NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · TEXAS · Confidentiality/Privilege · June 16, 2005
Federal agents question writer in attempt to uncover leak
June 16, 2005 · A leaked memo from the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security sparked its officials to interview a writer last month in an attempt to discover his source for an article on the online news service Narco News.
The April 7 article centered around a memo leaked from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that instructed field officers to downgrade files labeled “terrorism” in law enforcement computer systems to other categories. The memo was a response to President George W. Bush’s directive to create a centralized database for tracking terrorist threats.
Bill Conroy did not divulge the source of the leak in his article and refused to when agents visited his home and workplace on May 23 and 24, respectively, asking for his sources in the department.
Two agents came to his home and spoke to his wife while Conroy was at work, and appeared at his office the next day. Conroy, an editor at the San Antonio Business Journal, contributes to Narco News. The agents spoke to Conroy as well as his boss at the Journal in an apparent attempt to intimidate him into revealing his source, said Ron Tonkin, Conroy’s attorney.
Although the agents reportedly mentioned speaking to the U.S. attorney, implying they might obtain a subpoena for the information, no such order has been issued. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of the western district of Texas declined comment. Calls to the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility were not returned. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has written to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, urging him to adopt guidelines restricting how agents seek to obtain information from journalists, similar to regulations that have been in place at the Department of Justice for more three decades.
“They would stick it to him if they could, but I doubt they will try to force the issue,” Tonkin said.