Just How Many Journalists Is the Justice Department Spying On?

How many journalists is the government spying on? That burning question just got even more relevant in the wake of revelations from the Washington Post that the U.S. Justice Department put a Fox News journalist under surveillance for reporting on classified information about North Korea. The Washington Post report comes on the heels of revelations that the Justice Department conducted a broad investigation targeting the Associated Press, seizing two months worth of phone records from journalists at the news outlet.


The Washington Post’s Ann E. Marimow reported yesterday that the Department of Justice had tracked James Rosen, the Washington correspondent for Fox News, as he came and went to the State Department. The department traced his calls to see if their timing matched up with a State Department adviser’s calls. They also obtained a search warrant for Rosen’s e-mails with the adviser, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who apparently shared secret information about North Korea with Rosen. Kim is one of a number of government officials to be charged with violating the Espionage Act for disclosing information to journalists.

“Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public,” Charles Tobin, a First Amendment lawyer, told the Post. “That’s a very dangerous road to go down.”

The investigation of Kim and Rosen began in 2009, when the Fox News correspondent reported that U.S. intelligence officials had said that North Korea was likely to respond to more international sanctions with nuclear tests.

Federal Bureau of Investigation officials then went after Kim and Rosen. Court records reveal that one FBI agent said that Rosen himself had broken the law by being “an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator”--perhaps the most alarming aspect of the story.

“What makes this revelation particularly disturbing is that the DOJ, in order to get this search warrant, insisted that not only Kim, but also Rosen - the journalist - committed serious crimes. The DOJ specifically argued that by encouraging his source to disclose classified information - something investigative journalists do every day - Rosen himself broke the law,” The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald commented.

The revelations come shortly after the Associated Press blasted the government for spying on its own journalists during a government investigation into another leak that was published in the news outlet, this time concerning a terrorist plot in Yemen. It’s all part of what critics have called Obama’s “war on whistleblowers.” The administration has prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, Greenwald notes.

Writing in Mother Jones before the Washington Post report was published, Julian Sanchez speculated that the government may be spying on more journalists than the public knows about. So there could more cases like these. How many journalists is the government targeting right now?

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