Reporter: State Department demanded source of classified leak
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON A reporter for the National Review said July 12 that State Department officials demanded he disclose the source of classified papers he had obtained on the U.S. visa program in Saudi Arabia and detained him briefly for questioning.
The reporter, Joel Mowbray, said he called a lawyer on his cell phone and was permitted to leave the building only after copies of the classified material that he had left in the press briefing room were recovered by Diplomatic Security Service officials.
But a State Department official, refusing to be identified, said the papers were not recovered. It was unclear why Mowbray had left the material in the briefing room or where the material ended up.
Mowbray has written critically of the way U.S. visas were issued in Saudi Arabia and of other aspects of U.S. Middle East policy.
Minutes before the questioning of Mowbray, during the daily State Department press briefing, spokesman Richard Boucher said Mowbray had written inaccurate stories. In what the National Review described as an "acrimonious exchange," The reporter defended his work and said some of material was based on classified documents.
A State Department official defended the questioning of Mowbray by security officials and uniformed guards. He said signs were posted at State Department doorways saying anyone who entered the building was subject to search.
Department employees and visitors are not permitted to take classified cables out of the building and they should expect to be questioned, said the official.
"He announced on the record he had a classified cable," the official said. "If you are going to advertise your possession of a classified cable you should expect to be questioned about what you had and where you got it," the official said.
Mowbray agreed the document was classified, but said, "the only way to make the government accountable is through the use of sources."
He said that when guards intercepted him he thought it was because he was new and they wanted to get acquainted. "So I [was] shaking hands like at a cocktail party," he said.
Later, the department's press office defended the questioning of the reporter. "The Diplomatic Security Service is responsible for the protection of classified information, and investigates all alleged leaks of classified information to the fullest extent possible," it said in a statement.
There was no immediate reaction from the State Department Correspondents Association.
Earlier this year, U.S. prosecutors sent a subpoena to MSNBC demanding a reporter's notes, e-mail and other information about a hacker who had broken into computers at The New York Times. It was withdrawn weeks later.
Last year, the Justice Department obtained the personal phone records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon after he had written about a federal wiretap of Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J.
At the White House today, press secretary Ari Fleischer suggested that the administration considered it a violation of the law to possess a classified document.
"The president believes in a free and unfettered press and the president believes that the laws need to be followed and obeyed and the two should go hand in hand," Fleischer said, under questioning by reporters.
Asked which law the State Department reporter broke, Fleischer replied that the law came into play when the reporter said he had a classified cable in his hand. "It's a classified document," Fleischer said. "The law is the law and the law should be enforced. And that's consistent with the free press."
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