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Yet Another Example of How Government Uses “Legal Process” to Coerce Reporters to Reveal Sources

Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole claims it’s not the policy of President Barack Obama’s administration to jail reporters.

In 2011, a reporter for Fox News named Mike Levine was issued a grand jury subpoena as part of a Justice Department leak investigation. The subpoena demanded Levine reveal the names of “law enforcement” sources, who confirmed details for a story he wrote on Somali-Americans being indicted on terrorism charges in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Levine fought the subpoena and lost in July. Despite the fact that the government had defeated , the government withdrew the subpoena in April 2012.

That Levine had been subpoenaed had been publicly known since May of this year, however, court records in the case remained secret until yesterday. And they provide a clear example of how the government is willing to use the legal process against journalists to essentially intimidate and pressure them into revealing their confidential sources.

Levine, according to his court declaration [PDF], investigated reports of “Somali-American youth from the Minneapolis area being radicalized and recruited to fight overseas for al-Shabaab.” He interviewed Omar Jamal, a Minneapolis-area Somali community activist, and another member of the community. They provided him with the name of Abidifatah Isse and informed him that he had been “arrested and indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into Somali-American youth from the Minneapolis area being radicalized and recruited to fight overseas.”

Isse was indicted on February 19, 2009, for “material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill, kidnap maim and injure.” The charges stemmed from his efforts to travel to Somalia and fight with al Shabaab.

An affidavit by Special Agent Kevin Shirley in the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General in Chicago explains:

…Isse [was] a resident of the State of Washington who spent several weeks traveling to and approximately one week actually constructing on Al Shabaab training camp in Southern Somalia before departing the country was arrested in Seattle on February 24, 2009, and transported to Minneapolis, where he was detained. At the time of his arrest, Isse was preparing to fly to Tanzania. Isse entered a guilty plea on March 4, 2009, and began cooperating with law enforcement. Isse’s removal hearing from Seattle, arraignment in Minneapolis and guilty plea were all held in closed courtrooms by permission of the Deputy Attorney General and order of the court in order to maximize Isse’s utility as a covert operative, as well as to protect his safety and that of his family. During his detention Isse gathered evidence at the direction of law enforcement through recorded phone calls and the use of internet-based communication services.

No other individuals who had been indicted or who happened to be covert operatives were named in Levine’s story, which was published on July 2, 2009. However, he did mention that at least three individuals had been indicted by a grand jury and that detail was sourced to someone in “law enforcement.”

On July 7, 2009, Judge James Rosenbaum, who had been handling the indictments in Minneapolis, wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that this leak be investigated:

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."