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FBI seeks access to dead columnist's papers
Family refusing to let agents look through documents, some of which might be leaked classified material.
By Scott Shane
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

WASHINGTON The FBI is seeking to go through the files of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson to remove classified material he might have accumulated in four decades of muckraking Washington journalism.

Anderson's family has refused to allow a search of the files of the well-known reporter, who had long feuded with the FBI and had exposed plans by the CIA to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro, the machinations of the Iran-Contra affair and the misdemeanors of generations of congressmen.

His son said that to allow government agents to rifle through the papers would betray his father's principles and intimidate other journalists and that family members are willing to go to jail to protect the collection.

"It's my father's legacy," said Kevin Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer and one of the columnist's nine children. "The government has always and continues to this day to abuse the secrecy stamp. My father's view was that the public is the employer of these government employees and has the right to know what they're up to."

The FBI says the dispute over the papers, which await cataloging at George Washington University, is a simple matter of law.

"It's been determined that among the papers there are a number of classified U.S. government documents," said Bill Carter, a bureau spokesman. "Under the law, no private person may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them. These documents remain the property of the government."

The standoff, which appears to have begun with an FBI effort to find evidence for the criminal case against two pro-Israel lobbyists, has quickly hardened into a test of the Bush administration's protection of government secrets and journalists' ability to report on them.

The issue comes as FBI agents conduct a criminal investigation of several leaks of classified information. In addition, the two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee face trial next month on charges of receiving classified information in a case that has been criticized by civil liberties advocates as criminalizing the routine exchange of inside information.

But the FBI's quest for secret material leaked years ago to a now-dead journalist, first reported Tuesday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, seems unprecedented, say several people with long experience in First Amendment law.

"I'm not aware of any previous government attempt to retrieve such material," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Librarians and historians are having a fit, and I can't imagine a bigger chill to journalists."

George Washington University librarian Jack Siggins said the university strongly objects to the FBI removing anything from the Anderson archive.

"We certainly don't want anyone going through this material, let alone the FBI, if they're going to pull documents out," Siggins said. "We think Jack Anderson represents something important in American culture answers to the question, how does our government work?"

Anderson's Washington Merry-Go-Round column ran in more than 1,000 newspapers and reached some 40 million readers during the height of its popularity. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his coverage of U.S. relations with India and Pakistan, and his scoops included the involvement of five senators in the savings-and-loan collapse of the late 1980s, the CIA plot to use the Mafia to kill Castro, Iran's role in the 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, and investigations into the Iran-Contra scandal.

He was at the top of President Nixon's famous "enemies" list, and Nixon tried to smear him as a homosexual. The CIA was ordered to spy on him, and according to the Watergate tapes, a Nixon aide ordered two associates to try to poison him.

Anderson also had a well-documented feud with longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, whose trash he once searched and who once described the columnist as "lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures."

The columnist's son said FBI agents first approached his mother, Olivia, early this year.

"They talked about the AIPAC case and that they thought Dad had some classified documents and they wanted to take fingerprints from them" to identify possible sources, Kevin Anderson said. "But they said they wanted to look at all 200 boxes, and if they found anything classified they'd be duty-bound to take them."

Although some of the documents may be classified, Kevin Anderson said, they do not contain national security secrets, only "embarrassing top secrets hammers that cost a thousand dollars and things like that."

He said it was unlikely his father had papers relevant to the lobbyists' case, which dates back about five years, because Anderson had done little original reporting after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1990. He died in December.

The son said he thinks the case is a pretext for a broader search. That conclusion is shared by others, including Thomas Blanton, who oversees the National Security Archive, a collection of historic documents at George Washington.

"Recovery of leaked CIA and White House documents that Jack Anderson got back in the '70s has been on the FBI's wanted list for decades," Blanton said.

Carter declined to comment on any connection to the lobbying case or to say how the bureau learned that classified documents were in Anderson's files.

Additional material from The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.


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