EDITORIALS/A journalists as a 'co-conspirators'
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 1:00 AM
This editorial appeared in The Wall Street Journal on May 21, 2013:
Ok, we've learned our lesson. Last week we tried to give the Obama Administration the benefit of the doubt over its far-reaching secret subpoenas to the Associated Press, and now we learn that was the least of its offenses against a free press. No attempt to be generous to this crowd goes unpunished.
The latest news, disclosed by the Washington Post on Monday, is that the Justice Department targeted a Fox News reporter as a potential "co-conspirator" in a leak probe. The feds have charged intelligence analyst Stephen Jin-Woo Kim with disclosing classified information to Fox reporter James Rosen. That's not a surprise considering that this Administration has prosecuted more national-security cases than any in recent history.
The shock is that as part of its probe the Administration sought and obtained a warrant to search Mr. Rosen's personal email account. And it justified such a sweeping secret search by telling the judge that Mr. Rosen was part of the conspiracy merely because he acted like a journalist.
In a May 2010 affidavit in support of obtaining the Gmail search warrant, FBI agent Reginald Reyes declared that "there is probable cause to believe that the Reporter has committed or is committing a violation" of the Espionage Act of 1917 "as an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator." The Reporter here is Mr. Rosen.
And what evidence is there to believe that Mr. Rosen is part of a spy ring? Well, declares Mr. Reyes, the reporter published a story in June 2009 saying that the U.S. knew that North Korea planned to respond to looming U.N. sanctions with another nuclear test. That U.S. knowledge was classified. But the feds almost never prosecute a journalist for disclosing classified information, not least because reporters can't be sure what's classified and what isn't.
We can recall only a single such prosecution of a journalist under the Espionage Act in 95 years. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, who isn't a journalist, published far more damaging leaks but has never been indicted for it.
To add to his cloak-and-dagger hype, Mr. Reyes also makes much of the fact that Mr. Rosen used an alias, "Alex," while his alleged source Mr. Kim used the alias, "Leo." Believe it or not, Mr. Rosen also disclosed in one email that he is interested in "breaking news ahead of my competitors." And he even went so far as to urge "Leo" to help him "expose muddle-headed policy when we see it-or force the administration's hand to go in the right direction, if possible."
On the evidence of five years in office that isn't possible, but trying isn't a criminal motive. And if working with a source who uses an alias is now a crime, we've come a long way from the celebration of Bob Woodward and "Deep Throat."
The best face on these accusations is that Mr. Reyes was playing up the conspiracy angle to get the judge to approve a more sweeping search, which he did. The feds were then able to read widely in Mr. Rosen's personal email account, and thus potentially use it against him.
As with the AP subpoenas, this search is overbroad and has a potentially chilling effect on reporters. The chilling is even worse in this case because Mr. Rosen's personal communications were subject to search for what appears to be an extended period of time. At least in the AP case, the subpoena was for past phone logs during a defined period. The message is that anyone who publishes a story the Administration dislikes can be targeted for email searches that could expose personal secrets.
Mr. Reyes is far exceeding his brief here, but the larger fault lies with higher-ups. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who is conducting the AP and Kim leak investigations, clearly has little regard for normal Justice standards and protocol for dealing with the media. Such a sweeping probe should also have been approved by senior Justice officials, at least by the Deputy Attorney General.
With the Fox News search following the AP subpoenas, we now have evidence of a pattern of anti-media behavior. The suspicion has to be that maybe these "leak" investigations are less about deterring leakers and more about intimidating the press. We trust our liberal friends in the press corps won't mute their dismay merely because this time the target is a network they love to hate.