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Outrage over U.S. investigation of journalist's private communications

The International Press Institute (IPI) expresses outrage that the U.S. government searched a reporter's private communications on the ground that his use of flattery to obtain information from a State Department source made him a co-conspirator to espionage.

In a court affidavit first obtained by The Washington Post, the FBI said there was probable cause to believe James Rosen, Fox News' chief Washington correspondent, violated the Espionage Act by soliciting “sensitive United States internal documents” from State Department official Stephen Jin-Woo Kim in 2009.

The FBI agent in question, Reginald Reyes, claimed that Rosen “encouraged” Kim to leak information by “employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim's vanity and ego.” As part of its investigation, the Justice Department obtained access to Rosen's email accounts and phone records, and carefully mapped his visits to and from the State Department using data from security badges.

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “We are disturbed to hear that a reporter was the target of a criminal espionage investigation over newsgathering activities that are at the heart of traditional investigative journalism. It is nothing short of extraordinary that the Department of Justice would consider 'employing flattery' to procure information from a source a criminal offence and that a federal judge would agree. Given the recent revelations involving the Department's seizure of Associated Press telephone records, we cannot help but wonder whether this latest news is part of a pattern of intimidation designed to dissuade American investigative journalists from doing their jobs.”

Miami Herald World Editor John Yearwood, chairman of IPI's North American Committee, added: “It's the second time in as many weeks that IPI and its North American Committee have had to condemn U.S. government actions toward the media. These actions raise very serious concerns about the Obama administration's commitment to freedom of the press.”

According to the affidavit, the “sensitive” material was published in a June 2009 article on Fox News's website stating that North Korea planned to retaliate against a series of UN sanctions with a new nuclear test. The article attributed the information to an unnamed source and indicated that Fox News was withholding details, ostensibly provided by the source, about how the original intelligence in North Korea was obtained.

The FBI's investigation took place in 2010 and Rosen was never charged. Kim is now awaiting trial on espionage charges.

“We are outraged to learn today that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter,” Michael Clemente, Fox News executive vice president of news, said. “In fact, it is downright chilling. We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.”

The revelations surrounding Rosen come on the heels of news that the Department of Justice secretly seized months of telephone records of Associated Press (AP) journalists, reportedly in connection with an investigation into the source of information behind a May 7, 2012 AP story on a failed terrorist plot.

The Justice Department has so far defended its handling of both cases.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week that the president “believes strongly” in the need for investigative journalism but is also “mindful of the need to protect classified information because of our national security interests.” The Washington Post, however, noted that the Obama Administration has “pursued more leak investigations under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined.”

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