FBI Says It Obtained Reporters' Phone Records
Saturday 09 August 2008
The New York Times
Washington - The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Friday that it had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post in the newspapers' Indonesia bureaus in 2004.
Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., disclosed the episode in a phone call to Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, and apologized for it. He also spoke with Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post, to apologize.
F.B.I. officials said the incident came to light as part of the continuing review by the Justice Department inspector general's office into the bureau's improper collection of telephone records through "emergency" records demands issued to phone providers.
The records were apparently sought as part of a terrorism investigation, but the F.B.I. did not explain what was being investigated or why the reporters' phone records were considered relevant.
The Justice Department places a high bar on the collection of reporters' records in investigations because of First Amendment concerns, and obtaining such records requires the approval of the deputy attorney general. That requirement was not followed when the F.B.I. obtained the records of two reporters for The Times in Indonesia, Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez, as well as two reporters there for The Post, Ellen Nakashima and Natasha Tampubolon, officials said.
"The F.B.I. is committed to protecting the news media consistent with the First Amendment and Department of Justice policies, and we very much regret that this situation occurred," Valerie Caproni, general counsel for the bureau, wrote in a letter to Mr. Keller faxed Friday.