Spying On The Story Behind Your Story

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security.

Gonzales told ABC’s “This Week” that the First Amendment right of a free press should not be absolute when it comes to national security. According to the New York TimesAdam Liptak, Gonzales said if the government’s probe into the NSA leak turns up criminal activity, prosecutors have an “obligation to enforce the law.”

Gonzales also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.

“There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility,” Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. “We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected.”

Gonzales said he would not comment specifically on whether the New York Times should be prosecuted for disclosing the NSA program last year based on classified information.

He also denied that authorities would randomly check journalists’ records on domestic-to-domestic phone calls in an effort to find journalists’ confidential sources.

“We don’t engage in domestic-to-domestic surveillance without a court order,” Gonzales said, under a “probable cause” legal standard.

This all comes on the heels of the USA Today reporter who broke the story on the NSA’s phone records spying program who Editor and Publisher says is now being challenged by BellSouth Corp and Verizon. According to E&P, one review of Leslie Cauley noted that she “earned a reputation for aggressive investigation of the numerous industry shake-ups — none more dramatic than AT&T’s headlong plunge as it misguidedly attempted to become a broadband leader. … Filled with new and controversial material and peopled by a cast of characters worthy of a Shakespearean drama, this is the first book to chronicle this riveting tale.”

Not that we are paranoid or anything, but this is beginning to look like a great option.

For more on this story check out the Washington Post and ABC News.

>UPDATE: The Onion looks into why the NSA is interested in journalists’ conversations:

  • “Doesn’t the NSA have other ways of getting to the subscribers-only content?”

  • “If the NSA really wants to listen to Eric Alterman drone on, I say we let them.”