Journalists and secrets

by Henry Farrell on April 18, 2006

Also in the Chronicle, an “interesting article”: on controversies swirling around Jack Anderson’s archives, which have been donated to GWU. Kevin Drum said last month that the “AIPAC case”: was likely to be used as a weapon against leakers. Now we have this.

bq. 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. … 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 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. …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.



P O'Neill 04.18.06 at 11:08 pm

Wednesday’s WSJ picks up the story

In the Anderson case, FBI agents sought access to the documents from family members, the university and others who have seen them. While agents have said their interest in Mr. Anderson’s documents relates to a continuing investigation involving the pro-Israel lobby group known as AIPAC, the FBI said yesterday its interest is focused on removing classified documents that might be in the boxes.

News of the FBI’s requests was reported earlier by the Chronicle of Higher Education. In a statement, the FBI said it has determined that the late journalist’s papers include a number of documents containing classified information that belong to the government. “Under the law, no private person may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them,” the statement said. “The U.S. government has reasonable concern over the prospect that these classified documents will be made available to the public at the risk of national security and in violation of the law.” The two-paragraph statement didn’t mention the AIPAC investigation.

The FBI is seeking to review Mr. Anderson’s documents from 1980 to the present, and Kevin Anderson, the journalist’s son, says the government has declined repeated attempts to limit the inquiry to just documents related to AIPAC. The columnist’s family has notified the FBI that they won’t provide access to the records, leaving the government little choice but to issue a subpoena or its equivalent to get to them.


Brendan 04.19.06 at 3:41 am

Excuse me while my gast unflabbers itself. They discussed plans to assassinate him?


abb1 04.19.06 at 4:02 am


In 1972, in an overlooked nadir of American political history, Anderson was the target of a Mafia-style hit ordered in the White House. Two Nixon administration conspirators admitted under oath they plotted to poison Anderson on orders from a top aide to the President. White House “plumbers” G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt met with a CIA operative to discuss the possibilities, including drugging Anderson with LSD, poisoning his aspirin bottle, or staging a fatal mugging. The conspirators were never ordered to proceed, and the plot aborted, when the plotters were arrested as a result of the Watergate break-in.

Tsss… The details are classified. We can’t let the terrorists know.


jonst 04.19.06 at 5:42 am


You find that surprising? Come on….



derrida derider 04.19.06 at 8:26 am

I understood that there was explicitly no prior restraint under the First Amendment (IIRC that was a crucial issue in the Pentagon Papers controversy). In other words, the US government cannot prevent publication of a classified document even where such publication is illegal – they can only punish after the fact. On what grounds, then, can an injunction be issued? Does anyone here know the relevant US law?

And brendan is clearly too young to remember the Nixon administration – this was the sort of shit they did. After secretly and illegally dropping more bombs than were dropped in all of WWII on a small neutral country a political assassination probably seemed mere child’s play.


DC 04.19.06 at 8:55 am

Not to mention the vast campaign of political assasinations carried out in Vietnam under the Phoenix Programme. Nor indeed he the one ton of explosives dropped per minute from 1969 – 72. That’s right – per minute.

Nixon was…bad.


Jack 04.19.06 at 8:55 am

The overlap between the Nixon administration and the current one could be a significant incentive to legal innovation on this issue. Anything that delays publication until the end of 2008 could be valuable.


greensmile 04.19.06 at 9:36 am

Its clear from the NYTimes article that little could have changed in these 200 boxes of papers in the last 25 years. The question is not whether they are of interest to a federal government so obsessed with secrecy that it can’t effectively provide security for its citizens, no, the question is WHY NOW? The FBI has scores to settle with Anderson but that information has been growing stale and less useful for two decades…what fact or cultural shift has arisen in our government to make this the time to settle old scores? Has our devolution toward a police state just crossed beneath some threshold?


greensmile 04.19.06 at 9:57 am

The book Feldstein is now writing is a legitimate use of these papers and would be an embarrassment to neocons who worship the bust of Nixon kept in their studies and more of an embarrassment to the FBI perhaps. It is clear Anderson’s heirs approve of the book being written and that looming possibility of exposure seems the likeliest explanation for the FBI’s sudden interest.


Ginger Yellow 04.19.06 at 1:07 pm

Its clear from the NYTimes article that little could have changed in these 200 boxes of papers in the last 25 years. The question is not whether they are of interest to a federal government so obsessed with secrecy that it can’t effectively provide security for its citizens, no, the question is WHY NOW?

You know what else hasn’t changed much since 25 years ago? The names of senior administration officials obsessed with executive power and secrecy.


Meteor Blades 04.19.06 at 1:21 pm

In 1972, we in the American Indian Movement occupied and trashed the Bureau of Indian Affairs HQ in DC. Before we left we smuggled boxes and boxes of documents out of the building and transferred many to journalists, including Anderson, who wrote a number of pieces about what was in those documents. You can see one such piece here.

Although the documents we stole helped spark a number of lawsuits, there’s probably not much in them today of more than historical value. But I’d still be curious to know if Anderson’s treasure trove contains anything from the BIA.


Ralph Hitchens 04.20.06 at 1:09 pm

Figures they’d go after the dead guy. Back at least 15 years or more, the Washingtonian Magazine ran a profile of Bob Woodward that featured a picture of him sitting in his den at home, with a stack of documents on a low table or ottoman next to his chair. Obvious to anyone “in the business,” the top document’s cover identified it as an NSA sensitive compartmented intelligence report. Created a stir within the intelligence community, but to my knowledge no one went after Woodward.

Comments on this entry are closed.