November 24, 2020

Holder Faces a New Round of Criticism

This time it is the news media and even some Democrats who are upset with Mr. Holder, who in recent days has taken steps seemingly aimed at assuaging them. He endorsed the enactment of a “media shield” law and invited leaders of news organizations to meet with him Thursday to discuss tightening rules on warrants and subpoenas for reporters’ records as part of leak investigations.

Even as Mr. Holder has sought to regain his footing, Republicans have resumed their criticism, accusing him of misleading Congress in testimony over whether the Justice Department has considered prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act for publishing government secrets.

In a letter Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, and a Republican colleague, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, expressed “great concern” about Mr. Holder’s testimony before the committee this month, saying it “appeared to be at odds” with court documents that have come to light involving a warrant for e-mails of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter.

The prospect of a new round of perjury accusations from Congress has underscored that the furor over the leak investigations might pose a new threat to Mr. Holder, who surprised many Democrats by choosing to stay on after Mr. Obama’s re-election. For now, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are standing by Mr. Holder, even though the ranking member, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, pronounced himself “deeply troubled” by some of the investigative tactics used in recent leak cases.

“Certainly, it is fair to ask additional questions about the Rosen investigation, and any role the attorney general may have played in it, but I do not believe it credible to level charges that he may have intentionally misled the committee on this matter before we know the facts of the case in question,” Mr. Conyers said.

In his only recent interview, Mr. Holder told The Daily Beast that the investigations obeyed existing laws and guidelines, but he also said the rules “need to be updated.” He called the furor “an opportunity for the department to consider how we strike the right balance between the interests of law enforcement and freedom of the press.”

The Daily Beast article also paraphrased unnamed aides as saying Mr. Holder was “also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.”

Reid Weingarten, a lawyer who has been a friend of Mr. Holder’s for three decades, said Mr. Holder had discussed no such feelings with him. Rather, Mr. Weingarten said, the disclosure to Fox News of the existence of a rare intelligence source in North Korea was “a horrible leak and he was charged with the responsibility to get at it.” That raised what he said Mr. Holder described to him as a trade-off between press freedoms and the need to identify leakers — a problem for which there are no easy answers because it pits “two laudable goals” against each other.

“He’s not immune from the criticism, but I think he sees this First Amendment-security conflict as almost impossibly difficult,” Mr. Weingarten said, adding: “He hasn’t confessed or cried to me, that’s for sure. What I sense in conversations with him is how horribly difficult the dilemma is when you have this situation. It’s important to get it right, and if we didn’t get it right — and that’s a big if — let’s button up the process now.”

Matthew Miller, a friend and former top aide to Mr. Holder, portrayed the attorney general’s proposal to tighten laws and guidelines on when news media records may be obtained as coming out of a realization that one cannot expect law enforcement officials to do anything less than what the rules permit when pursuing a particular case.

Article source:

Media Decoder: Snooping and the News Media: It’s a 2-Way Street

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Gary Pruitt, president and chief executive of The Associated Press, wrote in a letter of protest to Eric H. Holder Jr., the United States attorney general.

Given that the government has brought six cases against people suspected of leaking classified information, under an administration that has set a record for the use of the Espionage Act, the Associated Press story adds to a growing atmosphere in which working reporters always need to worry that someone is looking over their shoulder while they type. As Scott Shane wrote in The New York Times in 2012, the investigative aggression creates “a distinct chill over press coverage of national security issues as agencies decline routine interview requests and refuse to provide background briefings.”

In the instance of The Associated Press, its leaders, who were notified of the investigation last Friday, worried that the information obtained would “provide a road map to A.P.’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about A.P.’s activities and operations.”

Something about that has a familiar ring.

“On Wall Street, anonymity is critically important,” a former senior trader at Bear Stearns told The New York Times. “Secrecy and the ability to cover one’s tracks is paramount. If Bloomberg reporters crossed that line, that’s an issue.”

The clients who use Bloomberg terminals found out on Friday — the same day that the government sent The Associated Press notice that it had seized the phone records — that reporters at Bloomberg News had used terminals to find out when clients were signing in to the service. Besides Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and other big banks, who were among the concerned subscribers? The United States Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The hunted and the hunter, the hacked and the hacker, all of it seemed up for grabs.

So at the same time The Associated Press, a nonprofit news organization owned by various media agencies, was responding to government intrusion into its affairs, another news service, Bloomberg, was responding to complaints from clients that it was peering into private matters.

So many lines are being crossed in so many directions, it is tough to keep track of who are the victims and who are the perpetrators. There has always been a cat-and-mouse game between government and the media, between the coverers and the covered, but increased reliance on technology has weaponized something that used to take spycraft and shoe leather.

At Bloomberg, reporters could sit at their desks and use a keyboard function to see the last time an official of the Federal Reserve logged on. And the Justice Department obtained the records of The Associated Press from phone companies with no advance notice, giving it no chance to challenge the action. The absence of friction has led to a culture of transgression. Clearly, if it can be known, it will be known.

In the past year, in addition to the recent revelations about Bloomberg and the Department of Justice, there have been overreaches by Google into homes and computers and a host of breaches into private data, by both foreign states and private hacks. And as a general fact of modern living, Facebook knows who we like, Foursquare knows where we are and Twitter knows what we think. How long before data gathering moves from the front of our face — Google Glass — to inside our head?

Some people are newly worried that Big Brother is coming and others say he is already here, having taken up residence in the cloud, where he snacks on Big Data as he pleases.

It’s worth remembering that in scary movies (see “Minority Report”) about the coming informational Armageddon, it is not just government that is doing the lurking. Part of the reason the Obama administration, which promised to be the most transparent in history, has become such a spectral presence is that it is facing cybersecurity threats like none other in history. Journalists, aided by computers, can find and surround any source they like. Leaked information, which used to have to be photocopied or whispered, can be dumped by the terabyte into drop boxes by organizations like WikiLeaks and sent everywhere in an instant.

Bloomberg is a hybrid informational agency — a wired gatherer and distributor of information — that had $7.9 billion in revenue last year, mostly from its 315,000 subscriptions around the world. Its media division may play a small role in profits — it is viewed as a marketing tool for the terminals — but it has been hailed as a newsroom of the future with its open office plan and lack of architectural hierarchy.

There is an instructive paradox in that arrangement. To be seen is also to be under surveillance. Every keystroke, every entrance and exit to the building, every note on every story, is there for the seeing when you work at Bloomberg. Putting a phone call into Bloomberg H.Q., as I did this morning, is akin to calling the C.I.A. “Don’t e-mail me, don’t call me here, please,” said an editor there I know.

So, we have discovered anew that government will do what it needs to in a vain, but chilling, attempt to plug leaks. But best to keep in mind that the most ubiquitous threats to our privacy do not originate in some secret government bunker. In the media, in the general public, in business realms, we are keeping an eye on ourselves.

Article source: