Fox News reporter monitored by Justice Department

Newsbusters highlights a Washington Post report on some especially vigorous newsbusting from the Justice Department, amusingly graced with the innocuous headline “A Rare Peek Into a Justice Department Leak Probe.”

When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.

They used security badge access records to track the reporter???s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter???s personal e-mails.

The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.

One of the suspicious aspects of the Rosen case is that Justice appears to have put an awful lot of effort into flame-broiling a nothingburger:

The Kim case began in June 2009, when Rosen reported that U.S. intelligence officials were warning that North Korea was likely to respond to United Nations sanctions with more nuclear tests. The CIA had learned the information, Rosen wrote, from sources inside North Korea.

The story was published online the same day that a top-secret report was made available to a small circle within the intelligence community ??? including Kim, who at the time was a State Department arms expert with security clearance.

FBI investigators used the security-badge data, phone records and e-mail exchanges to build a case that Kim shared the report with Rosen soon after receiving it, court records show.

North Korea is run by a gang of psychotic thugs?  Who knew?

Not only did they track Rosen’s movements through the State Department offices down to the minute, but they also seized several days’ worth of his email:

Using italics for emphasis, Reyes explained how Rosen allegedly used a ???covert communications plan??? and quoted from an e-mail exchange between Rosen and Kim that seems to describe a secret system for passing along information.

In the exchange, Rosen used the alias ???Leo??? to address Kim and called himself ???Alex,??? an apparent reference to Alexander Butterfield, the man best known for running the secret recording system in the Nixon White House, according to the affidavit.

Rosen instructed Kim to send him coded signals on his Google account, according to a quote from his e-mail in the affidavit: ???One asterisk means to contact them, or that previously suggested plans for communication are to proceed as agreed; two asterisks means the opposite.???

He also wrote, according to the affidavit: ???What I am interested in, as you might expect, is breaking news ahead of my competitors??? including ???what intelligence is picking up.??? And: ???I???d love to see some internal State Department analyses.???

Olivier Knox at Yahoo News (who professes to being a friend of Rosen’s) minces no words in his report, calling the DOJ’s treatment of the Fox reporter “a chilling move sure to rile defenders of civil liberties.”  “The details of the government’s strategy against Rosen sound like something out of a spy novel,” writes Knox, who observes that Rosen’s alleged offenses “fall inside the bounds of traditional news reporting.”  Media people from both Left and Right have offered similar criticism since the story broke.

Unsurprisingly, the media seems much more incensed about these press-related scandals than the others.  There’s mounting criticism that the Administration’s super-aggressive leak investigations – which, in most cases besides Rosen’s, ostensibly targeted the government officials who did the leaking – were exploited as opportunities to gather information about journalists, and perhaps send them a few ominous signals.

In its own modest report on the Rosen story, Fox News quotes Gary Pruitt of the Associated Press suggesting those signals have been received:

AP President Gary Pruitt said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that the AP records grab was not only unconstitutional but damaging to the operation of the press.

“It will hurt,” he said. “We’re already seeing some impact. Officials are saying they’re reluctant to talk.”

Ironically, even as this story was breaking, the Obama Administration reportedly apologized to Israel for leaking classified information on its recent bombing of targets in Syria to the media… leaks that some analysts believe has made the situation in the Middle East even more dangerous, by provoking a response from Syria and its allies.

Update: Megyn Kelly of Fox News is now reporting that Fox reporter William LaJeunesse and producer Mike Levine were monitored by the Justice Department, in addition to James Rosen.