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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


March 30, 2004

FBI 'Warned' Magazine in 2002 That FOIAed Docs 'Might' Be Stolen

Bush Team Thumbs Its Nose at FOIA (4/8/2002 - Insight)

In early 2002, Insight magazine reported it had been visited by FBI agents who "warned" the editors that if documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act were given to the periodical, "someone" might steal them.

The report takes on new significance in light of the recent theft of declassified FBI documents relating to Bureau surveillance of John Kerry from the home of author Gerald Nicosia. In that case, there were no signs of forced entry and the thief took care to steal only documents, leaving other valuable items nearby untouched.

The not-so-veiled FBI threat against Insight was mentioned in an April 8, 2002 article discussing then-recent moves by Attorney General John Ashcroft and President Bush to clamp down on the previously routine declassification of US government documents, supposedly to protect against terrorism and espionage.

At the time, the Bush Administration also announced an unprecedented new policy that documents already released under FOIA would be reviewed again for possible re-classification as secret.

In the article, Insight reported that the Bush Administration was seeking to intimidate journalists.

The FBI even has begun making visits to reporters. It subpoenaed Associated Press reporter John Sullivan's notes concerning a criminal case and recently visited Insight, warning that if certain FOIAed records were released to this magazine someone might break into a reporter's home and steal the documents.

The article does not offer any further detail, nor does it describe what, if any, action was taken by the magazine's editors as a result of the FBI's "warning."

As revealed during Congressional investigations in the 1970s, the FBI has a long history of conducting illegal break-ins in order to steal documents, membership rolls, and other materials from groups and individuals deemed "subversive." Referred to as "black bag jobs" by Bureau insiders, such break-ins had been conducted by the FBI for decades, with hundreds during the 1960s alone. FBI documents obtained by Congress during its investigation showed officials knew the break-ins were illegal and took special measures to keep them secret, using what it called "Do Not File" procedures to prevent the creation of internal records of the crimes.

The Nixon White House also used illegal break-ins to steal sensitive and otherwise important documents from its political enemies. This included reporters covering stories damaging to the administration, such as nationally syndicated investigative reporter Jack Anderson.

In the fall-out of the investigations, the FBI made a big show of abandoning illegal break-ins. However, during the 1980s it was revealed that the practice was still being used, in particular against activists opposed to the Reagan Administration's policies in Central America. For example, FBI agent Frank Varelli testified before Congress that he had conducted break-ins to steal documents from the group CISPES under orders from his superiors in the Bureau.

[Read the source...]

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