Internal Report Says DOJ Did Nothing Wrong Targeting Journalists' Communications To Hunt Down Leakers

from the first-step-is-forgiving-yourself-I-guess dept

The DOJ’s current prosecution of Julian Assange threatens the profession of journalism. By turning cultivating sources and publishing classified documents into acts of treason, the DOJ is undermining protections supposedly guaranteed by the First Amendment and shored up by years of case law.

But the DOJ has been undermining these protections for years. Six years ago, news surfaced that the DOJ had issued 30 subpoenas for AP journalists’ phone records. The fallout from this continues, which includes the DOJ modifying (very slightly) its rules for obtaining journalists’ communication records.

When it comes to leak investigations, all bets — and all Constitutional protections — are off, apparently. The rules have exceptions and justifications to allow the DOJ to do what it wants to do anyway: spy on journalists until it can find the leak source. A new Office of Professional Responsibility report obtained by the Freedom of the Press Foundation FOIA request shows the DOJ convincing itself that threatening press freedoms is a responsible use of its powers.

The report is… important for what it tells us about the Justice Department’s Media Guidelines. Specifically, the report shows how weak the guidelines are, and how, in practice, the rules may offer little protection to journalists worried about being caught up in a criminal investigation. Although the guidelines have been revised since the AP subpoenas controversy, several of its standards remain intact. Among these is the requirement that proposed subpoenas be “narrowly drawn.”

While substantial portions of the Office of Professional Responsibility’s analysis are redacted, its finding that the AP subpoenas were “as narrowly drawn as possible” appears to have hinged on the perceived seriousness of the leak; the decision not to subpoena the telephone records for employees at the Post, the Times, and ABC News; the inability of investigators to determine to which AP reporter or editor the leaker had provided classified information; and “perhaps most importantly” the fact “the subpoenas requested the records for—and not the contents of—telephonic communications.”

The report [PDF] shows more than that, though. It shows the DOJ also thought about subpoenaing records from several other news agencies, including the Washington Post and New York Times. It shows the DOJ believed its failure to locate the source of the leak using other means and methods justified targeting phone lines used by journalists. And its subpoenas didn’t cover individual desks. The 30 subpoenas targeted multiple AP offices, starting with their trunk lines. Although the DOJ was only seeking info about communications with seven journalists, it decided the most efficient way to do this was to scrape phone records from the trunk, capturing every call made to and from these offices for over a month.

Ultimately, the report finds the DOJ did nothing wrong. It acknowledges the First Amendment concerns but says any collateral damage was necessary to find the source of the leak. And it will continue to do this if it feels the collateral damage to free speech protections is worth it. That appears to be almost any case where the DOJ’s internal investigation of leaks reaches a dead end. Rather than redouble its internal efforts, it will target journalists’ communication records.

This was always concerning. President Obama waged a war on whistleblowers, making it far more likely journalists — those often on the receiving end of whistleblowing — would be targeted by the federal government. This war hasn’t ended. It has only intensified. President Trump’s DOJ is fighting it own war on leaks, and that effort is coupled with Trump’s open disdain for several news organizations. The DOJ has already justified its past abuses. It won’t find it too hard to sleep at night going forward.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , ,
Companies: associated press

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Internal Report Says DOJ Did Nothing Wrong Targeting Journalists' Communications To Hunt Down Leakers”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
17 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Tim wrote:

President Obama waged a war on whistleblowers, making it far more likely journalists — those often on the receiving end of whistleblowing — would be targeted by the federal government. This war hasn’t ended. It has only intensified.

Everything I’ve seen comparing Cbama’s War Against Journalists and his unprecedented use of the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute journalists has indicated that Obama was a far worse tyrant when it came to press freedom and transparency compared to Trump.

Has this changed, and is Trump now as bad, or worse, than Obama?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

his unprecedented use of the 1917 Espionage Act

Funny you should mention that one in particular, given it’s only been a few days since there was an article talking about how it wasn’t used against a particular individual during Obama’s presidency, but is being used in Trump’s.

On a more general range though, for all that Obama may have had a hate-on for leakers one thing I don’t seem to recall him doing is regularly and vocally attacking the press in an attempt to undermine any parts of it that wasn’t kissing his feet and praising him at every opportunity, something Trump can’t seem to go a day without doing with his constant calls of ‘Fake news’.

On those grounds I’d say Trump is far, far worse regarding any ‘war against journalists’, as while Obama may have gone after individuals(with resulting chilling effects to be sure), Trump is continuing the practice and attempting to undermine the field of journalism as a whole.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

We saw this coming.

This is exactly the sort of dissolution of our Bill-of-Rights protections (encroachment of our rights) that was warned of by our constitutional framers. Jefferson suggested that revolution from time to time — violent revolution as necessary (Blood of patriots and tyrants) — would be necessary to preserve those rights. Granted, violent revolution is messy and we want to avoid it, but without a movement for substantial reform, the alternatives get fewer and less likely by the day.

The DoJ and law enforcement now enforces their will not by consent but through physical power and fear, and as such they grow more and more free to do whatever they want. They seize what they please and kill who they want without regard for the human lives trodden under their tactical boots (Jackboots are out of style). This includes silencing the press who would speak ill of them or reveal their indulgences.

Just as we ignore when Black lives failed to matter, the perimeter continues to close, and more and more lives fall into the Black zone every day.

AnonyOps says:

Re: We saw this coming.

Of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Is now the primary consent of the governed, of which those laws have nary any application. The United States of America has become a banana republic of the oligarchs. It will only keep degenerating until it has obtained the ability to rape and murder your loved ones in front of you in public.

R,og S/ says:

Re: We saw this coming.

Its interesting how so many dangle the black card, are remarkably silent about the black activists- ALL males-who died in mystery suicides; or the black men who become mass shooters after being gang stalked by DHS/CVE/DVIC K4 groups in community policing.

The latest shooter, DeWayne Craddocck , while not an activist, certainly fits a patttern with K4 targeting, and media narrrative control.

Interesting how the hate industry cleverly divides along those color lines when its sectarian or convenient, but craps all over their yoga pants along party lines on that issue.

Because for those of us who DIDNT adopt the hate industry narrrativve control guidelines that you espouse certainly put our Doc Martens, and our typewriters where these things happened, and paid a heavy price for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Recordings

“the subpoenas requested the records for—and not the contents of—telephonic communications.”

That’s only because phone companies don’t usually keep recordings of phone calls. If they did you can bet the DOJ would have gone after those too. So patting themselves on the back for having not done so is kind of like patting themselves on the back for not demanding unicorns.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: No, they do that too. They do that a LOT

So patting themselves on the back for having not done so is kind of like patting themselves on the back for not demanding unicorns.

… Or as they’re often called here on TD ‘backdoors to encryption that does not impact it’s security or introduce huge vulnerabilities just waiting to be found’.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: The Deep State

I thought the deep state is our giant morass of bureaucrats who do things the bureaucrat way because bureaucracy. And when the current administration complains about the deep state they’re complaining that all those bureaucrats are doing it the bureaucrat way and not their way.

I remember Obama didn’t call it the deep state but he did express the same frustrations. Bush too.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...