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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Isikoff on AP Leak Story: National Security or Press Intimidation?

In the Brave New post-9/11 World “national security” has become a mantra uttered to justify and sanctify countless Executive Branch actions. Today, President Obama made official his willingness to use national security as justification for even the most draconian of measures—the unprecedented seizure of Associated Press records. Anyone who had hoped that yesterday’s announprecedented secret seizure of Associated Press recorduncement of Administration support for a federal “shield law” designed to protect press freedoms was the precursor for an Obama apology for the Justice Department’s actions was quickly disappointed by Obama’s announcement today. Here is how the Washington Post is reporting Obama’s response to questions about the scandal:

President Obama on Thursday strongly defended the Justice Department leaks investigation that secretly gathered private phone records of Associated Press journalists, suggesting that protecting U.S. personnel overseas outweighs press privileges in this case.

“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk,” Obama said during a news conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “And so I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander in chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”

What is really going on here? Was the Obama administration really going after the Associated Press’s records in order to identify the leaker or is the scope of their actions against the AP indicative of an effort to punish the news organization for its handling of the story? The story is still developing, but the brilliant investigative reporter Michael Isikoff has a story now up that is filling in the pieces:

Justice Department and Associated Press officials clashed Tuesday over leaked classified information that led the government to seize AP phone records, with Attorney General Eric Holder saying it “put the American people at risk” and the news organization’s chief executive insisting it delayed publishing its story until it was assured “national security concerns had passed.”… Holder’s comments and a letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole defending the seizure of the AP records – without notifying the news organization until last week --  drew a stern response from AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. He  blasted the action as "overbroad under the law," saying  that "more than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones."
"Rather than talk to us in advance, they seized these phone records in secret, saying that notifying us would compromise their investigation," Pruitt said in a statement late Tuesday. “They offer no explanation of this, however.
"Instead they captured the telephone numbers between scores of AP journalists and the many people they talk to in the normal business of gathering news."
Pruitt also defended the AP's decision to publish the story that apparently sparked the leak investigation…
Pruitt on Tuesday denied the article posed a threat to national security.
"We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed," he said. "Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.
"The White House had said there was no credible threat to the American people in May of 2012. The AP story suggested otherwise, and we felt that was important information and the public deserved to know it."
Pruitt's statement  came after he received a letter from Cole, the deputy attorney general, which said  "there was a basis to believe" the phone numbers subpoenaed "were associated with AP personnel involved in the reporting of classified information." He said the subpoenas were "limited to a reasonable period of time" and were only taken after all "alternative investigative steps had been taken …  including conducting over 550 interviews and reviewing tens of thousands of documents." 

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