By: Pete Yost, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The FBI is conducting an internal disciplinary inquiry into the seizure of an unclassified bureau lab report mailed between two Associated Press reporters, Sen. Charles Grassley disclosed Wednesday.
The Customs Service intercepted the package last September and turned over the contents to the FBI.
The FBI has publicly defended its handling of the package, but in an April 3 letter to Grassley, R-Iowa, the bureau said it “takes the potential violation of First and Fourth Amendments very seriously.”
The FBI referred the matter to its Office of Professional Responsibility, which will delve into the details of the incident and take appropriate personnel actions as warranted, stated the letter by the FBI’s Congressional Affairs Office.
Sent via Federal Express from AP reporter Jim Gomez in the Philippines to Washington AP reporter John Solomon, the 8-year-old FBI lab report was intercepted by the Customs Service, which has the legal right to examine packages sent from overseas at the point they arrive in the United States. Customs said the package had been selected for routine inspection.
The package was sent to the FBI in Washington after an FBI agent reviewed the document and said it contained some information that should not be made public.
In January, the AP received a tip that the package had been intercepted.
The lab report, which had been discussed in open court in two legal cases, dealt with materials seized from an apartment in the Philippines rented by convicted terrorist Ramzi Yousef.
The two AP reporters were working on terrorism-related stories.
“The interception was improper and clandestine” and “we’re glad to learn from Senator Grassley that the FBI is conducting an internal investigation,” said AP President and CEO Louis D. Boccardi. “We look forward to a full public accounting of how the seizure happened and what steps are being taken to ensure that this does not happen again.”
Grassley said: “It’s highly unusual for the government to intercept communications of the media and I want to make sure we don’t have any attempts to censor or stymie the news. If so, the FBI should own up, take responsibility, apologize, and ensure it does not happen again.”
The FBI promised Grassley it would brief the Senate Judiciary Committee on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The seizure of the lab report was the second time that Solomon’s reporting has been the subject of a government seizure. In May 2001, the Justice Department subpoenaed the reporter’s home phone records concerning stories he wrote about an investigation of then-Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey.