When the FBI approached the family of the late columnist Jack Anderson and asked it if it could have the famed journalist's notes and papers as part of a criminal investigation, the family wanted to honor Anderson's own principles.
"He would not want FBI agents crawling through his papers unrestricted," said Kevin Anderson, the columnist's son.
Anderson's family considered cooperating with the FBI's request, Kevin Anderson said, until the government made it clear it believed it had a duty to remove any papers it considered sensitive.
Complying would have gone against his father's wishes, he said.
"This was not the type of government criminal investigation that dad would support. It wasn't about trying to catch Osama bin Laden," Anderson said.
But the FBI contends Anderson's notes contain classified data.
"It's been determined that among the papers, there are a number of U.S. government documents containing classified information," said Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman. He noted that it is illegal for a private person to possess classified documents.
The papers are part of the estate of Jack Anderson, the self-described muckraker who wrote a hugely popular column that was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The FBI request comes at a time when journalists have come under increasing fire from government officials to turn over sensitive material.
Howard Rosenberg, a former investigative reporter who worked for Jack Anderson and is now an ABC News producer, believes that Anderson would not have allowed the government any access to his work.
"Jack himself would fight such an invasion with every legal measure at his disposal, I believe," he said.
The Last of His Breed
In his "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column, Anderson reported dozens of scoops, from congressional ethics scandals to the CIA involvement in a plot to kill Fidel Castro. With the name recognition that came from his popular reporting, Anderson turned his column into a media empire, which included magazines, radio and regular appearances on ABC's "Good Morning America."
It became such a large organization that Anderson had a team of reporters who investigated, researched and wrote stories with him.
"Jack was important because he was the last of his breed, a true muckraker," said Don Goldberg, who was one of Anderson's reporters from 1981 to 1987. He is now a crisis communications consultant at Qorvis Communications in Washington, D.C.
"He was a columnist who was also an investigative reporter, which gave him the ability to take a side, not to just say here's what happened but here's what happened and it's wrong."
"That's the legacy of Jack," he said.
A Reasonable Concern
Goldberg said he was dumbfounded when he heard about the FBI request.
"I just couldn't understand what the hell they were doing."
He believes that if the FBI tries to round up all leaked classified information, Jack Anderson would not be the first place to start.
"Why aren't they then issuing subpoenas to all the investigative reporters in the country?" he asked.
Carter, the FBI spokesman, said that the concern lies with the potential release of the papers. The Anderson family has signed an agreement with George Washington University to donate the journalist's papers to the school.
"We have reasonable concern over the prospect that these classified documents will be made available to the public, which could put national security at risk and be a violation of the law," Carter said.
But Kevin Anderson does not see the papers as sensitive.
"They were top secret not because they were the plans to a B-2 bomber, they were top secret because some government bureaucrat screwed up and was trying to cover up his mistake."
Still, he said he is not angry at the government.
"I understand what they feel their sense of duty is, and I respect it. And I hope that they understand what I feel my sense of duty is."