There's a lot of MSM attention being paid to the most recent of three identical subpoenas issued to New York Times investigative reporter James Risen to reveal his source, widely known to be whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. Risen submitted an amazing affidavit that should be required reading for anyone who cares about a free press.
I wanted to add to the dialogue my (in the words of Douglas McCollam) "creepy" experience as another example of the government tracking reporters' phone calls. As the Columbia Journalism Review wrote on my situation back in 2003:
The government got a record of [Newsweek's] calls to an important source [Radack] on an important story [government malfeasance in the "American Taliban" case], without either party's knowing about it. It's a quick lesson on how far an irate government may go to burn your source. So remember, even on a local line, let's be careful out there.
So when Risen says,
I have learned from an individual who testified before a grand jury . . . that was examining my reporting about the domestic wiretapping program that the Government had shown this individual copies of telephone records relating to calls made to and from me
I am not surprised in the least. Why is the MSM only realizing this in 2011 rather than 2003?
Risen says in his affidavit:
Around the same time that the Government was making public statements about potentially prosecuting journalists . . . ABC News reported on May 15, 2006, that senior federal law enforcement officials had informed them that the government was tracking the phone numbers of journalists without the journalists' knowledge as part of an effort to root out the journalists' confidential sources. . . I was mentioned by name as one of the reporters whose work the government was looking into.
Risen Affidavit, paragraph 37.
My experience suggests that the government was tracking the incoming and outgoing numbers called and received on journalists' phones as early as 2003. I am the whistleblower in the case of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. I anonymously leaked e-mails to Newsweek evidencing that the Justice Department committed an ethics violation in its interrogation of him, and then tried to cover it up. The Justice Department went after me with both barrels--making me the target of a criminal "leak" investigation, referring me to the state bars in which I'm licensed as an attorney, and putting me on the "No-Fly" list, among other retaliation.
It has been documented that the Justice Department went after the journalist who published my e-mails, Michael Isikoff. Douglas McCollam wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on my situation, appropriately titled, "Who's Tracking Your Calls? And How Far Will the Department of Justice Go to Burn a Leaker?" Douglas McCollam, Who's Tracking Your Calls?, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, March/April 2004, Issue 2.
The government obtained Isikoff's phone records with me, without either of us, to this day, knowing how. Did the Justice Department obtain an order for a pen register, which identifies all outgoing numbers called by a given telephone, on Isikoff? No. Could it have secured an order for a tap-and-trace device, which identifies the phone numbers of incoming callers on me? No (ha, ha, how antiquated!)
As has been driven home to me by the government belly flop in the case of former NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, under the government's secret surveillance programs, it doesn't bother to get orders for either . . . and forget the post-Watergate regulations adopted by the Justice Department, which established a clear procedure for subpoenaing a journalist's phone records. That protocol, like so many of our civil liberties, has gone by the wayside.
And guess what the Drake case and the Risen subpoena have in common?: rogue prosecutor William Welch, who bothched the prosecution of the late-Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. It's all part of Obama's dual-pronged assault on reporters and whistleblowers in furtherance of expanding the secrecy regime put in place by Bush. Demand accountability.
Jesselyn Radack is the National Security and Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.