Report: FBI memo describes “informant” at ABC News in 1990s

Laura Rozen

The FBI treated an unidentified ABC News journalist as a confidential informant during the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Center for Public Integrity's John Solomon and Aaron Mehta report:

A once-classified FBI memo reveals that the bureau treated a senior ABC News journalist as a potential confidential informant in the 1990s, pumping the reporter to ascertain the source of a sensational but uncorroborated tip that the network had obtained during its early coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing.

The journalist, whose name is not disclosed in the document labeled "secret," not only cooperated but provided the identity of a confidential source, according to the FBI memo — a possible breach of journalistic ethics if he or she did not have the source's permission.

The ABC employee was even assigned a number in the FBI's informant database, indicating he or she was still being vetted for suitability as a snitch after providing "highly accurate and reliable information in the past" and then revealing information the network had obtained in the hours just after the 1995 terrorist attack by Timothy McVeigh.

The journalist "advised that a source within the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service advised that the Oklahoma City bombing was sponsored by the Iraqi Special Services who contracted seven (7) former Afghani Freedom Fighters out of Pakistan," an April 17, 1996 FBI memo states, recounting the then-ABC journalist's interview with FBI agents a year earlier on the evening of the April 19, 1995 bombing. (The Iraqi connection, of course, never materialized.) [...]

ABC News told the Center for Public Integrity that it is not certain about the identity of the journalist involved in the 1995-96 episode, but does not believe he or she still works for the network. Spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said the FBI description of its interactions with the reporter raises serious concerns about intrusions on the First Amendment. [...]

During the 1996 re-interview, the ABC employee was questioned about the "source of questioned information" and "advised that the source was VINCENT CANNISTRARO, former Counter-Terrorism Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)," the memo stated. ...

In an interview this week, Cannistraro said he was surprised that an ABC journalist had contacted the FBI and relayed the information, in part because it had not been corroborated and was just a rumor passing through Saudi circles. ...

Cannistrato called the memo "interesting" and noted that when he worked for the CIA they had rules in place blocking the use of journalists as sources. He said being "outed" was "not a concern" because he had already shared the information with the bureau. ....

Reports, including by Gawker reporter John Cook, said that the unidentified former 15-year ABC News investigative journalist is the current CBS News Washington bureau chief Christopher Isham.

Isham, in a statement to Politico, said the FBI was not describing the relationship accurately.

(Oklahoma City bombing defendant Timothy McVeigh is escorted by two unidentified U.S. Marshals Jan. 31, 1996, to a hearing in Federal Court in downtown Oklahoma City.: David Longstreath, AP Photo.)