The CEO of the Associated Press said yesterday that the government is dramatically interfering with the newsgathering ability of the press:
What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and I think should alarm everyone in this country. The actions of the DOJ against AP [the Department of Justice bugging AP's phones] are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case.
Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even about stories that aren’t about national security. In some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person.
I can tell you that this chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well. Journalists from other news organizations have personally told me it has intimidated sources from speaking to them.
The government may love this. I suspect that they do. But beware the government that loves secrecy too much.
Indeed, the Attorney General of the United States isn’t sure how often reporters’ records are seized.
Further, the Department of Justice is prosecuting a whistleblower regarding North Korea … as well as the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News who reported on what the whistleblower told him. As the Washington Post notes:
[Department of Justice investigators] 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.
And ABC News’ reports that an armed minder trailed reporters … preventing them from being able to talk to whistleblowers:
As we traveled the public hallways of the building – watched over by security cameras – an armed uniformed police officer with the Federal Protective Service followed us. We were looking for a particular office—of someone who would not want to be seen talking to reporters–but chose to bypass it because of our official babysitter.
Asked why we were being escorted in a public building, the officer identified himself as Insp. Mike Finkelstein and said he was only trying to make sure that the newsmen were not a “nuisance.” He brushed aside further questions. The cop said a supervisor would call to explain.
One of the reporters wanted to know if the act of following the journalists was an effort intended to scare off any federal employee who might have considered speaking to the press. That’s sure what it looked like; and, even if that wasn’t the goal, it was the effect.
As of Friday night, no supervisor had called back.
After ABC News phoned and e-mailed the spokespeople in Washington repeatedly for more than 24 hours, a low-level staffer with Homeland Security finally responded. “After review by a supervisor, it was determined that the inspector acted according to proper security procedures and that no improper conduct occurred,” the spokesman said.
There have been many similar scandals over the last couple of years. For example:
- The Pentagon recently smeared USA Today reporters because they investigated illegal Pentagon propaganda
- Reporters covering the Occupy protests were targeted for arrest
- The Bush White House worked hard to smear CIA officers, bloggers and anyone else who criticized the Iraq war
- After Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing about bad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge
- An al-Jazeera journalist – in no way connected to any terrorist group – was held at Guantánamo for six years … so the U.S. could find out about the Arabic news network. And see this
In an effort to protect Bank of America from the threatened Wikileaks expose of the bank’s wrongdoing, the Department of Justice told Bank of America to a hire a specific hardball-playing law firm to assemble a team to take down WikiLeaks (and see this).
But – whatever you think of Wikileaks – that was the canary in the coal mine in terms of going after reporters. Specifically, former attorney general Mukasey said the U.S. should prosecute Assange because it’s “easier” than prosecuting the New York Times.
Journalist and former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald notes:
The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty [says that "The alternative to 'conspiring' with leakers to get information: Just writing what the government tells you."]
That, of course, is precisely the point of the unprecedented Obama war on whistleblowers and press freedoms: to ensure that the only information the public can get is information that the Obama administration wants it to have. That’s why Obama’s one-side games with secrecy – we’ll prolifically leak when it glorifies the president and severely punish all other kinds – is designed to construct the classic propaganda model. And it’s good to see journalists finally speaking out in genuine outrage and concern about all of this.
Here’s an amazing and revealing fact: after Richard Nixon lost the right to exercise prior restraint over the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers, he was desperate to punish and prosecute the responsible NYT reporter, Neil Sheehan. Thus, recounted the NYT’s lawyer at the time, James Goodale, Nixon concocted a theory:
“Nixon convened a grand jury to indict the New York Times and its reporter, Neil Sheehan, for conspiracy to commit espionage . . . .The government’s ‘conspiracy’ theory centered around how Sheehan got the Pentagon Papers in the first place. While Daniel Ellsberg had his own copy stored in his apartment in Cambridge, the government believed Ellsberg had given part of the papers to anti-war activists. It apparently theorized further that the activists had talked to Sheehan about publication in the Times, all of which it believed amounted to a conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.”
As Goodale notes, this is exactly “the same charge Obama’s Justice Department is investigating Assange under today,” and it’s now exactly the same theory used to formally brand Fox’s James Rosen as a criminal in court.
Whistleblower Witch Hunt
But Obama has gone after whistleblowers more viciously than Bush, Nixon, or any president in history. Indeed, the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.
Even high-level government employees are in danger. For example, after the former head of the NSA’s digital spying program – William Binney – disclosed the fact that the U.S. was spying on everyone in the U.S. and storing the data forever, and that the U.S. was quickly becoming a totalitarian state, the Feds tried to scare him into shutting up:
[Numerous] FBI officers held a gun to Binney’s head as he stepped naked from the shower. He watched with his wife and youngest son as the FBI ransacked their home. Later Binney was separated from the rest of his family, and FBI officials pressured him to implicate one of the other complainants in criminal activity. During the raid, Binney attempted to report to FBI officials the crimes he had witnessed at NSA, in particular the NSA’s violation of the constitutional rights of all Americans. However, the FBI wasn’t interested in these disclosures. Instead, FBI officials seized Binney’s private computer, which to this day has not been returned despite the fact that he has not been charged with a crime.
Other NSA whistleblowers have also been subjected to armed raids and criminal prosecution.
After high-level CIA officer John Kiriakou blew the whistle on illegal CIA torture, the government prosecuted him for espionage.
Even the head of the CIA was targeted with extra-constitutional spying and driven out of office. Indeed, the government will use information gained from its all-pervasive spying program to frame anyone it doesn’t like.
The best defense is a strong offense, and it is use it or lose it time for the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The press should shake of its sleepiness and start talking to the whistleblowers it’s been ignoring for years … to find out what the government is working so hard to hide.