The government will use any and all information at its disposal to find journalist sources, as shown in The Washington Post's report this morning on a Department of Justice investigation into Fox News chief correspondent James Rosen, who may face criminal charges for reporting government secrets.
In June 2009, Rosen reported on CIA analysis suggesting that North Korea might respond to new UN sanctions with renewed nuclear tests. In order to determine how Rosen learned of the analysis, which had been issued by the CIA only a few hours prior, FBI investigators used every tool at their disposal: analyzing Rosen's security access card to determine when he entered and left the State Department building, studying his phone records, and subpoenaing his personal email.
Ultimately, agents determined the source of the leak was likely the State Department's Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. Rosen and Kim established a high-tech version of the red-flag-in-a-planter system used by Bob Woodward during Watergate: when Kim wanted to meet, he would allegedly send an email to Rosen's Gmail account containing an asterisk. Rosen detailed the sorts of things he wanted to discuss.
He also wrote, according to the affidavit: “What I am interested in, as you might expect, is breaking news ahead of my competitors” including “what intelligence is picking up.” And: “I’d love to see some internal State Department analyses.”
According to the Post report, that's what Kim allegedly provided. And the way in which he did so appears to have been indiscreet. Their federally distributed security passes showed that Rosen and Kim left and returned to a building at the same time on the day of the leak. Kim's department phone records showed a number of calls between him and Rosen. When you work directly for Big Brother, you're likely to be caught.
That aside, the most alarming detail is the implication for Rosen. Another tool the FBI wants to use to make an example in this case is a federal indictment of the journalist.
[FBI agent Reginald] 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 email exchange between Rosen and Kim that seems to describe a secret system for passing along information.
The United States government wants to charge a reporter for reporting on classified information. By agreeing to authorize a search warrant in the case, the Post reports, the judge overseeing the case agreed with the FBI that Rosen might be a conspirator. Whether or not someone in Kim's position should receive whistleblower protection for revealing a state secret is one debate. Whether or not the person that hears the whistle should be charged is another issue altogether.
Linking the Kim case to Julian Assange, similarly investigated for sharing information leaked to him, The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald writes:
Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment's guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ - that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for "soliciting" the disclosure of classified information - is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself.
Over the weekend, the CEO of the Associated Press, Gary Pruitt, was interviewed on CBS' Face the Nation. Pruitt indicated that Justice's recently revealed investigation into a 2012 leak is causing existing sources to balk.
Already, officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of news gathering are already saying to us that they're a little reluctant to talk to us. They fear that they-- they will be monitored by the government.
How and when the government can seize records form the media is tightly described. As in the case of the AP, the Obama Justice Department has proven more than willing to try to loosen those restrictions. Now we learn that the idea includes extending the chilling effect of prosecutions to the reporters trying to hold them accountable.
Photo: President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder outside the Capitol. (AP)