U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Administration have been spying on the Associated Press without their knowledge.
The establishment news service is typically viewed as a repeater of officialdom, so it came as a bit of a shock to the organization who called it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
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.
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 Associated Press recently received a letter from the Department of Justice informing them of the 2012 seizure of phone records. The AP points out that they’re not sure if the phones were illegally wiretapped or if the phone companies turned over the records at the government’s request.
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.
Still the CEO, Gary Pruitt, feels his organization was violated.
“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,” Pruitt wrote in a response to Holder.
The AP writes that media companies are normally notified when the government wants phone records, and they usually comply. But in this case the government waived the prior notification with cryptic reasoning that it may have “posed a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation”:
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.”
In other words, it seems like the AP is saying “you could have just asked and we probably would have given you what you needed.” Yet, the government is just saying “we’ll do what we want, thanks.”
Regardless, the AP has not seen a signed warrant or subpoena from the government, indicating that the DOJ was illegally spying on a major news organization. It appears no one is exempt from Big Brother’s overreaches.
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