because, if true, this would be a disturbing encroachment on the freedom of the press to operate within a democratic society (you know...the kind of thing we're supposed to be fighting for over there - and now I guess here).

Disturbingly, there are a number of comments (can't say commenters because who knows how many were left by the same person) at the ABC blog which are gleeful about the report.

"'Bout time you guys are roped in," writes 'Brad.'

"Excellent the Media needs looking after, Traitors most of them.......," writes 'ken wiley.'

"good, you seditionist creeps deserve what you get. who knows how many serviceman have died because of your "right to know,"" writes 'jeff bynum.'

This one - which took aim at the veracity of the blog post - did make me chuckle:

"$10 says this is the same source that provided them national guard documents," writes 'Poser.'

I could finish this off with a knock at my own side for acting as "gleeful" when Judith Miller was the reporter caught in the state's vice, but, at least, in her case there were court judgements and warrants and from what we know so far about this new scenario there aren't any.

This is Spook 86, a blogger who claims to be "a former member of the U.S. intelligence community," writing at In From the Cold:

I'm not a lawyer, but at first blush, there doesn't appear to be anything illegal about this practice, particularly if the acquisition of records followed a criminal referral to the Justice Department. The media is anxious to connect the warning to Ross as part of the NSA program, but I'm guessing that the records in question are, indeed, the result of justice department investigations into unauthorized leaks. That would indicate that the investigation is moving along quickly, and indictments of suspected leakers can be expected in the coming months. As for Mr. Ross (and other journalists), they might want to prepare for a grand jury appearance. I'm sure that federal prosecutors have lots of questions about those calls to their buddies in the intelligence community.

Well, I'm not a lawyer nor a spook, but it would seem to me that if this alleged government tracking of journalists' phone calls were part of an investigation by the Justice Department then the media organizations would've been informed of such a thing.

As they were in the Plame investigation.

On Sunday, Frank Rich at The New York Times wrote, "Like the N.S.A. database on 200 million American phone customers that was described last week by USA Today, this program may have more to do with monitoring "traitors" like reporters and leakers than with tracking terrorists."

Scary if true.


More at ABC's The Blotter (link):

The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters’ phone records in leak investigations.

“It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration,” said a senior federal official.


Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.


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