Tracing phone calls is not just
confined to seeking out leads about terrorists, but also who may be leaking
stories to journalists. That’s the import of new disclosures that phone calls
of journalists working for the New York Times, Washington Post and ABC TV News
have lately been tracked by Government investigators.
Specifically the investigation was
into the recent leakage about a CIA programme to detain terrorism suspects at
secret locations outside the US.
Also possibly into reports by ABC on the use by the CIA of missile- firing
Predator drones in Pakistan.
According to ABC two of the targeted journalists were reporters Richard
Esposito and Brian Ross who were both involved in the stories. ABC claims the
two newsmen were told by an unnamed senior Government official that the
government had obtained records of calls placed by the two men.
ABC did not claim the reporters’
conversations were listened in on, or recorded, but solely that the Government
had compiled information on whom the reporters called.
The ABC claim has been confirmed
by a former CIA counter-terrorism chief, Vincent Cannistraro, who told the New York Sun that FBI
sources had confirmed to him that reporters’ calls are being tracked as part of
the probe into the leaks. “It is widespread and may entail more than these
three media outlets” the former CIA official was reported saying. Under
long-standing Justice Department regulations, prosecutors who subpoena a
reporter’s phone records are required to notify the reporter involved within 90
days of obtaining the records. Officials at both ABC and the NY Times said
their organizations had not received any notification about attempts to obtain
their reporters’ phone calls. An FBI spokesman did not dispute that
journalists’ phone records may have been obtained by his agency but labeled the
ABC report “misleading”. He insisted that established legal process is always
followed when records of a private person are being sought. The executive
director of the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Daiglish,
said she was shocked by the report and suggested it is part of a pattern of
intrusion into the First Amendment rights by the Bush administration.