“An astonishing assault on core values of our society”
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, on the Obama Administrations seizure of AP records.
In what would seem to be the worst two weeks of his entire time in office, President Obama is under scrutiny with regards to three major issues: the IRS’s intentional focus on conservative groups, the Benghazi tragedy and the seizing of massive amounts of Associated Press (AP) records ostensibly to investigate a government leak concerning an al-Quaeda plot. It is this final scandal, what the President of the AP has called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into the affairs of news organization by the federal government, that I find most alarming. I say this not because I think the other two scandals are merely political witch-hunts by Republicans, but because the AP story reflects actions clearly and undeniably taken by people at the highest levels of the Executive Branch in continuation of a policy of aggressive pursuing leaks. In other words, the scandal of the AP story is not something that can be passed off on to the actions of lower level officials (the defense so far for the IRS scandal) or heat-of-the-moment responses to a security crisis (the Benghazi story), but rather is an outgrowth of a major Obama Administration effort that reaches to the highest levels of his Cabinet. This excerpt from a Washington Post editorial explains the story well:
In a sweeping and unusual move, the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year. The records listed outgoing calls from more than 20 work and personal phone lines in April and May 2012, the news agency said. It said the number of journalists who used those lines during that period is unknown but that more than 100 journalists work in the targeted offices.
Federal authorities obtained cellular, office and home telephone records of individual reporters and an editor, as well as records from AP general office numbers in Washington, New York and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters covering Congress, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary B. Pruitt said Monday. He called the Justice Department’s actions a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering activities.
The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material. Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined….In the AP case, the news organization and its reporters and editors are not the likely targets of the investigation. Rather, the inquiry is probably aimed at current or former government officials who divulged classified information.
But experts said the scope of the records secretly seized from the AP and its reporters goes beyond the known scale of previous leak probes.
“This investigation is broader and less focused on an individual source or reporter than any of the others we’ve seen,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “They have swept up an entire collection of press communications. It’s an astonishing assault on core values of our society.”