FBI promises to brush up on First Amendment

NMU WASHINGTON, D.C. Confidentiality/Privilege

FBI promises to brush up on First Amendment

As part of an internal investigation into the interception of two reporters’ package, the FBI will remind its employees of the importance of press freedoms, according to an AP report.

June 5, 2003 — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has admitted its employees showed “less than prudent judgment” when they seized and retained a package sent between two Associated Press reporters last fall, and the agency will remind its employees of the importance of freedom of the press, the AP reported yesterday.

The FBI will circulate a communication to its employees asking them to be sensitive to free press issues and encouraging them to seek legal counsel when reporters’ freedoms are at stake, according to the AP.

In a May 27 letter to the AP, acting FBI General Counsel Patrick Kelley said the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility had recommended that the lapse in judgment be considered in evaluating the job performances of those employees who dealt with the package, according to the AP.

On Sept. 19, 2002, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection — then known as the U.S. Customs Service before it was moved to the Department of Homeland Security — intercepted a package sent via Federal Express by AP reporter Jim Gomez in Manila to another AP reporter, John Solomon, in Washington, D.C. Customs agents said they selected the package during a routine inspection of the courier’s hub in Indianapolis and sent the documents to the FBI.

The package contained an unclassified and public FBI report, which the reporters obtained while gathering information for articles about terrorism.

The FBI seized the package and only returned it, seven months later, after the AP and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked for an explanation. In a March 19 letter, Grassley demanded that the FBI and Customs review the apparent “attempt to stop information and censor the media.”

The FBI responded to Grassley in a letter dated April 3, promising to investigate “the potential violation of First and Fourth Amendments.”

According to the AP, the FBI intends to continue its internal review.

“We look forward to continued dialogue,” Kelley’s letter said.


Related stories:

FBI returns contents of intercepted package to AP (5/9/2003)
FBI to investigate seizure, retention of reporters’ documents (4/24/2003)
Senator wants explanation for confiscation of reporters’ package (3/19/2003)
Government intercepts, confiscates AP reporters’ package (3/13/2003)

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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