Philip Bump
The Atlantic Wire
May 13, 2013

Last Friday, the Associated Press received a letter from the Department of Justice informing the news agency that the government had acquired two months of telephone records — incoming number, outgoing number, and call duration — for a more than 20 lines associated with the agency. Among those were phones in the Associated Press offices, personal lines for reporters, and the AP’s phone in the House of Representatives press gallery.

The letter the AP received has not been made public, but it apparently provided no reason for the seizure. According to an article published by the AP, it may relate to a May 2012 article published by the Associated Press revealing an Al-Qaeda bomb plot. That plot, originating in Yemen, was targeted for the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, but was foiled when the device was given to a CIA double agent. The AP broke the story, holding it for several days at the request of the White House. According to the AP, the reporters on that story owned numbers that were among those subpoenaed, indicating that Justice may be trying to identify the source of the leak.

Gary Pruitt, the president and CEO of the AP sent a scathing letter in response to the revelations. Calling it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” that is “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights,” Pruitt writes:

There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news-gathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.

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