Justice Department officials investigating a leak of secret government information tracked the personal e-mails, phone calls and physical movements of a reporter for the Fox News Channel, according to a report Monday in the Washington Post.
Further, an FBI agent assigned to the case wrote the reporter, James Rosen, had likely broken the law by soliciting classified information from a government source, a standard journalistic practice that has rarely been regarded as criminal by law enforcement.
The case follows last week's revelation the Justice Department had seized two months of phone records from reporters and editors at the Associated Press, part of a probe into a separate national security leak. The Obama administration has aggressively investigated and prosecuted suspected leakers who they say put the safety and security of Americans at risk.
In the investigation into leaks to the AP, employees of the news service were never singled out as potential criminals. But in an affidavit for a search warrant filed by the FBI, Rosen is described as potentially being an "aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator" to the crime of disclosing secret information, as reported by the Washington Post.
The case centered on the leak of intelligence about North Korea in 2009, in which analysts predicted the possibility of a nuclear test if the U.S. enacted further sanctions on the regime. Fox News reported on that analysis on June 11, 2009.
According to the Washington Post's report, after obtaining a search warrant, investigators tracked Rosen's movements at the State Department using the security badge he used to enter and exit the building. By also tracking the comings-and-goings of their leading government suspect in the case, the FBI was able to postulate the two met face-to-face.
The adviser, Stephen Jim-Woo Kim, was eventually indicted by a grand jury for violation of the Espionage Act, and is set to stand trial next year. He's pleaded not guilty.
Charges were never brought against Rosen or Fox News. In addition to his physical movements at the State Department, two days of e-mails in his Google account were seized, as well as phone records, the Washington Post reported.
Michael Clemente, the executive vice president of news at Fox, wrote his organization was "outraged to learn today that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter. In fact, it is downright chilling."
"We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press," Clemente continued.
Reporters at Monday's White House press briefing peppered press secretary Jay Carney with questions about the reported activities of the Justice Department, though Carney declined to answer in detail, saying he could not issue comment on an investigation that's still ongoing.
But he reiterated the need for a balance between the constitutionally protected right to a free press and the need to aggressively prosecute government leakers who could put Americans in harm's way.
"The president believes it's important that we find the proper balance between the absolute need to protect our secrets, and to prevent leaks that can jeopardize the lives of Americans and can jeopardize our national security interest, on one hand, and the need to defend the first amendment and defend the ability of reporters to pursue investigative journalism," Carney said.
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