Despite outrage over the discovery that the U.S. Department of Justice had been secretly collecting phone records for a number of reporters working for Associated Press and Fox News in 2012, the information acquired from the wiretapping was used to send a former FBI-agent to prison for a lengthy stay.
Donald Sachtleben, a former FBI agent and contractor, agreed to serve 43 months in prison, after disclosing to the AP information regarding a terrorist plot in Yemen. Sachtleben was only able to be identified after targeting journalists with secret subpoenas for their communication records and monitoring incoming and outgoing calls. Sachtleben’s case was the eighth leak-related prosecution under the Obama administration. More recently, a ninth prosecution also resulted resulted in jailtime for ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who leaked top secret government information to a New York Times reporter. Compared to only three such cases pursued by all other past presidents, the increased pressure placed on journalists and their sources becomes clear.
David Schulz, a lawyer for the AP described the DOJ’s actions:
“It was a very large number of records that were obtained, including phone records from Hartford, New York, Washington, from the U.S. House of Representatives and elsewhere where AP has bureaus. It included home and cellphone numbers from a number of AP reporters.” [x]
The White House’s aggressive stance on punishing those who leak “government secrets” seriously threatens the fundamental freedom of the press to gather news.
Taking all this into consideration, Attorney General Eric Holder’s defense of the administration’s newest actions seem quite ironic:
“As this verdict proves, it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.” [x]