FBI returns contents of intercepted package to AP
- In a meeting with editors, FBI officials promised to develop new guidelines and asked the AP to use caution in reporting the contents of an unclassified lab report.
May 9, 2003 — Seven months after seizing a package containing an unclassified document sent from one Associated Press reporter to another, the Federal Bureau of Investigation yesterday returned the materials to the AP.
In a meeting attended by three FBI officials and editors from the AP, the FBI said the agency would establish guidelines to address the materials belonging to the news media, according to an AP report of the meeting.
One of the officials, FBI lab director Dwight Adams, asked the editors to use caution in reporting on the contents of the intercepted document, according to AP.
The document, an 8-year-old, unclassified FBI lab report, contained information relating to convicted terrorist Ramzi Yousef. The reporters obtained the report while researching articles on terrorism.
The contents of the report were made public in court proceedings before the report was obtained by the AP. Adams said the report would have been classified if it had been created after the attacks of September 11.
AP reporter Jim Gomez sent the package in September 2002 from the news organization’s office in Manila to reporter John Solomon in Washington, D.C. 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 — told the AP it selected the package during a routine inspection of a Federal Express hub in Indianapolis on Sept. 19, 2002. Customs sent the package to the FBI, which had possession of the documents until they returned them yesterday.
On March 19, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the FBI and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which initially seized the package, demanding an explanation for what he called an apparent “attempt to stop information and censor the media.”
The FBI responded to Grassley in a letter dated April 3, promising to investigate “the potential violation of First and Fourth Amendments.”
FBI acting general counsel Patrick W. Kelley, who was at the meeting with the AP editors, acknowledged that the report had been mishandled by the FBI and said the agency’s internal investigation into the incident had not yet concluded.
“I appreciate that the FBI has apparently admitted its mistake. Mistakes can happen, but the most important thing is to own up to them, especially for the federal government. I look forward to the official results of the internal investigation, as the FBI promised. The FBI needs to make sure something like this does not happen again,” Grassley said in a statement today.
The Customs office has not publicly responded to Grassley’s inquiry.
“The seizure of this material, clearly labeled from one AP bureau to another, infringes on journalists’ fundamental right to engage in newsgathering activity without interference from the government,” said AP Senior Vice President Jonathan Wolman, according to an AP report.
Wolman said the AP would continue to adhere to the news organization’s policy of refraining from publishing information that could risk public safety.
The package interception is the second time Solomon’s work has been the subject of government intrusion.
In May 2001, the Department of Justice subpoenaed Solomon’s home phone records to discover his confidential source for information he reported about the investigation of then-U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli. Solomon did not find out about the subpoena until August, after the records were obtained.
Kelley told the AP the FBI had “no reason to believe” Solomon’s involvement in the two incidents “is anything other than a coincidence.”
- FBI to investigate seizure, retention of reporters’ documents (4/24/2003)
- Senator wants explanation for confiscation of reporters’ package (3/19/2003)
- Government intercepts, confiscates AP reporters’ package (3/13/2003)
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press