Suddenly Mainstream Reporters are Outraged at Government Surveillance


We’ve known for years that the Feds are tapping phones, reading e-mails, checking on which site we go to on the internet, all without warrants. This afternoon the news broke that the DOJ subpoenaed two months

of phone 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.

Naturally AP reporters and executives are outraged and President and CEO Gary Pruitt has sent a letter of protest to Attorney General Holder.

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-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.

The story in question was about the successful foiling of the so-called underwear bombing plot. There’s much more at the AP link. So the feds are enraged because of a leak about a successful counterterror operation. Imagine if it had been unsuccessful? Maybe those reporters would be headed to re-education camps by now.

But that’s not the whole story, according to Think Progress. The reason the feds were so nervous about that AP story was that the CIA stopped the underwear bomber rather than the FBI.

Why that drew the attention of the Justice Department, however, is that the CIA was the one who foiled the plot, which the AP report made clear:

The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an airplane, officials said. They said the device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it. You can check out the price of precious metals here.

The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought a plane ticket when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said. It’s not immediately clear what happened to the alleged bomber.

AP learned of the plot a week before publishing, but “agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately” due to national security concerns. But, by reporting the CIA’s involvement in foiling the plot, they put AQAP on notice that the CIA had a window into their activities. The AP’s reporting also led to other stories involving an operative in place within AQAP, and details of the operations he was involved in. That operative, it was feared, would be exposed and targeted by AQAP as retribution for siding with the United States.

John Brennan, who is now the head of the CIA, said at his confirmation hearing that the release of information to AP was an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”

The AP knew they were being investigated–the shock came when they realized the breathtaking extent of the federal intrusion.

The DOJ issued a statement claiming that “because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the free flow of information and the public interest”

Okay, if you say so….

So now what? Will mainstream reporters who have been accepting of government surveillance as long as it was directed at us “little people” now begin a real pushback? We shall see.

23 Comments on “Suddenly Mainstream Reporters are Outraged at Government Surveillance”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Josh Marshall publishes a comment by a reader who thinks the AP “doth protest too much.”

    Marshall still thinks the feds overreached.

    • RalphB says:

      Media selective outrage trikes again. 🙂

    • RalphB says:

      I see where some are saying the DOJ “secretly” subpoenaed the phone records. If they followed federal law, that’s not true since the subject has to be notified.

      • bostonboomer says:

        They were notified today. The problem in my mind is that the NSA is collecting and saving all this data about all of us and all they have to do pull out the AP stuff and hand it over to the DOJ. I think it would just be times, dates and who they talked to, not content of the call; but that would still identify sources.

        It’s not like the old days when they got a warrant and then collected the data. The data is now collected ahead of time.

        • RalphB says:

          What I read was the DOJ subpoenaed the phone companies for call records. That would have been signed off by a judge or grand jury. Though that’s not as much of a story.

        • bostonboomer says:

          The phone companies are the ones who save the records for the NSA. Remember the FISA bill that immunized the Telcoms from being sued by people they damaged? It’s just the FISA court that would have to sign off on it, as far as I know because it’s about “national security”–that’s automatic. They’ve never turned down anything.

        • RalphB says:

          I still think it’s a problem though, no matter how they obtained the information.

        • bostonboomer says:

          It’s definitely through FISA from what I’m reading. The thing is, it is technically a crime to release classified info. Of course the government classifies everything it doesn’t want us to know. The media should have been pushing back on this all along, but instead the big guns like the NYT and WaPo have cheered on the fake war on terror and ignored the first amendment implications. Until their own ox is gored.

        • RalphB says:

          Phone companies always saved call records for billing purposes. Local police subpoena billing records in a lot of investigations. I believe they keep the records in perpetuity now though instead of some time interval.

        • bostonboomer says:

          Yes, but the police have to actually convince a judge they have probable cause. Supposedly, anyway. I guess anything goes these days.

          In any case, the real point of this is to instill fear in reporters so that they won’t actually report on anything serious.

        • RalphB says:

          Scare people who would leak more likely.

        • bostonboomer says:

          The people who leak have already been shut down. Obama has prosecuted whistleblowers and leakers more than all presidents in history combined.

          To be honest, I’m not all that sympathetic to AP, but judging by what I’ve seen on Twitter, the media folks are very upset. I’m guessing we’ll being hearing a lot of self-centered talk from them and very little recognition that these powers have already been used against a lot of not so powerful American citizens.

        • Fannie says:

          Might include where you are at when you called.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Bush wiretapped ABC news reporters in 2006.

  3. Fannie says:

    Hell it wasn’t too long ago that the republicans were saying we were “unpatriotic and that we were giving in to all the terrorists”. Shortly after 9-11 the lordship expanded his secret listen in program, and Obama adopted it in the name of “counterterrorism”.

    What happened to Helen Thomas when she said Bush was the worst fucking president ever?

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s Emptywheel’s take on it: “A Full Two Month Period” that Covers John Brennan’s Entire Drone Propaganda Campaign

    She thinks the feds were after more than the underwear bomber leaks. It’s about Brennan’s involvement with the drone strikes. She lists all the AP articles on the drone program during that time and the reporters affected.

    • bostonboomer says:


      Now, frankly, I think the witch hunt response to the UndieBomb 2.0 plot was mostly just an excuse to start investigating the AP, though it did lead John Brennan to make it clear that it was a Saudi-manufactured plot in the first place.

      But the response to that Dozier article, which provided the final piece of evidence for the timeline above showing Brennan grabbed control of drone targeting at roughly the moment we started signature strikes in Yemen, was more dramatic, at least in terms of the breathtaking propaganda the White House rolled out to pretend the drone strikes were more orderly than they actually were.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Charlie Savage on the AP story.

    First Amendment experts portrayed the move as shocking in its breadth. Floyd Abrams, a prominent first Amendment lawyer who has worked for The New York Times in the past, said: “The norm, at least since the government instituted internal guidelines in the 1970s, was for the government to ask the press organization for information and to pursue them in court when they didn’t receive it. The notion of avoiding any First Amendment resolution by the courts by going right to the telephone company with no notice to the press organization is outrageous.”

    He also said the Obama administration’s anti-leak effort “dwarfs that of any previous administration to put leak investigations at the top of their list of priorities.”

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Charlie Pierce isn’t happy: Eric Holder Must Go

    Yes, the Bush people wiretapped without warrants. Yes, they trod upon the rule of law. Yes, they set all manner of horrible precedents for future presidents to follow. yes, the phone companies rolled over, the way they all rolled over, and doesn’t the president’s reversal on telecom immunity back during the 2008 campaign look even more interesting now? And, no, none of that matters…

    This isn’t hard. This is what made Egil (Bud) Krogh famous. This is what got people sent to jail in the mid-1970’s. This is the Plumbers, all over again, except slightly more formal this time, and laundered, disgracefully, even more directly through the Department Of Justice. And of course, this is not nearly good enough. And even if you point out, as you should, that the AP is hyping this story a little — The government “secretly” obtained the records? Doesn’t that imply that nobody knew the records had been seized? Wasn’t there a subpoena? The phone companies knew. — the ignoble clumsiness of this more than obviates those particular quibbles.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    I just heard that Dakinikat lost her electricity at her sister’s house in Seattle. She might have to go to her father’s place for the night. He doesn’t have internet. She says hi!

  8. bostonboomer says:

    In Boston sports news, the Bruins came back from a 3 goal deficit to tie the Maple Leafs 4-4, and they just scored in OT to win game 7.