When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
They used security-badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal emails.
The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to The Associated Press.
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At a time when President Obama’s administration is under renewed scrutiny for an unprecedented number of leak investigations, the Kim case provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one such probe.
Court documents reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist.
Obama last week defended the Justice Department’s handling of the investigation involving the AP, which is focused on who leaked information to the news organization about a foiled plot involving the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen. AP executives and First Amendment watchdogs have criticized the Justice Department in part for the broad scope of the phone records it secretly subpoenaed.
“The latest events show an expansion of this law-enforcement technique,” said attorney Abbe Lowell, who is defending Kim on federal charges filed in 2010 that he disclosed national-defense information. A trial is tentatively scheduled for 2014.
The Kim case began in June 2009, when Rosen reported that U.S. intelligence officials were warning that North Korea was likely to respond to United Nations sanctions with more nuclear tests. The CIA had learned the information, Rosen wrote, from sources inside North Korea.
The story was published online the same day that a top-secret report was made available to a small circle within the intelligence community — including Kim, a State Department arms expert with security clearance.
The FBI used the security-badge data, phone records and email exchanges to build a case that Kim shared the report with Rosen soon after receiving it, records show.
In the documents, FBI agent Reginald Reyes described in detail how Kim and Rosen moved in and out of the State Department headquarters a few hours before the story was published June 11, 2009.
The court documents don’t name Rosen, but his identity was confirmed by several officials, and he is the author of the article at the center of the investigation. Rosen and a spokeswoman for Fox News did not return messages seeking comment.
Reyes wrote that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.” That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target.
Using italics for emphasis, Reyes explained how Rosen allegedly used a “covert communications plan” and quoted from an email exchange between Rosen and Kim that seems to describe a secret system for passing information.
Court documents show abundant evidence gathered from Kim’s office computer and phone records, but investigators said they needed to go a step further to build their case, seizing two days’ worth of Rosen’s personal emails — and all of his email exchanges with Kim.
Privacy protections limit searching or seizing a reporter’s work, but not when there is evidence that the journalist broke the law against unauthorized leaks. A federal judge signed off on the search warrant.
In the hours before Rosen’s story was published, Kim was one of more than 95 people who saw the intelligence report through a classified database, according to court documents.
Kim’s phone records showed that seven calls lasting from 18 seconds to more than 11 minutes were placed between Kim’s desk telephone and Rosen’s cellphone and desk phone at the State Department, according to the court documents. Investigators pulled at least two months of phone records from Kim’s desk and found 36 calls with numbers associated with Rosen.
Investigators also scrutinized computer records and found that someone who had logged in with Kim’s user profile viewed the classified report “at or around” the same time two calls were placed from his desk phone to Rosen, according to the documents.
Two months later on an August evening, diplomatic security secretly entered Kim’s office and found a copy of Rosen’s article next to his computer.
Kim, who worked in a secure facility, was subject to daily office inspections.
The Fox News article was also in “plain view” during follow-up visits in late September.
Kim initially told the FBI in an interview that month that he had met the reporter in March but had not had contact since.
Later, Kim admitted to having additional contacts, according to the affidavit.