Justice Department obtained emails, files and other materials from journalists, records show

WASHINGTON — An anti-terrorism unit within the Justice Department launched an investigation of journalists and others in 2015 for their “credential journalism” — including for making copies and trying to sell copies of documents…

Justice Department obtained emails, files and other materials from journalists, records show

WASHINGTON — An anti-terrorism unit within the Justice Department launched an investigation of journalists and others in 2015 for their “credential journalism” — including for making copies and trying to sell copies of documents leaked by an imprisoned spy, according to newly released documents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress in June that the anti-terrorism unit that investigated under a 2011 program named “Operation Jewels” examined a number of journalism organizations, a media spokesman told The Associated Press Tuesday. The spokesman, Mark Corallo, declined to identify the journalists or media organizations involved.

The informant and article about him were published at the Intercept, a prominent journalism website, as well as at The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other news organizations. The investigation predated Sessions’ assertion that the anti-terrorism unit investigated journalists.

The documents were given to the AP by government officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and demanded anonymity.

Under the program, investigators were authorized to look into journalists and others suspected of violating a federal criminal law against identity theft or possession of stolen, confidential, confidential or classified information. At least three anti-terrorism agents approached and questioned reporters during the investigation, according to emails from May and June 2015 obtained by the AP. One unidentified official told the AP that that anti-terrorism unit investigators participated in the interview of at least one reporter.

Roddy Boyd, a spokesman for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Media, which represents the Intercept, declined to comment.

The documents also provide an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the anti-terrorism unit and how it tracked reporter activity. Agents examined computers, files and mobile devices for evidence of “credential journalism,” including making copies and attempting to sell copies of documents obtained through hacking or other means, and they conducted searches of the offices of the Intercept and the New York Times. The records show that agents interviewed an AP reporter, though details of the interview were blacked out.

Investigators also approached the State Department’s General Counsel’s Office in 2015 seeking interviews with several other department employees, including diplomats and diplomats’ families, related to the person who was the main informant, and also questioned the FBI’s official policy that prohibited contacting reporters, according to the documents. The AP later reviewed communications the State Department said the agency had previously turned over to the Justice Department as part of the same civil-rights lawsuit regarding the informant.

The office of the State Department’s deputy chief of mission in Washington, Margaret McGuire, declined to comment on the documents provided to the AP.

The Justice Department disclosed the existence of the anti-terrorism unit, called the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, last year. It monitored media organizations for potential violations of the law even as the department joined the Bloomberg Government complaint alleging that reporters, networks and readers had improperly leaked material to the New York Times about a Defense Department effort to discredit a former CIA officer. The Department of Justice, which conducted the nation’s first criminal leak investigation under President Barack Obama, is now investigating media reports that Trump administration officials were seeking to undermine the conclusions of a commission investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Sessions told Congress in June that the operation involved a “common practice” at the Justice Department “to investigate and target cybersecurity violations by government contractors or freelancers who might be making copies or trying to sell secrets to the press.”

The Attorney General did not identify the operation’s specific targets. But Justice Department officials have said that under the operations, after key information was obtained from the federal criminal complaint, investigators would query Google, Twitter and Facebook looking for corresponding mentions of the investigator’s name and the name of the targets. After results showed a match, agents and prosecutors would ask in court for authority to search for other possible documents involving the target.

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