Remember the White House war on Fox News in 2009? By the fall of that year, it had collapsed from overreach; after attempting to block Fox from participating in pool coverage, the rest of the White House press corps revolted, forcing Anita Dunn and others into retreat. Apparently, the Obama administration found a way to wage that war by other means. The Washington Post reports that the Department of Justice spied on James Rosen, Fox’s Washington correspondent, in 2010:
When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.
The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.
While not as broad as the Associated Press dragnet of records, the Post emphasizes that this demonstrates the DoJ assault on the AP was not a singular event:
Court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist — and raise the question of how often journalists have been investigated as closely as Rosen was in 2010. The case also raises new concerns among critics of government secrecy about the possible stifling effect of these investigations on a critical element of press freedom: the exchange of information between reporters and their sources.
In the AP case, the Obama administration insisted that they were looking for the government leaker, not building a prosecution against the reporters. With Rosen, though, the DoJ made him a target of their investigation:
In the documents, FBI agent Reginald Reyes described in detail how Kim and Rosen moved in and out of the State Department headquarters at 2201 C St. NW a few hours before the story was published on June 11, 2009. …
Reyes wrote that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.” That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target.
Using italics for emphasis, Reyes explained how Rosen allegedly used a “covert communications plan” and quoted from an e-mail exchange between Rosen and Kim that seems to describe a secret system for passing along information.
Get out of town! A reporter used a “covert communications plan” to get information from a source? Heck, even I did that with the Adscam-Gomert inquiry information I got in 2005 (although not nearly as elaborate as Rosen’s, I must admit), and I seem to recall a couple of guys in Washington who did that in 1973-4 by meeting with a high-ranking FBI source in parking garages. Basically, a “covert communications plan” could be anything except talking on cellphones in Starbucks about the information.
Had I seen this case last month, I’d have assumed that this had everything to do with the Obama team’s war on Fox News. Now, after the AP scandal, I’m not sure that’s all that went behind this. Eric Holder implied in his interview with NPR that spying on reporters has become routine in the Obama administration, so Rosen and Fox are probably not alone. However, I doubt that Rosen’s employer had nothing to do with this pursuit. Regardless, every reporter covering this administration has to wonder whether Big Brother Is Listening — or at least reading their e-mails and phone records. And so does every potential source within the administration.
And that, of course, is the entire point of these intimidation tactics.