Burriss: FBI spying on journalists

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When people talk about spies and secret information, terms such as "puzzle palace," "mind games" and "double speak" come to mind. Earlier this month, all of these terms seemed to come together with the revelation a leaker had disclosed secret FBI rules, apparently adopted in 2013, for finding, yes, leakers.

But let's not deal with the First Amendment and freedom of the press issues right now. There is, however, something, well, bizarre about this entire affair.

First of all, after the unauthorized release, the FBI provided a heavily edited version of the document. So you can read either the edited version on the FBI web site, or the full version of the four page document, marked "secret," "no foreign distribution," and "for official use only" on several news sites. And by the way those four pages include two pages of cover sheets.

The specific document, Appendix G of the "Domestic Investigations and Operations Guidelines," provides rules the agency uses to spy on journalists who publish classified information, and then track down the source of the information.

But what is actually in the document that is so secret? Well, if you are interested in classified government information, here goes: the plan spells out in four of 10 paragraphs the chain of approval needed to obtain phone records. You heard right: the plan says the FBI general counsel has to approve the request for phone records.

The document also distinguishes among members of the news media and a member who is also suspected of being a spy.

Now maybe I'm missing something, but these are all internal, paper-pushing procedures. There is nothing operational here. There's no real details on how the rules are implemented, or how the FBI actually obtains the phone records.

There's nothing about communication systems, names of agents, which buttons to push or how a weapon works.

As you might expect, the FBI has had little substantive comment about either the leak or the document itself. But I wonder if now the agency is trying to track down the leaker of the finding the leaker document.

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