Wednesday, April 26, 2006

FBI wants to go on fishing expedition through muckraking journalist Jack Anderson's archives

Jack Anderson died last December, after suffering from Parkinson's disease for the last fifteen years of his life. But I guess the FBI was afraid of confronting him while he was alive, even in his old age. They waited until he was just cooling in his grave to show up, asking to go on a fishing expedition through his papers that he willed to George Washington University. See the full Chronicle of Higher Education article link above, but I will paste in some choice tidbits from that article.

During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government -- sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful -- so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. They never went through with the plot. Anderson died last December at the age of 83.

His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University's library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see.

But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have told university officials and members of the Anderson family that they want to go through the archive, and that agents will remove any item they deem confidential or top secret.

The Andersons, who have not yet transferred ownership of the archive to George Washington University, are outraged. They plan to fight the FBI's request.


The Andersons are the not the only ones who are incensed. Observers of academic freedom and libraries say that the FBI's request is part of a renewed emphasis on secrecy in government, which has focused on libraries and archives in particular. Recently, librarians have been concerned about scores of documents that have been reclassified at the National Archives, and librarians have long been concerned about freedom of information since the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The FBI's interest in the Anderson archive is "deeply disturbing and deeply in conflict with the academy's interests in freedom of inquiry, research, and scholarship," said Duane E. Webster, the executive director of the Association of Research Libraries.

Tracy B. Mitrano, an adjunct assistant professor of information science at Cornell University, called the case "utterly alarming."

"Once you begin taking records out of library archives that researchers rely on for free inquiry and research purposes," she said, "it would be very difficult not to see it as a slippery slope toward government controlling research in higher education and our collective understanding of American history."

As a journalist, Jack Anderson was a legend. He reported on the Central Intelligence Agency's scheme to assassinate Fidel Castro, the Mafia's crime network, and corruption among congressmen. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for reporting on American involvement in the Indo-Pakistan War.

The FBI eventually told Kevin Anderson that the investigation centered on Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who have been charged with receiving and distributing national defense information.

"That raised my hackles a bit," Mr. Anderson said. "As I researched the Aipac prosecution and talked to some of dad's former reporters ... they said this is nuts."

Kevin Anderson doubts that his father gathered information related to the Aipac case. He points out that his father had Parkinson's disease for the last 15 years of his life and that he had done his best muckraking in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.

He wonders if there is anything of value to investigators in the archive. "Dad kept a lot of things in his head and, due to the sensitive nature of things, didn't write a lot of stuff down."

But even if Jack Anderson had gotten documents related to the Aipac case, Kevin Anderson points out, many have questioned the legitimacy of the case. An editorial in The Washington Post last month argued that Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman were being prosecuted under "an old and vaguely worded law" that dates back to 1917, and that the case could also be used as a "dangerous" precedent to prosecute journalists who receive and publish classified information.

Jack Anderson earned fame and respect through publishing such state secrets -- always, the journalist said, in the interest of the American people. Although his father shared information with the FBI in select situations, Kevin Anderson said, his father would not approve of the FBI combing through his archive.

"We want to stay true to his principles of First Amendment rights and journalistic freedoms," he said.

But more alarming to the Andersons is how the FBI might handle the archive if given access to it. The archive has not yet been organized and cataloged by George Washington University, so the FBI would have to pick through the entire collection to find any documents related to the Aipac case.

"They made it very clear on the front end that if they are looking through his papers and they come across documents that are stamped confidential or top secret, they would be duty bound to take those out of the collection," Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Anderson says his family has reached an "impasse" with the FBI. The family plans to send a letter to the FBI today saying that it will not cooperate with the agency.

Although officials at George Washington University support the Andersons, the university has largely left the fight in their hands. Jack Siggins, the university librarian, says the university has been discussing the transfer of ownership of the papers for the past year. That process froze once the FBI got involved.

Here is a related story from the New York Times byline Scott Shane link.

I must say I feel a bit better knowing more about Kevin Anderson's background:

Mr. Anderson's son Kevin said that to allow government agents to rifle through the papers would betray his father's principles and intimidate other journalists, and that family members were willing to go to jail to protect the collection.

"It's my father's legacy," said Kevin N. Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer and one of the columnist's nine children. "The government has always and continues to this day to abuse the secrecy stamp. My father's view was that the public is the employer of these government employees and has the right to know what they're up to."

The F.B.I. says the dispute over the papers, which await cataloging at George Washington University here, is a simple matter of law.

"It's been determined that among the papers there are a number of classified U.S. government documents," said Bill Carter, an F.B.I. spokesman. "Under the law, no private person may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them. These documents remain the property of the government."

The standoff, which appears to have begun with an F.B.I. effort to find evidence for the criminal case against two pro-Israel lobbyists, has quickly hardened into a new test of the Bush administration's protection of government secrets and journalists' ability to report on them.

F.B.I. agents are investigating several leaks of classified information, including details of domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency and the secret overseas jails for terror suspects run by the C.I.A.

In addition, the two lobbyists, former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, face trial next month for receiving classified information, in a case criticized by civil liberties advocates as criminalizing the routine exchange of inside information.


"I'm not aware of any previous government attempt to retrieve such material," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Librarians and historians are having a fit, and I can't imagine a bigger chill to journalists."

The George Washington University librarian, Jack Siggins, said the university strongly objected to the F.B.I.'s removing anything from the Anderson archive.

"We certainly don't want anyone going through this material, let alone the F.B.I., if they're going to pull documents out," Mr. Siggins said. "We think Jack Anderson represents something important in American culture — answers to the question, How does our government work?"


His files were stored for years at Brigham Young University before being transferred to George Washington at Mr. Anderson's request last year, but the F.B.I. apparently made no effort to search them.

Kevin Anderson said said F.B.I. agents first approached his mother, Olivia, early this year.

Their timing certainly looks cowardly and tactless, doesn't it? What a way to approach a grieving widow! In the Chronicle article, Kevin Anderson notes that his father was photographed many times holding up government documents stamped classified and no attempt was made during his father's lifetime to approach him about recovering the documents. This certainly looks very fishy, underhanded and unseemly. This is not the heroes I thought were guarding our country!

Here is a handy link to NPR where they not only have a short story on Jack Anderson's papers, but also links back to stories on AIPAC investigations and allegations that the FBI was spying on an antiwar group as part of that investigation. NPR link These are very short, but they do orient you.

The Washington Post has the same story with a bit more detail and color at link.

Right now, the FBI does not seem to know where the boxes are, and I hope the Anderson family are able to keep it that way until the archivists get the papers indexed and/or the government comes to its senses! Hang tough, Kevin and company!

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