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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/15/13

Chris Hedges: Monitoring of AP Phones a "Terrifying" Step in State Assault on Press Freedom

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges joins us to discuss what could mark the most significant government intrusion on freedom of the press in decades. The Justice Department has acknowledged seizing the work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The phones targeted included the general AP office numbers in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Connecticut, and the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery. The action likely came as part of a probe into the leaks behind an AP story on the U.S. intelligence operation that stopped a Yemen-based al-Qaeda bombing plot on a U.S.-bound airplane. 

Hedges, a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and former New York Times reporter, calls the monitoring "one more assault in a long series of assault against freedom of information and freedom of the press." Highlighting the Obama administration's targeting of government whistleblowers, Hedges adds: "Talk to any investigative journalist who must investigate the government, and they will tell you that there is a deep freeze. People are terrified of speaking, because they're terrified of going to jail."

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is heading to Capitol Hill today, where he's expected to be grilled over the Justice Department's decision to secretly seize the work, home and cellphone records used by almost a hundred reporters and editors at the Associated Press. On Tuesday, Holder defended the move as a necessary step in a criminal probe of leaks of classified information.

The phones targeted by the subpoena included the general AP office numbers in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Hartford, Connecticut; and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery. The records were from April and May of 2012. Among those whose records were obtained were Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, three other reporters and an editor, all of whom worked on a story about an operation conducted by the  CIA  and allied intelligence agencies that stopped a Yemen-based al-Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane headed for the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: The Associated Press had delayed publication of the story 'til May 7, 2012, at the government's request. One day before the AP story was finally published, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed Fahd al-Quso, a senior leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Attorney General Holder, who says he recused himself from the leak probe, defended his department's actions.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: This was a very serious -- a very serious leak, and a very, very serious leak. I've been a prosecutor since 1976, and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I've ever seen. It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk. And trying to determine who was responsible for that, I think, required very aggressive action.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking Tuesday. In a letter to Holder, AP's CEO Greg Pruitt protested the government's seizing of journalists' phone records. He wrote, quote: "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."

AMY GOODMAN: In an editorial today, The New York Times strongly criticized the Justice Department's move. The editors wrote, quote: "These tactics will not scare us off, or The A.P., but they could reveal sources on other stories and frighten confidential contacts vital to coverage of government."

Well, we're joined right now by a former Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist from The New York Times. He's now a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and author, along with Joe Sacco, of the book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. We're joined by Chris Hedges.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Chris.

CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this revelation about the -- about what happened with AP and the U.S. government?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it's part of a pattern. That's what's so frightening. And it's a pattern that we've seen, with the use of the Espionage Act, to essentially silence whistleblowers within the government -- Kiriakou, Drake and others, although Kiriakou went to jail on -- pled out on another charge -- the  FISA Amendment Act, which allows for warrantless wiretapping, the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the stripping of American citizens of due process and indefinite detention. And it is one more assault in a long series of assault against freedom of information and freedom of the press. And I would also, of course, throw in the persecution of Julian Assange at WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning as part of that process.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Chris Hedges, you wrote in the recent article that was published, your article "Death of Truth" in Truthdig and Nation magazine -- you also write about the significance of the Espionage Act and how often it's been invoked, and you say that it eviscerates the possibility of an independent press. So could you talk about the Espionage Act and how it also is somehow related to this AP story?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it's been used six times by the Obama administration. It was written in 1917 and was -- is our Foreign Secrets Act. It is never meant -- it was not designed to shut down whistleblowers, first used against Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers. So, three times from 1917 until Obama takes office in 2009, six times. And if you talk to investigative journalists in this country, who must investigate the inner workings of government, no one will talk, even on background. People are terrified. And this is, of course -- the seizure of two months of records, of AP records, is not really about going after AP; it's about going after that person or those people who leaked this story and shutting them down. And this canard that it endangered American life is -- you know, there's no evidence for this. He's not -- yeah.

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