Revolution #48, May 28, 2006

Big Brother and Journalists

On May 15, ABC News reported that the government is using a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act to track phone calls made by journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and ABC News.

ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, who broke the story, said he was told by a government insider that phone calls by himself and Rich Esposito, another ABC News reporter, were being monitored and that “we should quickly get new cell phones that don’t come back to our names.”

The government has admitted to monitoring journalists’ calls, claiming this is part of a “criminal investigation” of government leaks. Ross and Esposito suspect they were targeted because of a story they did that identified the countries in which CIA secret prisons are located.

Information leaked by government officials has been crucial in exposing the National Security Agency’s massive monitoring of U.S. phone calls, the existence of secret prisons around the world run by the CIA, and the widespread use of torture by the U.S. government.

The government considers those who expose these and other government crimes and outrages to be “criminals” or “traitors.” In a recent TV appearance Bush said, “Every time sensitive intelligence material is leaked it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”

Speaking to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Ross described the procedure used by the government to monitor calls:

“They use a provision in the PATRIOT Act—which is designed to go after terrorists, but they're using it to go after reporters—what they call a national security letter. Essentially, it’s a letter an FBI agent writes, takes it to a phone company—or anywhere, really—but takes it to a phone company, and the phone company is then required under the provisions of the PATRIOT Act to turn over the information, and also a phone company is required not to divulge to the customer, me or anybody else, that the records have been sought by the government.”

Surveillance authorized by a “national security letter” does not need to be approved by a judge. According to Justice Department figures, the FBI issued 9,254 national security letters in 2005, targeting 3,500 U.S. citizens and legal residents.

On Democracy Now!, Brian Ross went on to describe the atmosphere being created by the government attacks on journalists.This makes it very, very difficult,” Ross said. “You sort of have to start thinking, I guess, like some sort of Mafia capo. You make your phone calls with bags of quarters at pay phones, if you can find them anymore. It's chilling, to say the least.”

Coming hot on the heels of the exposure that the National Security Agency has compiled a huge database of the phone calls of millions of people in this country, the exposure of the FBI monitoring the phone calls of journalists for prominent mainstream publications reveals the degree to which basic fundamental rights, supposedly assured under U.S bourgeois society in normal times, are being ripped up and new fascist legal norms are being cemented into place. As the Bush administration drives forward with the war in Iraq and nuclear threats to Iran—and their overall goal of restructuring whole parts of the globe—they are more driven to tighten up control at home.

This represents a great danger to the people—including real dangers to the people’s ability to resist. All those who do not want to see a society where journalists are criminalized for exposing U.S. war crimes, where Big Brother is watching your every move, and where those who speak out are labeled as the enemy, need to mount massive and determined resistance now.

That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept.

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