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The war on journalists, evident from the government's secret fishing expedition in seizing AP phone records for 20 different lines, used by over 100 journalists, is a natural offshoot of the war on whistleblowers.

The war on whistleblowers refers to the Obama administration's record-setting use of the Espionage Act to pursue suspected "leakers," who are usually whistleblowers. The Justice Department's defense of the fishing expedition into journalists' phone records echos the defense of its prosecution of whistleblowers. The obvious effect - and intent - of both attacks on whistleblowers the natural progression to attacks on the media is government control what information the public hears, and in the case of AP, how, when, and from whom the public hears it. As I explained on Viewpoint:

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder attempted to defend the Justice Department's blatant intrusion on AP's First Amendment rights by saying the investigation stemmed from an AP report on a foiled plot to attack an airliner headed for a US, and

[the AP article is among] “the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen” in a 35-year career. . . "It put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole . . .”
Holder had no problem defending the Justice Department even though he supposedly recused himself from involvement in the investigation. (Pause to ask why Holder recused himself? And, why if he's recused is he able to so confidently say that the Justice Department followed its internal regulations when all the evidence points to prosecutors ignoring at least the regulatory requirement to negotiate with AP?)

Holder has to reassure us that his less-than-credible defense is "not hyperbole" because that's exactly the contention Justice Department made about the actions of National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake:

So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed . . .
Those statements were exposed as hyperbole - to put it mildly - when the Drake case collapsed in spectacular fashion because none of the information Drake was accused of retaining was actually classified.

The similarities don't end there. In the war on whistleblowers, the Justice Department has targeted and prosecuted people who have exposed information embarrassing to the government, or government illegality, or who have otherwise ticked off the Executive branch. The AP story in question contradicted the administration's meme that there were no threats around the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death and scooped the White House, who revealed the story one day later. (Marcy Wheeler is a must-read on how AP scooped the White House.)

Despite the Justice Department's assurances that they only need to encroach on First Amendment rights to protect national security, there is no credible evidence that any of the prosecuted whistleblowers or the AP did anything that actually harmed the United States or in any way undermined national security. (Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who is handling the AP case in light of Holder's recusal from being held accountable but not from defending the Justice Department's actions, can't say anything of substance because of "the ongoing nature of this criminal investigation involving highly classified material . .. ").

Kevin Gosztola reported on famed Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein explaining the real point of the Justice Department's intrusion on the AP's news gathering process:

“The object of it is to try and intimidate people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide information that people ought to know.
The ACLU's Ben Wizner put it correctly that, "The government has no legitimate basis for having all of that information. . ." I've warned for years that the real purpose in prosecuting whistleblowers is to chill legitimate First Amendment activities, both of the whistleblowers and of the journalists who report their disclosures. The New York Times editorial board recognizes that the intrusion on AP is a natural offshoot of the war on whistleblowers, referring to the case of my client, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou:
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.

. . . The Obama administration has indicted six current and former officials under the Espionage Act, which had previously been used only three times since it was enacted in 1917. One, a former C.I.A. officer, pleaded guilty under another law for revealing the name of an agent who participated in the torture of a terrorist suspect. Meanwhile, President Obama decided not to investigate, much less prosecute, anyone who actually did the torturing.

As the Obama administration strives to control what the public hears and when we hear it, the war on information now includes criminally prosecuting whistleblowers and hacktivists and digging into the phone records of journalists who publish unfavorable stories (or stories that scoop the White House). There has already been a chilling effect on whistleblowers and on the press, but the Justice Department continues to target the media unabated. Congress needs step in with aggressive oversight and reporter shield laws, and the public must learn a lesson from the Drake case and no longer blindly accept the government's claims of national security.

Originally posted to Jesselyn Radack on Wed May 15, 2013 at 06:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by Whistleblowers Round Table.

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