ABC’s Ross: Anti-terrorism Tools Turned on Journos

FishbowlDC fan Addie Stan writes in to us with some interesting reporting and insight exclusively for the benefit of Fishbowl readers:

Brian Ross, ABC’s chief investigative correspondent, sees the FBI’s tracking of journalists’ calls a bit differently than does the Washington Post’s Shalaigh Murray who, in yesterday’s Daily Politics Hour chat, told a reader that “[s]weeping the Post newsroom for dust should be a more urgent priority” than sweeping it for bugs.

In an exclusive FishbowlDC interview with reader Addie Stan, Ross claimed that the government has taken a law aimed at potential terrorists and turned it on journalists. On Monday, together with colleague Richard Esposito, Ross broke the story of the government’s snooping on journos on The Blotter blog at ABCNews.com.

In the old days, before 9-11, Ross explained, the FBI was expected to abide by DoJ guidelines for dealing with journalists. “The Justice Department guidelines call for notification and an attempt to negotiate with journalists, but the Patriot Act seems to have trumped that,” he said.

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The Patriot Act provision to which Ross is referring is called a National Security Letter, which Ross describes as sort of a desk warrant [that ] the FBI writes out themselves.” For those who receive such a letter, it’s a crime to inform the target of an investigation that his or her phone records are being snooped.

“It’s a provision of the Patriot Act designed to fight terrorism — and it’s being used to fight journalists,” Ross told Fishbowl. “That’s really what it comes down to.”

While he says he’s received support from journalists, he says his sources are the most concerned. “A lot of sources have called worried whether somehow their bosses will figure out they’ve been talking to me,” Ross explained. “There were very real concerns for people a number of people concerning a story we’ve got coming this Friday. People who helped me are worried that they may be compromised. So, I can see the direct chilling effect. ”

Must’ve been a tough call then, right, to go public with word of the snooping?

“You know, for me it wasn’t,” he replied. “I just feel like that’s something that you get out — right away. I take the position that this needs to be known, that … we’ll maybe take steps to find a way to fight it.”