Justice Department secretly obtains Associated Press phone records
by Mark Sherman
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than a hundred journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.
"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," Pruitt said.
The government would not say why it sought the records.
The screen on the phone console at the reception desk at The Associated Press Washington bureau, Monday, May 13, 2013. The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick) (Jon Elswick)Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP's source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an "unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information."
Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual.
In the letter notifying the AP, which was received Friday, the Justice Department offered no explanation for the seizure, according to Pruitt's letter and attorneys for the AP. The records were presumably obtained from phone companies earlier this year although the government letter did not explain that. None of the information provided by the government to the AP suggested the actual phone conversations were monitored.
Among those whose phone numbers were obtained were five reporters and an editor who were involved in the May 7, 2012, story.
The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of providing classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined.
The White House on Monday said that other than press reports it had no knowledge of Justice Department attempts to seek AP phone records.
"We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department," spokesman Jay Carney said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the investigative House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on CNN, "They had an obligation to look for every other way to get it before they intruded on the freedom of the press."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an emailed statement: "The burden is always on the government when they go after private information, especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. ... On the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden. I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government's explanation."
The American Civil Liberties Union said the use of subpoenas for a broad swath of records has a chilling effect both on journalists and whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing. "The attorney general must explain the Justice Department's actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again," said Laura Murphy, the director of ACLU's Washington legislative office.
Rules published by the Justice Department require that subpoenas of records of news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general, but it was not known if that happened in this case. The letter notifying AP that its phone records had been obtained through subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.
William Miller, a spokesman for Machen, said Monday that in general the U.S. attorney follows "all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations." But he would not address questions about the specifics of the AP records. "We do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations," Miller said in an email.
The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can be considered only after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say. It was unclear what other steps, in total, the Justice Department might have taken to get information in the case.
A subpoena to the media must be "as narrowly drawn as possible" and "should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period," according to the rules.
The reason for these constraints, the department says, is to avoid actions that "might impair the news gathering function" because the government recognizes that "freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of reporters to investigate and report the news."
News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and then they enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption's wording, might "pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation."
It is unknown whether a judge or a grand jury signed off on the subpoenas.
Arnie Robbins, executive director of the American Society of News Editors, said, "On the face of it, this is really a disturbing affront to a free press. It's also troubling because it is consistent with perhaps the most aggressive administration ever against reporters doing their jobs - providing information that citizens need to know about our government."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said: "The Fourth Amendment is not just a protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, it is a fundamental protection for the First Amendment and all other Constitutional rights. It sets a high bar - a warrant - for the government to take actions that could chill exercise of any of those rights. We must guard it with all the vigor that we guard other constitutional protections."
The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.
The plot was significant both because of its seriousness and also because the White House previously had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."
The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot, though the Obama administration continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.
The May 7 story was written by reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman with contributions from reporters Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Alan Fram. They and their editor, Ted Bridis, were among the journalists whose April-May 2012 phone records were seized by the government.
Brennan talked about the AP story and investigation in written testimony to the Senate. "The irresponsible and damaging leak of classified information was made ... when someone informed The Associated Press that the U.S. government had intercepted an IED (improvised explosive device) that was supposed to be used in an attack and that the U.S. government currently had that IED in its possession and was analyzing it," he wrote.
He also defended the White House decision to discuss the plot afterward. "Once someone leaked information about interdiction of the IED and that the IED was actually in our possession, it was imperative to inform the American people consistent with government policy that there was never any danger to the American people associated with this al-Qaida plot," Brennan told senators.
Study: Feds lack data on how to stem border crossings
Think tank says it will cost $2 million a year to determine border solutions.
by Bob Ortega
PHOENIX -- A lack of solid data on what deters illegal border crossings has been one of the biggest hang-ups as the U.S. Senate debates an immigration and border-security bill.
The Department of Homeland Security can say how much it spent last year on border enforcement ($18 billion). It can say how many crossers agents apprehended at the border (364,768).
Homeland Security officials admit their data is much fuzzier, though, when it comes to how many got away and to what worked and what didn't: More agents? More drones? More workplace enforcement?
But the DHS could collect the data it needs for about $2 million a year, according to a study released Monday by the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Compared with what the country spends on border enforcement, that amounts to a penny out of every $900.
"What's really needed is a serious management effort to see what works and what doesn't," said Edward Alden, one of the study's authors and a senior fellow with the council.
