Posted by Michael Rutledge
A recently declassified government memo revealed that the FBI had an informant inside of ABC News during the 1990’s. The Center for Public Integrity released a story concerning the memo on April 5. They say that this informant or ‘mole’ was a senior journalist with the network that relayed the identities of confidential sources as well as other information to the FBI over a several year period.
The journalist first approached the FBI after the Oklahoma City bombing, supplying them with information that tied the attack to Iraqi and Saudi Arabian special operations units. This information was passed to the CIA, but nothing was made of it. Throughout the 90’s the FBI continued to contact the journalist, getting him or her (the document doesn’t give a name or gender) to reveal the identities of ABC confidential sources that the FBI considered vital.
The FBI considered the journalist to be so reliable that they gave him or her an assigned number in the FBI informant database. Being put in the database means that a person has supplied several pieces of information that have been highly accurate and important to open cases.
The FBI released a statement saying that over the years journalists have been used as potential informers, even if they did so unknowingly. The FBI claims there are strict rules concerning journalist informants, keeping the exchanges of information from violating the First Amendment.
ABC News released a statement saying that they are unaware of who the informant is, but believe that he or she no longer works for ABC News. Spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said that the relationship raises concerns about violations of the First Amendment.
This is a major violation of journalism ethics. It permanently damages the credibility of journalists as well as ABC News. It puts the identities of sources at risk and gives the FBI an unhealthy amount of leverage inside of an independent news agency. The media is supposed to be the watchdog of the government, not the government’s eyes and ears.
It is important to remember that this journalist acted with the best of intentions at heart. He or she believed that by blurring ethical boundaries every once in a while American lives could be saved. But should national security trump the integrity of a free press?
I was troubled by how nonchalant the FBI was in revealing they have used journalists in the past as informants. But should we really be surprised? In a world of suicide bombers and chemical weapons hiding under every rock, some journalists see it as their responsibility to help the government keep Americans safe. But is this a line that shouldn’t be crossed?