Why is the U.S. Government Spying on Journalists?
Freedom of the press? Not on the Obama administration’s watch! The Department of Justice has acknowledged it spent two months spying on employees of the Associated Press. It’s a troubling admission considering that the press is designed to keep the government in check, not the other way around.
Last year, the Justice Department secretly tapped over 20 professional and personal phone lines of AP reporters and editors. “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters,” wrote AP CEO Gary Pruitt in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. He called for all phone records to be returned and destroyed.
Thus far, the DOJ has stayed fairly quiet on the matter. It has not revealed why it monitored AP reporters or what information it obtained while spying on them.
Although the AP does not know the reason for the government’s spying, it suspects it may have to do with a 2012 story the agency released about a CIA operation in Yemen. Initially, when the U.S. government found out about the story, it convinced the AP to hold off on the piece in the interest of national security. Once the information was no longer considered “threatening,” however, the AP did run the article.
Nonetheless, the Justice Department has aggressively tried to learn who leaked news of the CIA operation. When the DOJ tried to force the AP to reveal the leak, the news organization chose to protect its sources.
Regardless of the motivation for the phone tapping, by eavesdropping on dozens of phone lines used by up to 100 journalists, the DOJ surely learned all sorts of unrelated, private information during two months of surveillance.
Don’t give the government too much credit for owning up to this spying. Admitting the action also doubles as a form of intimidation. Firstly, it makes it plainly clear that government operatives will go on the offensive when a story is reported that it prefers to keep secret. Secondly, and perhaps even more damaging, potential sources will inevitably avoid sharing information with news agencies – particularly the AP – knowing that the government is keeping tabs.
It’s worth noting that the Obama administration has come down on government whistleblowers harder than all previous presidents combined. Previously, Care2 reported on several of these cases. The head office’s vows of “transparency” are dubious, to say the least, considering the aggressive prosecution of those who dare to speak the truth about things the President would prefer not to be disclosed.