FBI Hoovered Up Two Years Of A Journalist's Phone And Email Records To Hunt Down A Leaker

from the sorry,-citizens,-we-have-an-omelette-to-make dept

The New York Times reports the FBI has crossed a line it's generally hesitant to cross. An investigation into classified info leaks by a Senate Intelligence Committee aide involved the seizure of two year's worth of a New York Times reporter's phone and email records.

The former aide, James A. Wolfe, 57, was charged with lying repeatedly to investigators about his contacts with three reporters. According to the authorities, Mr. Wolfe made false statements to the F.B.I. about providing two of them with sensitive information related to the committee’s work. He denied to investigators that he ever gave classified material to journalists, the indictment said.

[...]

Mr. Wolfe’s case led to the first known instance of the Justice Department going after a reporter’s data under President Trump. The seizure was disclosed in a letter to the Times reporter, Ali Watkins, who had been in a three-year relationship with Mr. Wolfe. The seizure suggested that prosecutors under the Trump administration will continue the aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama.

The war on unofficial transparency continues -- this time ensnaring a reporter. The indictment [PDF] shows Wolfe was in regular contact with four unnamed reporters and the classified info leaked apparently related to the investigation of Carter Page. (The indictment refers only to MALE-1.).

Despite all the dots connected by the Justice Dept. after hoovering up email and phone records of four reporters, none of the charges brought against Wolfe involved mishandling classified info. All three charges listed are for lying to the FBI, not exposing secret info. While the info obtained may have been necessary to prove Wolfe lied to investigators, it does seem like a serious breach first amendment boundaries for nothing but vanilla "lied to the feds" charges. Those charges are mostly there for the government to punish people when it thinks it can't nail down more serious charges.

And it is a breach of expected norms, if not a reliable indicator of how many civil liberties the government is willing to doormat to hunt down leakers and whistleblowers.

Under Justice Department regulations, investigators must clear additional hurdles before they can seek business records that could reveal a reporter’s confidential sources, such as phone and email records. In particular, the rules require the government to have “made all reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternative, non-media sources” before investigators may target a reporter’s information.

In addition, the rules generally require the Justice Department to notify reporters first to allow them to negotiate over the scope of their demand for information and potentially challenge it in court. The rules permit the attorney general to make an exception to that practice if he “determines that, for compelling reasons, such negotiations would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.”

It's not clear all these steps were followed. But there are a whole lot of exceptions available to the FBI to bypass these steps meant to protect the First Amendment. No one seems to have been notified beforehand, and it was far more than call/email metadata that was obtained. The indictment cites the content of encrypted messages -- suggesting yet another area where the FBI's "going dark" rhetoric is overblown.

After the story was published, WOLFE congratulated REPORTER #3, using Signal, stating "Good job!" and "I'm glad you got the scoop." REPORTER #3 wrote back, using Signal,"Thank you. [MALE-l] isn't pleased, but wouldn't deny that the subpoena was served."

Going after reporters' records may become standard operating procedure. The Obama Administration prosecuted more leakers and whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined. This administration appears ready to dwarf Obama's numbers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year that the Justice Department was pursuing about three times as many leak investigations as were open at the end of the Obama administration.

If the DOJ isn't going to give the First Amendment a wide berth, it's not going to be much friendlier to the rest of them -- like the Fourth. Aggressive pursuit of leakers -- and the attendant collection of reporters' communications/data -- will continue. The DOJ may have guidelines meant to limit investigators from obtaining journalists' records, but they're not much practical use when they can be waived to preserve the "integrity of the investigation."

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 4th amendment, doj, fbi, first amendment, investigations, james wolfe, jeff sessions, journalists, leaks, whistleblowers


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Lorraine Sheridan Junk Science, 28 Aug 2018 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: I skipped Google and went straight to Wikipedia:

    Google Lorraine Sheridan and "white females responded"to that anonymous online disinformation.

    It seems that every time there is a crisis PR/pop psychology quiz online, the same large group of middle aged to elderly white females-many of whom work IN crisis PR,pop psycholiogy,or in social work, academia, etc-it seems these surveys are ALWAYS white females from the Andrea Dworkin era responding.

    And,many of them ALSO derive income from the exact institutions that benefit from Organized Gang Stalking denialism: fakerape industry, yellow journalism,

    And, with little irony-most claimants of Satanic Ritual Abuse and the notorious Satanic daycare hoaxes.of the 1980-90s were ALSO predominantly muddle aged whitefemales like Dr.Lorraine Sheridan herself.

    Dont let the patterns drive you crazy though,lol-because every single other Public Relations/crisis creation EVER in the USA was drivenby Edward Bernaysstyled propaganda hoaxing.

    Actual victims of highly organizedgang stalkung however, arefrequently dead, orincarcerated AFTER extensive, many years long, highlypersonalized onlinegang stalking,that comes OFFLINE in the form of "community policing,"which violatesthe spirit, andtheletter of the law.

    Worse, many massshooters, ranging from the Virginia Tech shooter, to Mathew Riehl in Colirado, tomany, many others, were being stalked aftervoucing unpopular sentiments online-and thecade.of William Atchison of New Mexico, we seethat British intellugence flagged him for using “bad words”during #Gamergate, and then kicked the case to the FBI, who then waged covert surveilance, using online and offline surveillance, and provocateurs.

    And these, augmented by all too willing sooper seekrit agints in “community policing,”and FusionCenter operatives, InfraGard, and others.


    OGS is basically COINTELPRO2.0, ongoing, but with more cunts like Aaron Walkhouse, above, willingly assistingin the total subversion of due process,like faithful Little Euchmanns.

Add Your Comment

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



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.