What National Security Risk? Evidence Suggests Embarassment Drove DOJ Spying On AP Phone Records

from the national-security? dept

The saga concerning the DOJ scooping up phone records of Associated Press has continued to expand. The DOJ sent a quick and rather disingenuous letter in response to the AP’s complaint. In it, the DOJ — contrary to its own history of abusive practices concerning reporter phone records — insists that it was incredibly careful to only seek key information involving classified information that “can risk lives and cause grave harm to the security of all Americans.”

The AP quickly hit back by calling bullshit on the DOJ’s claims of a “narrowly” focused subpoena:

The scope of the subpoena was overbroad under the law, given that it involved seizing records from a broad range of telephones across AP’s newsgathering operation. More than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones. How can we consider this inquiry to be narrowly drawn?

Furthermore, the AP claims that while the DOJ says that only some records were obtained, the original notification it received indicated a very broad swath of phone records.

However, the real question that’s beginning to come out is whether or not this was really such a serious issue that the DOJ needed to sweep in and grab a bunch of phone records, likely revealing protected journalistic sources. We’ve discussed in the past how the Obama administration has been the most aggressive in history in going after whistleblowers and anyone who leaks to the press — and, because of that, many are rightly wondering if that’s what’s driving the DOJ here. As more details come out, there is a very strong indication that the investigation had absolutely nothing to do with security at all.

A few years ago, we wrote about how Daniel Ellsberg (one of the most famous whistleblower/leakers of all time) speculated that President Obama’s unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers were really out of embarrassment about questionable things his administration was doing being revealed. That may be the case with this particular leak and investigation as well. The AP has pointed out repeatedly that the report they published — concerning the thwarting of another underwear bomber — had been held back, but they only published it after the government had said there was no more threat:

We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed. Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.

But the issue appears to go deeper than that. Eric Holder made some extreme claims about the leak to defend the collection of the phone records:

This was a very serious leak. A very, very serious leak. I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976, and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk.

However, as emptywheel points out in the link above, John Brennan, now head of the CIA, apparently was the one who revealed to the press the fact that the bomber was a US agent and that there was no real risk to anyone. During his appointment hearings, when questioned about leaking that info to the press, Brennan explained:

I think what you’re referring to, Senator, is when I had a teleconference with some individuals, former government officials from previous administrations who were going to be out on talk shows on the night that a IED was intercepted.

And so I discussed with them some of the aspects of that, because I was going on the news network shows the following day, I wanted to make sure they understood the nature of the threat and what it was and what it wasn’t.

And so what I said, at the time, because I said I couldn’t talk about any operational details, and this was shortly after the anniversary of the Bin Laden takedown, I said there was never a threat to the American public as we had said so publicly, because we had inside control of the plot and the device was never a threat to the American public.

When asked more specifically about this, Brennan again insisted that there was no threat because the US was in control. As emptywheel asks, if this particular leak of information — which it seems Brennan did directly — was really so much of a threat that “put people at risk,” then why would Brennan be appointed and approved to head the CIA?

So, now we have a situation where the AP reported on information which it’s pretty clear the government told them was no security risk. That resulted in the eventual “outing” that the guy who had the bomb was a US controlled agent, which is apparently why the US government was upset. But that outing seems to have come not from these reporters, but from the now head of the CIA directly to members of the press. And yet it’s the reporters that are being aggressively investigated, while Brennan gets the job at the top of the CIA?

Once again, this points to an administration cracking down on leaks not because of any real risk or threat, but out of embarrassment.

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Comments on “What National Security Risk? Evidence Suggests Embarassment Drove DOJ Spying On AP Phone Records”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It put the American people at risk.

Why must the “leaking” of any wrongdoings carried out by people in government service elicit this response from people in government service?

I know this has been the practice of regime after regime of totalitarians throughout history… but since the 1980’s we seem to get an awful lot of this here.

Their paranoia is not reassuring to me that the government as a whole is working for the people.

Anonymous Coward says:

More proof that most of the “terror plots” created are of the governments own doing

The question most sane people should be asking is: How many of these plots were of their own doing? Is it possibly every terror plot outed in the last decade?

I can’t see how a sane person can look at this situation and think “Wow, this is perfectly acceptable behavior for an agency that’s supposed to be protecting us!” But I’m sure some insane people like out_of_the_horse_bob will come along and prove to me that there’s a sucker born every minute.

out_of_the_blue says:

Beginning to seem old-school -- taking focus off the high-tech.

