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.