FBI Acknowledges: Journalists’ Phone Records are Fair Game

By Brian Ross And Richard Esposito

May 16, 2006 12:25pm

The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly  seeking reporters’ phone records in leak investigations.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.

The acknowledgement followed our blotter item that ABC News reporters had been warned by a federal source that the government knew who we were calling.

The official said our blotter item was wrong to suggest that ABC News phone calls were being "tracked."

"Think of it more as backtracking," said a senior federal official. 

But FBI officials did not deny that phone records of ABC News, the New York Times and the Washington Post had been sought as part of a investigation of leaks at the CIA.

In a statement, the FBI press office said its leak investigations begin with the examination of government phone records.

"The FBI will take logical investigative steps to determine if a criminal act was committed by a government employee by the unauthorized release of classified information," the statement said.

Officials say that means that phone records of reporters will be sought if government records are not sufficient.

Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.

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