In a move that should send shivers down the spine of any Journalist, the U.S. Justice department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press,” according to the AP.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
A release from the Associated Press notes that President and CEO Gary Pruitt has denounced the action in a May 13 letter:
“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’s story on the matter doesn’t state what, precisely, the Justice Department was seeking in the operation. However, it does note that the department’s prosecutor 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.” Six AP staffers who worked on that story were “among the journalists whose April-May 2012 phone records were seized by the government,” notes the AP story by Mark Sherman.
Furthermore, news organizations “normally” get advance notice of such probes by the government. That didn’t happen here. As the AP story states, the government “cited an exemption…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.’”
More on the story from the Washington Post