Alden said Homeland Security has collected plenty of data on inputs, such as how many new agents it has hired, how many flight hours drones put in last year, and so on; but it hasn't tried very effectively to measure outcomes, or to measure how well border enforcement works vs. interior enforcement (like workplace checks) at reducing undocumented migration.
A sweeping immigration bill by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators would require the DHS to reach a 90 percent effectiveness rate for apprehending border crossers along all nine southern border sectors before any long-term undocumented immigrants could begin the process of moving from temporary legal status to legal residency.
The council study estimated that, based on DHS data and surveys of migrants by the Mexican government, among other data, that in recent years, the Border Patrol has apprehended 40 percent to 55 percent of illegal border crossers.
"(That rate) has increased substantially as a result of the recent investments in enforcement," the study said.
The study compares that rate with one of the tightest borders in recent history, the border between East and West Germany during the Cold War, where mines and armed guards with shoot-on-sight orders stopped an estimated 95 percent of border crossers. The ratio of guards per mile on that border, at its peak, was nearly triple that along the U.S.-Mexico border now.
The study does not advocate a similar approach but makes the comparison to analyze the level of investment it would require to effectively "seal" the U.S.-Mexico border.
DHS officials declined to comment on the report.
A department spokesman referred to Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher's comments at a Senate hearing last week, on how officials use an "effectiveness ratio" that compares apprehensions with the numbers of crossers believed to have turned back or to have escaped agents.
"I don't offer, even in the context of an effectiveness ratio," Fisher said, "that somehow this is a scientific method, and that I can assure the chairman and this committee or the American people that, at any given time, we will be able — on 4,000 miles on the northern border and 2,000 miles on the southern border — to say with 100 percent certainty the amount of people that enter and of that number how many people we apprehend."
Part of the challenge, too, is that border security is only part of the picture. For example, several studies have found that the economic downturn in the U.S. did more than tighter security to cut down migration in the past five years.
The council study, though, says Border Patrol could develop "reasonable estimates of the gross inflow of unauthorized migrants and the apprehension rate at the border, and … improve these estimates over time," especially if the DHS shares data with outside researchers who can help analyze it.
That would also help avoid wasting money, suggests a separate study by the Congressional Research Service, released this month.
That report suggested that with 651 miles of fencing and barriers on the U.S.-Mexican border, "each additional mile would be in ever more remote locations and therefore more expensive to install and maintain and likely to deter fewer unauthorized migrants."
As the congressional study's author, Marc Rosenbloom, put it: "In light of current fiscal constraints, some members of Congress … may consider the possibility that certain additional investments at the border may be met with diminishing returns."
West Bridgewater police strengthen ties with community by going back to school
by Sandra L. Churchill
WEST BRIDGEWATER — As schools in every community look to build a police presence in non-threatening ways, West Bridgewater has come up with a novel strategy to accomplish that.
Police have started filling out their regular reports on laptop computers inside school buildings, rather than at the police station.
“First, this extends the time the police are in the schools because they can file their reports on their laptops and their presence in the buildings will beef up security,” said police Lt. Victor Flaherty
“Second, it's a win-win because we're doing more with less and it costs us nothing to do this,” he added.
The police department already owns the four laptops used by officers for daily work.
This new approach comes after police earlier this spring began random daily patrols at each of the town's four schools.
Flaherty said police may choose on a daily basis if they want to work in the school cafeteria, library, main office, an empty classroom or a main hallway.
“They're not hanging around the station to get their work done, and we don't need extra security around the station,” said Flaherty.
Howard School Principal Peggy Spencer says the plan will strengthen ties with police.
“The officers are able to work on their reports while at the same time becoming more familiar with our students and our daily activities, so it's a positive situation for everyone,” said Spencer.
Middle-Senior High School Principal Mark Bodwell is a huge fan of the new arrangement.
“It is wonderful to see them here in the building and having a mobile office, and they're situated right in the center of school doing their work,” said Bodwell. “It's great for kids to see them and for them to interact.”
Detective Sgt. Tim Nixon said it's important for students to build police trust by seeing officers in a non-reactive role.
“This gives visual presence in the schools and makes kids less anxious around police,” said Nixon. “It diminishes the ‘us vs. them' mentality, and it's done on a revolving basis so the students get to know all the officers.
“This is bringing back old-fashioned community policing,” said Nixon.