• The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

    July 28, 2016

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America


    The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.

    Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

    So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.

    As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.

    The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.

    The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.

    The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.

    In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • chuck said...


      Glen Greenwald and others like him are Journalists. I spanned CNN,MSNBC, FOX, NPR and other outlets in the u.s. of the MSM and have not seen any journalists ! Thank you Peter for your work.

      07/28/16 9:19 AM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Perfectly understandable, as journalists are the ones documenting the FBI’s incompetence to combat terrorism. If you can’t stop the terrorism, then kill the messengers.

      07/28/16 9:20 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      How many Americans care about the sound of whistles when they are being amused by their smart phone’s content? The plutocracy knows an amused citizenry will never become the dreaded informed citizenry.

      07/28/16 9:26 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      And there ladies and gentlemen we have a winner today. Jefferson’s informed citizenry is now an amused citizenry!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      07/28/16 9:32 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Stay Tuned and thank you to OUR Sponsors. TY PVB. I do not heel to herding Dogs. Newfies are my favorite. Have a nice day!

      07/28/16 10:53 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Gentle Giants Win.

      07/28/16 10:54 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      We need Condi Rice. We need the Obomber Rice. We need rice, We need Samantha Powers for the Sheeple. Vote? REVOLT…

      07/28/16 11:52 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Is the FBI investigating the possible RICO, Funding,$ laundering problems of the DNC, or STATE propaganda of it? Do we need a corrupt WOMEN or Transgender in the Whitehouse? Do we need CORP> PIG in the (Paint the Whitehouse BLACk…George Clinton)Does Voting make you feel good? Try fighting for a revolution for all. ( I just farted feeling good) Help your children. Revolt

      07/28/16 12:04 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      !968 I was anti war and BPP. Could I get $ form the NSA or CIA to protest and make Monet? Please go to utube and watch $ Money Money Money ! $

      07/28/16 12:22 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      I think I got the comments you were concerned about deleted.

      07/28/16 1:18 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Sorry if I stopped anyones propaganda. Keep on. I have to vent, or …Wage Peace and Justice. Stop the Russians? !!!!

      07/28/16 1:20 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Ben Dover/ 2016 Enjoy

      07/28/16 1:21 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Obama’s words at the DMC convention were those of a demagogue touting that America is number one and will always be number one. So where was the needed shared world ethos? He was jingoistic in a dangerous manner and we all know his apparent “heir” will man up in ways that makes the the beribboned gangsters at the Pentagon salivate.

      07/28/16 2:22 PM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      And Obomba also said Hillary will finish the job.

      The Great Financial Collapse of 2008?

      07/28/16 3:15 PM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Trump’s approach toward Russia is in line with the general thrust of his campaign. The only question he deems worthy of asking is: “What’s in it for HIM?”

      07/28/16 3:26 PM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Whether The Donald is elected or not, he has already accomplished his goal – kissing Putin’s ass or balls to please the oligarchs who will finance his Russian business ventures.

      07/28/16 3:46 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Putin Licks Billhillary’s. TY

      07/28/16 4:42 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Uma is proud of you, and her Wiener (D).

      07/28/16 4:43 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Whats that smell? I’m with her, and doing Yoga with liberal Dems. My head is up in my ass, and I…. need a breath. Vote? Send me $’s for democracy.

      07/28/16 5:14 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      White wave machines for the DNC installed for tonight and other shenanigans? LRADS out side. We are #1. Repeat. Wave a flag. Watch out, I may get pissed off soon!

      07/28/16 6:05 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Loretta Lynch your poor brothers & sisters for profit. FBI to investigate Russians, Not DNC !

      07/28/16 7:05 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Chuck- I feel your pain. Loretta selling out as did both Rices and Cheryl Mills. So who suggested black people are more real?

      07/28/16 7:55 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Not my Brother and friend Cornel West. Hope to get are.sted with him soon. We need Clean Coal, Closing Gitmo, and burn. Wage peace and non violence, but wait…

      07/28/16 8:09 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      I regret not knowing how too correct comments. I will tell you all, AND others, you better watch out. You push FEAR. I have feared you, been pepper sprayed by Obama and jailed. OBEY, and have a nice day. Hillary’s speech will be great!

      07/28/16 8:13 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      We R #1 (repeat).

      07/28/16 8:46 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      The ghost of J Edgar must grinning ear to ear. One thing is blindingly clear. The East German Stazi had nothin up on the FBI.

      Meanwhile, given Chucks rash of posts.. I’m beginning to feel almost normal.

      07/28/16 9:29 PM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      That’s some choice we have: vote for the candidate who sold US out to Goldman Sachs or the candidate who sold US to the Russians. Money talks and the bullshit never stops.

      07/28/16 9:30 PM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Chuck was starting to make sense until he said the FBI was going to investigate the Russians.

      07/28/16 9:34 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      Apparently it’s true that the FBI is going to investigate the hacking of the DNC, but remains incurious as to the possible RICO violations that the emails exhibit. The media worries that the Russians might be manipulating our elections, while ignoring the fact that the emails prove that the DNC actually and actively IS manipulating our elections.

      Another new theme has emerged in pundit-land: maybe the Russians will hack our voting machines. (Danger, Will Robinson!). I gather that our elections from start to finish are unreliable and all parts of the process can be hacked and the results may thus be distorted. But only by the Russians.

      You know things are weird when James Clapper is the only one making sense:


      07/29/16 6:15 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      Totally off-topic (again): Poor Chelsea Manning. She is reported to have tried to commit suicide earlier this month (receiving a 35-year sentence for simply showing the public one illegal atrocity carried out by our military could explain that). Now she is facing charges for the suicide attempt and, if convicted, could face indefinite solitary confinement.

      This is unspeakable. Damn this fucking system.

      07/29/16 6:21 AM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      “This is unspeakable. Damn this fucking system.”

      Truth is the enemy in this fucking system, as evidenced in the headline in the NYT – “Nations Using Leaks (read: truth)as Weapons.” Translated: we work hard to keep the truth from our dumbass citizens. Buzz off.

      07/29/16 9:10 AM | Comment Link

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