They Track Journalists, Don’t They?

Amy Goodman: And these national security letters, or NSLs, are not signed by a judge?

Brian Ross: They are not signed by a judge.

Amy Goodman: Why do you think they’re going after you, Brian Ross?

Brian Ross: There are two stories that I know by talking to people who have been interviewed that the C.I.A. considers to be evidence of criminal behavior on the part of someone. Our story on the C.I.A. secret prisons, the Washington Post broke that story. They did not report the two countries. We came along and with our own sources reported the two countries where the prisons had been were Poland and Romania, and this set off quite a firestorm inside the C.I.A.

As well, we reported on an attack in Pakistan using a C.I.A. Predator with missiles attached to it, the one that killed 18 people there, looking for the number two man in al-Qaeda, al-Zawahri. We got word of that very early and reported it, and that infuriated the C.I.A., because it embarrassed them with the Pakistanis. They hadn’t quite made up the cover story they used when the C.I.A. operates inside Pakistan. Generally, the Pakistanis will say it was a bomb they set off or something to cover the fact that the U.S. operates inside Pakistan sometimes. So those two incidents resulted in the C.I.A. being upset and asking for an investigation as to who leaked that information.

Amy Goodman: And, Brian Ross, didn’t Human Rights Watch first reveal Poland and Romania as the countries in Eastern Europe?

Brian Ross: They did. They did. And they did first reveal it. What made a difference was that we were able to – or they said they “suspected” it. We were able to actually confirm it with current and former C.I.A. officials, and what upset the C.I.A., apparently, is it’s one thing for Human Rights Watch to say something, because they feel they can easily deny that; it’s harder for them to deny it when one of the major news organizations says it. So it carries a certain weight, apparently, in their view, that is hard for them to deny with their overseas partners, I guess.

Amy Goodman: We’re talking with Brian Ross, the chief investigative correspondent for ABC News. According to Justice Department figures, the F.B.I. issued a total of 9,254 so-called national security letters last year, targeting 3,500 citizens and legal residents.

Brian Ross: Astounding figure. I guess we’re one of them, or we are this year. This has become a very common, easily done. The officials I’ve talked to say that there was a time when this was difficult to do, even for anything – particularly involving journalists, that there were all sorts of safeguards and essentially hoops to jump through. Those have been removed. And this really is the case. It began with the whole Scooter Libby case, when they went after reporters there to get information as to who talked to Scooter Libby, and now is commonly used. Whenever the C.I.A. refers a case for a criminal investigation, that is almost a quick second step they take.

Amy Goodman: Brian Ross, on the issue of the prisons, do you know if these prisons are still operating in Romania and Poland? I remember in one of her overseas trips recently, Condoleezza Rice went to Romania.

Brian Ross: We reported in December that they had rushed to close them before she landed in Europe, so that she could say there are no such prisons in Europe, that they had operated up to a week before, when this word got out. And that was one of the reasons they were so eager for us not to report it was that it embarrassed her further. We reported that they closed down those two prisons and moved the 12 to 14 top al-Qaeda figures being held there to a third country in North Africa. And we did not report the name of that country.

Amy Goodman: Now, USA Today in their story on AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon giving over the phone numbers of tens of millions of Americans, the calls that they’re making, they now have reported that BellSouth is saying that they didn’t do this. And you’ve written a piece on The Blotter at ABC’s website, talking about why Qwest said no to N.S.A. Can you talk further about these companies and what they’re doing?

Brian Ross: Well, BellSouth is essentially saying they did not do it on a large-scale basis, which – what we were told following USA Today’s ground breaking story was that, in fact, they did. It’s hard to know, because the companies initially said they couldn’t talk about national security matters. I don’t know how it is they feel that they have some sort of classified information about national security. But it well might be that there’s some sort of sweeping national security letter that is involved here. The government said the companies did this voluntarily, so they felt that it was legal to do it.

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