The New York Times has blasted the Obama White House’s move to label a Fox News reporter a possible “co-conspirator” in a criminal investigation of a news leak about North Korea’s nuclear missile program.
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The administration has “moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news,” the newspaper said in an editorial
The incident involves James Rosen, chief Washington correspondent for Fox News.
After Rosen reported in 2009 that Pyongyang planned to launch a missile in response to United Nations condemnation of its nuclear tests, the Justice Department investigated the article’s source and indicted Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department security adviser, on charges of leaking classified information.
That was not the end of the investigation, however. Federal prosecutors also asked a federal judge for permission to troll through Rosen’s personal e-mails, arguing that “there is probable cause to believe” he is “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak,” according to the Times.
An affidavit filed with the judge also said that Rosen tried to elicit information by “employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego,” notes the newspaper.
“That would hardly be a first in the relationship between journalists and government officials, and, certainly, it is not grounds for a conspiracy charge,” the Times said in its editorial.
Although Rosen was not charged, the FBI request for his e-mail account was granted in late May 2010. “The government was allowed to rummage through Mr. Rosen’s e-mails for at least 30 days,” writes the Times.
“The Rosen case follows other signs that the administration has gone overboard in its zeal to find and muzzle insiders,” it continues, pointing to last week’s revelations that the government had seized two months’ worth of phone records for Associated Press staffers, partly to determine the source of a leak about a report involving a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen.
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Six current and former administration officials have been indicted under the old Espionage Act for leaking classified information to the press and public, the paper adds.
“Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press,” concludes the Times. “Accusing a reporter of being a ‘co-conspirator,’ on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press.”
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