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The AP Seizures and the Frightening Web They’ve Uncovered


"Paranoia," said Woody Allen, "is knowing all the facts." By that measure, we're becoming more and more "paranoid" every day.

This week, we learned that the Obama Justice Department  line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> of at least 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters. These include phone lines in the AP's New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn offices as well as the main AP number in the House of Representatives press gallery, the private phones and cell phones belonging to AP reporters and a fax line in one AP office.

The government effected this massive seizure "sometime this year" according to a letter from the Justice Department to AP's chief counsel this past Friday (May 10). The letter cites relevant "permission" clauses in its "investigative guidelines" and makes clear that it considers the action legal and necessary.

In many ways, this is the most blatant act of media information seizure in memory. It affects over 100 AP journalists and the countless people those journalists communicated with by phone during those two months. It violates accepted constitutional guarantees, the concept of freedom of the press and the privacy rights of literally thousands of people. Predictably and justifiably, press, politicians and activists have expressed outrage.

But as outrageous as the admitted facts are, the story's larger implications are even more disturbing. It's bad enough that the Obama Administration has grossly violated fundamental constitutional rights, acknowledged the violation and defended their legality. Even worse is that likelihood that the intrusion will probably be ruled legal, that it has been ongoing against other targets for some time and that this is only the tip of the intelligence-abuse iceberg.

The facts are still tumbling out daily but here's what we know. While the Justice Department's letter of notice to AP didn't provide the reason for the seizure, the date of the seizure or the dates of the data seized, the timing hints strongly that this is tied to a major investigation of "whistle-blowing". Last year, the AP used unnamed sources in a story about a Central Intelligence Agency effort to disrupt a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner. The AP, at the government's request, held that story for several days but published it on May 7, 2012 after it was confident the plot had been foiled. Because the AP's story ran a day before Federal officials were scheduled to announce their "victory", it's logical to assume Associated Press honchos knew the government would be unhappy.

So they were probably not surprised that, led by the U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, federal investigators spent a year aggressively searching for the people who leaked the information. That's vintage Obama. With six government "whistle-blowers" in jail or being prosecuted, federal law-enforcers have  line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> in its extraordinary series on government intelligence. "The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases."

The Guardian's Glen Greenwald argues that