DOJ Seizure Of AP Call Logs Unusual In Its Broad Scope A recent federal seizure of two months of phone records for Associated Press reporters and editors highlights the aggressive approach the Obama administration has taken to investigating leaks. Melissa Block speaks with Steven Aftergood, who monitors government secrecy as a senior research analyst for the Federation of American Scientists, about how the Obama administration stands out for its rigorous pursuit of leaks.
NPR logo

DOJ Seizure Of AP Call Logs Unusual In Its Broad Scope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
DOJ Seizure Of AP Call Logs Unusual In Its Broad Scope


DOJ Seizure Of AP Call Logs Unusual In Its Broad Scope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We're going to hear more now about that unusual seizure of AP call logs by the Justice Department. I talked with Steven Aftergood, who studies government secrecy policy at the Federation of American Scientists, where he also writes a blog called "Secrecy News."

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: What makes this case unusual and possibly unprecedented is its broad scope and the loose definition of the investigation. They weren't investigating the conduct of one or two reporters. They were effectively placing entire Associated Press bureaus under surveillance. And the work not only of reporters who might have been covering national security was being monitored, but effectively everything that a large number of reporters and editors might have been working on.


Well, what are the boundaries of what records the Justice Department can seize from news organizations and, in this case, without notice?

AFTERGOOD: Well, the law recognizes that there are First Amendment considerations at stake here. And for that reason, a subpoena to a reporter is supposed to be the last choice. Government investigators are supposed to see if the information they're seeking can be voluntarily obtained, they are supposed to alert the news organization that the monitoring or surveillance is occurring unless that would interfere with the investigation, and then they have to notify them after the fact. And they have to get the concurrence or approval of the attorney general himself.

BLOCK: We heard Attorney General Holder today say that this leak by the Associated Press, the story they ran last May, put the American people at risk. So does a national security concern perceived by the Justice Department mitigate the First Amendment concerns and rights that we're talking about here?

AFTERGOOD: I don't think so. This is an extraordinary incursion on the operation of the news media. If it is taken as the new normal, it could be a crippling blow to freedom of the press in this country. What confidential source is going to want to call a reporter at a news bureau if he or she knows that his identity is likely to be compromised by that action?

BLOCK: Steven Aftergood, can you put this investigation into the leak to the Associated Press in a broader context of the Obama administration's pursuit of leaks and leakers?

AFTERGOOD: We have had more prosecutions of accused leakers in the Obama administration than in all previous administrations put together and...

BLOCK: How many are we talking about?

AFTERGOOD: We're talking about six in the Obama years as compared to three or so in the past.

BLOCK: We're just pointing out, though, that some of those prosecutions that the Obama administration is now carrying out were cases that were inherited from the previous administration.

AFTERGOOD: That's true. Yes.

BLOCK: There's also been pressure on the Obama administration coming from Congress from both the Democrats and Republicans to pursue these cases, to go after leakers.

AFTERGOOD: That's absolutely correct. I mean, you might think that given the aggressive posture of the administration that Congress would say, wait a minute, slow down, think about what you're doing. Instead, Congress has said, speed up, we want the heads of leakers on a platter. Last year, Congress came frighteningly close, in my opinion, to enacting new penalties and new restrictions on government activities that were intended to combat leaks. So all of the political pressure coming from Congress has been - become even more aggressive.

BLOCK: Steven Aftergood specializes in government secrecy policy with the Federation of American Scientists. Thanks very much for being with us.

AFTERGOOD: Thank you.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.