Feds Tracking Journalists’ Phone Conversations?
ABC News has, on their blog of all places, a story alleging that federal investigators are tracking the phone calls of journalists.
A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources. “It’s time for you to get some new cell phones, quick,” the source told us in an in-person conversation.
ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls. Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.
The former would be scary indeed; the latter, reasonable if somewhat problematic. The government has to be able to investigate the illegal leaks of classified information by its employees, whether to journalists or enemy agents (and, no, that’s not redundant). Still, one doesn’t want to get back to the good old days of J. Edgar Hoover, either.
Update: Marshall Manson and Jim Geraghty are divided on this one, disagreeing on where to draw the line in protecting classified information and creating a chilling effect on a free press.
I’m not sure where the line is. We should be ruthless in seeking out the leakers and very circumspect in investigating reporters. Like Geraghty, I’m willing to risk the public getting a little less information by making would-be leakers think twice before violating their sworn secrecy. At the same time, Manson is correct that reporters have every right to print stories they obtain. Government should not take any action that would reasonably intimidate those who ferret out news. On the other hand, if their stories undermine classified ops, it’s perfectly reasonable for the DOJ to obtain warrants to examine their phone records and otherwise try to determine the source of the leak so that it can be plugged.