FBI to investigate seizure, retention of reporters’ documents
- The investigation began in response to a demand from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) regarding the illegal interception of two journalists’ Federal Express parcel.
April 24, 2003 — Prompted by a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Federal Bureau of Investigation will conduct an internal investigation into the confiscation of a package sent last September from one reporter to another.
FBI acting assistant director for Congressional Affairs Eleni P. Kalisch, in a letter to the senator dated April 3, acknowledged that the FBI was responsible for retaining the package and said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility has begun investigating the breach.
On Sept. 19, 2002, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection — then known as the U.S. Customs Service before it was moved to the Department of Homeland Security — intercepted a package sent via Federal Express by Associated Press reporter Jim Gomez in Manila to another AP reporter, John Solomon, in Washington, D.C. Customs agents told the AP they selected the package during a routine inspection of the courier’s hub in Indianapolis and sent the documents to the FBI.
The package contained an unclassified and public FBI report, which the reporters’ obtained while gathering information for articles about terrorism.
The FBI seized the package and has yet to return the contents to the reporters.
On March 19, Sen. Grassley wrote a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Robert Bonner, commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, expressing concern that the seizure may have violated the Constitution.
“The FBI shares your concern and takes the potential violation of First and Fourth Amendments very seriously,” Kalisch wrote in her letter to Grassley.
“I appreciate that the FBI is taking this seriously and conducting an internal investigation,” Grassley said in a statement issued Wednesday. “It’s highly unusual for the government to intercept communications of the media, and I want to make sure we don’t have any attempts to censor or stymie the news. If so, the FBI should own up, take responsibility, apologize and ensure it does not happen again.”
Customs has yet to respond officially to the senator’s demand.
“I don’t know what Customs has to hide,” Grassley said in a statement. “Maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
An unidentified Customs official reportedly told The New York Times that the agency believed its employees had acted properly in handing the intercepted package over to the FBI.
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press