As recordings of the actual conversations are doubtless available, this “phone records” seems quaint.

As this popped up out of the blue — and it’s NOT news to anyone aware for the last decade — then I only wonder what the heck this is screening.

In that line: WHY worry about a few “phone records” on AP reporters when Google is surveilling YOU every day? Without a warrant, or the least suspicion. And all instantly available to gov’t for a small fee.

Anonymous Coward says:

not bad. the Obama administration was going to d more to protect ‘whistle blowers’ than any other administration but actually did the exact opposite, aggressively pursuing them until they were imprisoned. and that is probably why companies are doing exactly the same thing when security issues are discovered. as for Holder, how many times has he been proven to be nothing but an out and out liar? in fact, i doubt if there is anything he does better (other than perhaps persecuting people) or if there is anyone doing it better than him. the usual situation is when there is something to hide, come out with guns blazing! the bigger the issue you have to hide, the more aggressive should be the responses to any accusations. when you are in the position of having as many law enforcements and officers at your disposal, the more force you can use to quell the discontent. if you feel so disposed, the subject of your displeasure can be held indefinitely, never seeing the light of day again and all because you are embarrassed! how absolutely terrifying is that??

Anonymous Coward says:

Department of Fraud, Lies, and Corruption

Eric Holder is the top muscle for the bank robbing, drug running, arms dealing, human trafficking, false flag staging cartel. He could say much more because he’s guilty as hell, and his Hegelian solution is a bigger disaster than what these traitors are already conducting against us. Prosecute this POS.

Eric Placeholder and his department of Just-Us. Remind us why you said you won’t prosecute the too big to fail criminals?

anonymouse says:


One of the sad things about this is that i would not be surprised if this was really an issue that needed outing. And before everyone goes crazy just think about this for a moment.
The right wing political arm of the government has stated very clearly that they will do everything in their power to destroy the Obama government. I think we have to cut Obama a little slack when he has a large group of very powerful people prepared to financially destroy the US to embarrass Obama, a political arm that has taken the country to war knowing that it was a war based on lies.

I don’t support the government giving themselves unlimited power, but i also don’t support the politicians in their anger using their power to possible put government projects and investigations at risk. This was one case where it was a setup or sting or whatever you want to call it, but what if this had been a real case, it could have blown up in their faces and meant the loss of lives.

I think we all need to accept that Obama government has to do a few things to protect themselves that most previous governments would not have had to do.

I just hope that before Obama is demonized for this that he brings out some examples where republicans and right wing fools have outed government undercover sources to embarrass them and put their lives at risk. Maybe then people will accept to a certain extent the actions above, which although unacceptable are also necessary at times.

What i would like to know but i am sure the Obama administration will not release is how many of those on the right are releasing confidential information to the press, it would be very interesting to hear who was releasing what.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems like the classic headless chicken: FBI and DOJ have no idea about what CIA is doing (on US ground, mind you?).

Now, the political situation after the Benghazi incident and several other incidents makes DOJ fear the pressure from conservatives. As a consequence of the lack of knowledge and fear of looking passive they crack down on anything that could evolve to look like a threat.

To me this looks exactly like plain old incompetence as opposed to wanting to stifle free speech. In the end it will be another piece of evidence against Eric Holder and his lack of ability to lead the post-9/11 security-abomination. I do not envy his successor either…

Anonymous Coward says:

When a Government Department gets so sloppy and casual about using invasive tool like wiretapping, opening email, etc. It means they need a shake up, The public has a right to the careful and precise allocation of taxpayer provided resources. These resources should never be used by a public official to hide an embarrassment.

Anonymous Coward says:

The govt needs to be very careful attempting to entrap people to stop their own terrorist plots. If they try to entrap the wrong guy and give him fake props and that person figures out the props are fake and exchanges them with real weapons and is put in a situation where he can hurt a lot of (important) people and ends up using those weapons to hurt a lot of people and it comes out this was one of the governments own fake terrorist plots gone bad the public backlash against the govt will be unbearable. Someone will get in trouble. The govt doesn’t realize that they are playing with fire with these fake terrorist plots of entrapment.

bill says:

“However, the real question that’s beginning to come out is whether or not this was really such a serious issue that the DOJ needed to sweep in and grab a bunch of phone records, “

What absolute bollocks.

The “real question” is of course if there was any constitutional, legal, basis for the theft of those records.

Read the fourth.
And then:


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