Breaking: DOJ secretly seized two months of Associated Press phone records?

posted at 4:51 pm on May 13, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

What the heck? From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt dispatched a letter to AG Holder on Monday, and the man is understandably not pleased about what looks like a very serious intrusion from the federal government:

“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 said.

Update: The Associated Press says that, in the letter they received from the DOJ on Friday notifying them of the DOJ’s actions, they were offered no explanation for the seizure, but sounds like the AP suspects it had to do with a DOJ investigation into who “leaked information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot” that 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.”

This is not a good day for the White House. The IRS has been specifically targeting conservative groups; HHS Secretary Sebelius has been extorting money from health industry executives; and now it looks like the DOJ has been seriously meddling into the freedom of the press? No doubt they’ll claim that it was all for the sake of national security and plugging leaks of classified information, or hey, perhaps that this was just a mix-up by some low-level Justice employees, or something… Or maybe they’re going for a, ‘Heck, let’s just overwhelm everybody and air the thugocracy scandals out all at once’-type strategy?

Update: Optics.

Update: Here’s the AP president’s letter to Holder in full.

Update: And the statement from the DOJ:

We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.

Update: No comment from Carney:

Update (MKH): This is apparently the leak that launched a thousand phone log seizures:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, The Associated Press has learned.

The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009. This new bomb was also designed to be used in a passenger’s underwear, but this time al-Qaida developed a more refined detonation system, U.S. officials said.

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.


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