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ABC’s Ross: Surveillance of Journalists ‘Makes Me Feel…As If We Are Drug Dealers or Terrorists’

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"ABC’s Ross: Surveillance of Journalists ‘Makes Me Feel…As If We Are Drug Dealers or Terrorists’"

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This morning on CNN’s Reliable Sources, ABC’s chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross — who this week learned he was the target of federal surveillance operations — described the effect that unchecked spying is having on journalists:

ROSS: [I]t makes me feel, in a way “” and this is, I think, the disturbing part “” as if we are drug dealers or terrorists trying to traffic in information, and should we be using bags full of quarters like old Mafia capos to avoid having our phone calls traced? I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong; I don’t think any other reporter is, either. We’re trying to cover these stories, which are difficult, but which are very important.

Ross also revealed that the surveillance has had a chilling effect on his sources, who now risk being exposed:

I’m working on a big story now with people who are confidential sources inside the Federal Air Marshal Service. They were all alarmed that they might be exposed as talking with me in violation of rules. So it’s of great concern.

Watch it:

Full transcript below:

KURTZ: How did you find out that the administration is tracking your phone calls and those of other journalists?

ROSS: Well, a confidential source and a leak, and a very good tip that was surprising to us. Someone told “” a senior federal official told my colleague, Rich Esposito, that “We know who you are calling; you should get some new cell phones and quick.” That’s what we know, Howard. We don’t know how it is they know who we’re calling. We’ve been trying to figure that out. But this source is so good that we take it very seriously.

KURTZ: Just on a personal level, how did you “” what was your reaction to learn that law enforcement officials, according to this source, are analyzing the numbers that you dial “” presumably in an effort to track down your other confidential sources?

ROSS: You know, I guess as an abstract, we always thought that was likely or possible, but once I actually heard this specific information “” and this person knew a couple of specific calls “” it was truly alarming and made you think, well, my gosh “” what are we going to do about this? It means a lot more in-person visits. I’m working on a big story now with people who are confidential sources inside the Federal Air Marshal Service. They were all alarmed that they might be exposed as talking with me in violation of rules. So it’s of great concern.

KURTZ: What other news organizations are being “” having their phone calls tracked, according to your informant?

ROSS: We were told reporters at “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post,” and it seemed consistent with the information we know, that the CIA has made several criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, the FBI, based on stories that the “Post” and the “Times” have run about CIA secret prisons and the Jim Risen story at “The New York Times” about NSA wiretapping. In both cases, those agencies have confirmed that criminal investigations have begun. And when we checked with the FBI, they put out a statement that essentially said, We take logical investigative steps, starting with the phone records of the government agencies. And then you sort of read through and parse out what they say, it seems that if they go after reporters, they say they do it in a legal fashion.

KURTZ: Not exactly a hard denial. Were you given any names of journalists who might be on the receiving end of this?

ROSS: Other than Esposito and Ross, no. But I’m assuming your colleague, Dana Priest, and Rison and others at the “Times,” who have done a lot of important work that involved information that the CIA, I assume, presumes to be classified and they see that as a violation of the law. And that starts the process by which they essentially can use provisions of the Patriot Act if they chose, or just a grand jury, to pursue it. And it makes me feel, in a way “” and this is, I think, the disturbing part “” as if we are drug dealers or terrorists trying to traffic in information, and should we be using bags full of quarters like old Mafia capos to avoid having our phone calls traced? I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong; I don’t think any other reporter is, either. We’re trying to cover these stories, which are difficult, but which are very important.

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