Security

Risen: I May Have Been A Victim Of The NSA’s Program Spying On Journalists

Earlier this week on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Russell Tice revealed that the agency had “monitored all communications” of Americans — specifically targeting journalists. To discuss this development, Olbermann yesterday hosted Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen, who famously angered the Bush administration by revealing the government’s domestic wiretapping program and its secret snooping on the financial records of thousands of Americans allegedly linked to terrorists.

Since that time, the Bush Justice Department had been trying to identify Risen’s sources for his book on the nation’s spy agencies, called State of War. In April, the New York Times reported that former government officials had been called before a grand jury and confronted with phone records documenting their calls with Risen. Neither Risen nor the New York Times had received a subpoena for those records.

Risen told Olbermann that in light of Tice’s revelations, he believes he may have been a target of the NSA’s journalist-spying program:

OLBERMANN: Do you believe you have been a target of this NSA wiretap program?

RISEN: What I know for a fact is that the Bush administration got my phone records. Whether that was obtained by the FBI or the NSA, my lawyers and I have been trying to investigate that. We’re not sure. But we know for a fact that they showed my phone records to other people in the federal grand jury. And we have asked the court to investigate that.

Risen added that he believes the purpose of the NSA’s efforts was to “have a chilling effect on potential whistle blowers in the government, to make them realize that there is a big brother out there that will get them if they step out of line.” Watch it:

Transcript:

OLBERMANN: The NSA had access to all Americans’ communications, may still have, with certain groups monitored, quote, 24/7, 365 days a year, happening all the time, according to our previous guest, Russell Tice, and also credit card records. One of many targeted groups were journalists.

So, in our number two story, do any of these journalist targets know they were targets? Let’s turn to New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. He and a colleague at the time won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their disclosure of the Bush administration program of warrant less wiretapping. A federal grand jury has been trying to get him to divulge confidential sources for State of War, the book he wrote on the CIA.

Thanks for your time, sir.

JAMES RISEN, AUTHOR, STATE OF WAR : Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Do you believe you have been a target of this NSA wiretap program?

RISEN: What I know for a fact is that the Bush administration got my phone records. Whether that was obtained by the FBI or the NSA, my lawyers and I have been trying to investigate that. We’re not sure. But we know for a fact that they showed my phone records to other people in the federal grand jury. And we have asked the court to investigate that.

OLBERMANN: So your overall reaction to what Mr. Tice said tonight, what he said yesterday about the targeting of all journalists would be what?

RISEN: It’s — I don’t know. I can’t confirm what he said. But it’s really worth pursuing, and it’s worth investigating.

Here’s what I do know, is that the NSA has far greater capability than has ever been made public. All you have to do is look back at what we reported on about the eavesdropping program, and to remember that the famous hospital scene, where this was this big Constitutional crisis between Bush and the Justice Department lawyers, who were battling him over whether the program was legal. What they eventually disclosed was that they were arguing over a part of the program that nobody even today knows the specifics of.

So there is a large amount of operations and capabilities that the NSA has that most people don’t know of its existence, including me. So that’s, you know, one of the things I think is interesting about what he said.

OLBERMANN: Yes. I know exactly what you mean by that. Obviously, we have to — since we have such limited information, there’s a lot of theory going into this. What do you make of this one? The government, if Mr. Tice is correct, wiretaps or wiretapped journalists 24/7, then focuses in on any investigative reporter who is divulging or getting near information it considers too valuable or too much in some way?

RISEN: Yes. That’s clearly the great fear and the threat that — of the kind of capability that he is talking about. Is it possible that all they have to do is turn a few switches and knobs and suddenly narrow the field of what they’re looking at. He made the point, and I thought it was interesting — and I don’t know if it is true or not — that his job was to minimize the collection on journalist, but he said that it is quite possible that they could be reverse engineering that to actually gain that, collect that information.

That’s the great threat and the fear that I thought was interesting and something really worth pursuing.

OLBERMANN: It almost suggests a kind of NSA equivalent of Google for anyone of us out here, you, me or the viewer.

RISEN: Right.

OLBERMANN: Not to miss the obvious. Is the desired ultimate result, having been on both the investigative end of this and the recipient end of this, do you think that the ultimate result is suppression of reporting, either through direct coercion, or a chilling effect, that this could have every time somebody could contemplates pursuing, publishing, broadcasting a risky story?

RISEN: Yes. That is certainly part of it. I think the more direct part is to frighten people in the government from talking. It is to have a chilling effect on potential whistle blowers in the government, to make them realize that there is a big brother out there that will get them if they step out of line. I think that’s the more direct chilling effect on the source, rather than on the reporter so much.

We have a large organization that will support us. In my case, in my leak investigation, Simon and Schuster has been supporting me for my book. But, you know, the whistle blowers don’t have that.

OLBERMANN: As Mr. Tice well knows right now. James Risen, of the New York Times and author of State of War, with a unique perspective on this. And we thank you for sharing it.

RISEN: Thank you.

UPDATE

Laura Rozen has more on the Risen investigation.

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