They Track Journalists, Don’t They?

There are two major events tomorrow, Amy, on this issue. One, Russ Tice, the former N.S.A. intelligence analyst, is going to Capitol Hill to meet with the Senate staff to reveal what he says are illegal and unlawful acts by the N.S.A., and in particular General Michael Hayden. As well, there’s a hearing tomorrow in San Francisco over the lawsuit brought against AT&T. A former AT&T technical figure there has provided information that they set up secret rooms at AT&T buildings in San Francisco and San Diego, San Jose, I think L.A. and Seattle, where they essentially split off the fiber-optic cable, had a way to divert it. This would be so – and the N.S.A. set up secret rooms and hired people from the phone companies there to essentially run the information, which is essentially everybody’s email and messages and everything, through this machine, which is able to detect the text and, as I understand it, they are able to set up sort of key words and sort of loop through the emails of everyone to see if anyone else is talking about al-Qaeda or bombings or whatever it is they consider to be the key words.

Amy Goodman: I encourage people to go to our website at for our hour with Russell Tice, who will be speaking before Congress. But I wanted to ask you, Brian Ross, about what this means for government whistleblowers and what you found in talking to them now.

Brian Ross: Well, this is very chilling now. We’re working on a major story, Amy, that’s coming out Friday, having to do with failures at the Federal Air Marshals Service, and a number of Federal Air Marshals, in violation of their rules, have been providing us information. And they are, to say the least, extremely concerned with the news that the government can so easily obtain my phone records and wondering what this will mean, because the Air Marshals Service has retaliated against them. So, they’re concerned, and I know that means that there will be shorter people willing to talk, at least on the phone. It may be a case where a lot more shoe leather will be required to do reporting. And if so, that’s what we’ll have to do.

Any Goodman: What kind of guarantees do they ask for now from you? What kind of guarantees can you give them?

Brian Ross:
The only guarantee I can give is that I will not reveal their name or their position. I certainly would not. I think everyone has to know, and there’s nothing I can do about it – if my phone records have been taken by the government, obtained somehow, I don’t know about it. But I do know that I’ve been told that they are looking at our records, so I assume they have.

Amy Goodman: Brian Ross, is this changing the way you work?

Brian Ross: Absolutely. I mean, this makes it very, very difficult. And, you know, you sort of have to start thinking, I guess, like some sort of Mafia capo. You make your phone calls with bags of quarters at pay phones, if you can find them anymore. It’s chilling, to say the least, and I guess I’ve concluded that this requires, you know, on my part, your part, all of us who are reporters and care about the truth, really reporting on this subject, and I don’t think it’s self-centered. I think it’s important that everyone know this is what’s happening and, you know, let Americans decide if that’s how they want the government to operate.

Amy Goodman: Aren’t there whistleblower shield laws?

Brian Ross: Whistleblower shield – there are shield laws that protect whistleblowers who go to Congress from retaliation. And there still is the First Amendment, I believe, in this country, but it’s under attack clearly. There are shield laws for them. But in the case of, say, the Federal Air Marshals or people at the C.I.A., just contact with a reporter probably is enough to put them in a fair amount of trouble. Just contacts.

Amy Goodman: Is ABC considering suing either the U.S. government or the corporations that are handing over your information?

Brian Ross: I think we certainly would if we could figure out who did it and how. Since we haven’t been notified, you know, we won’t know this for at least a year if they have our records. It puts us in a difficult situation. We have this insider tip, essentially, that someone has our records. We’re trying to figure out as quickly as we can who it is and how we got them and what records they have and how we can prevent it. But quite frankly, the PATRIOT Act, I don’t think, was designed to go after journalists, but it certainly is being used that way.

Amy Goodman: What what phone company do you use?

Brian Ross: Well, there are a variety of them. AT&T is one of them. Verizon is another. And, you know, they both seem to be prepared to cooperate, and especially if they’re served with what appear to be legal documents. I guess I don’t see how they don’t cooperate.

Amy Goodman: Have you asked them directly if they have handed over your documents?

Brian Ross: Their response is “We cannot comment on any national security matter.” They will not say.

Amy Goodman: Well, I want to thank you very much, Brian Ross, for joining us. Brian Ross is chief investigative correspondent for ABC News. And we will certainly continue to follow this story.

16 May 2006

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