Gary Pruitt, President and CEO of the Associated Press, rose up raging on Monday afternoon and threw a bag of live rats over the White House fence. To wit:
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 government would not say why it sought the records.
. . .
The letter notifying AP that its phone records had been obtained though subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.
The AP wire release of this report was followed by the letter Pruitt posted to Eric Holder and the Department of Justice, in which he stridently protested the surveillance of dozens of journalists in at least three cities who were working on any number of stories:
I am writing to object in the strongest possible terms to a massive and unprecedented intrusion by the Department of Justice into the newsgathering activities of The Associated Press.
. . .
This action was taken without advance notice to AP or to any of the affected journalists, and even after the fact no notice has been sent to individual journalists whose home phones and cell phone records were seized by the Department.
. . .
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.
When questioned about the Associated Press records secretly obtained by the government, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney first offered a studious “No comment” and referred all questions to the Department of Justice. Later, speaking for the Administration, Carney claimed the White House had “no knowledge of any attempt” to collect phone records of the Associated Press by the Department of Justice.
Carney: “We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department. Any questions about an ongoing criminal investigation should be directed to the Department of Justice.”
So there’s that, for whatever it’s worth, which isn’t much. Ask the government if the water in the showers of the Super-Secret-We’re-Protecting-You-Please-Keep-The-Blinds-Up-In-Your-House-And-Don’t-Ask-Why Department is wet, and they’ll deny ever hearing about water before referring you to the Department of Something Else, which isn’t taking questions right now, thank you.
The blog ThinkProgress burrowed into the question of why the government went after the AP’s phone records in the first place, and came up with this:
Last year, the Associated Press reported that an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) plot had been foiled, thanks to a timely intervention on the part of the United States. The plan, according to the AP’s March 2012 story, involved an upgrade of the ‘underwear bomb’ used in the failed Christmas Day 2011 bomb plot that was meant to take down a passenger airplane in Detroit, MI. 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.
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.
So, apparently there are legitimate “national security” issues at stake in this matter, which is why the government was able to issue a secret subpoena over a year ago to track everything – not just the stuff related to the leak, but everything – that more than 100 AP reporters did on both their home and business phones…and that’s why the government didn’t have to notify the AP of their surveillance until a year later. On Friday, to be exact.
And here’s the funny part: after years and years of governmental power-grabbing, Unitary Executive over-reaching, Supreme Court rubber-stamping and congressional go-alonging, the dirty fact of the matter is that, almost certainly according to what now passes for American law, the Department of Justice technically did nothing wrong when they plundered the phone histories of all those reporters.
They can do that now, see.
In that spirit, here’s my note to the aggrieved parties at the Associated Press:
Dear Mr. Pruitt et al.:
Some of us in the so-called “alternative media” have been yelling and screaming for years about the government’s legalized ability to plunder our right to privacy to little avail, while you big dogs in the “mainstream” news media haven’t bothered to give a damn in all that time. Too taxing to report accurately and consistently on complicated issues, yeah?
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” A shame; maybe if you’d been better at bringing the real facts to the people, the people would be better informed, and the elections/legislation that legalized the travails you currently endure could have been avoided.
It’s funny to me that the Associated Press is nailing itself to a cross because you’ve been victimized by the same laws, politicians and tide of history you’ve either blissfully ignored or gleefully promoted for so many years.
Well, welcome to the future you helped to create. I have neither pity nor sorrow for you, but I am hopeful that your sudden inclusion in the ranks of the “Oh Shit, They Can Do That?” Club will inspire you to truthfully and factually inform the American people about what has been happening to their country right under their, and your, nose.
Let’s see what happens next.
(Photo: jeffschuler / flickr)
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