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Fbi grabs ap fedex document { May 8 2003 }

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FBI Returns Unclassified Lab Report to AP

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 8, 2003; 6:42 PM

WASHINGTON - The FBI returned an unclassified lab report to The Associated Press on Thursday, seven months after the document was seized from a package mailed from one AP reporter to another. FBI officials said they would develop guidelines to address news media material.

FBI acting general counsel Patrick W. Kelley said an internal disciplinary inquiry was under way but had reached no conclusions.

The lab report dealt with materials seized from an apartment in the Philippines rented by convicted terrorist Ramzi Yousef. It had been discussed in open court in two legal cases before it was obtained by the AP.

FBI lab director Dwight Adams said the report contained information that would have been classified if it had been written after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and he asked the AP to use caution in reporting about the terrorist tactics described in it.

Kelley acknowledged that the FBI had mishandled the material but said FBI officials had been told that the Customs Service, which confiscated the package, had followed proper legal protocols.

"We don't take things unless we have a right to do so," he said in a meeting with AP editors and an AP attorney.

"The seizure of this material, clearly labeled from one AP bureau to another, infringes on journalists' fundamental right to engage in newsgathering activity without interference from the government," said AP Senior Vice President Jonathan Wolman.

Wolman said the AP had copies of the FBI document for many months and would follow its policy of not publishing materials that could aid and abet threats against public safety.

The AP urged the FBI to adopt safeguards to ensure that newsgathering material be accorded its proper protection from government intrusion.

FBI spokesman Mike Kortan said the FBI would draw up guidelines to address situations involving the news media, and he said the agency was receptive to a conversation with media executives on issues of mutual interest.

The Customs Service intercepted the AP package last September as it traveled via Federal Express from the AP's office in Manila, Philippines, to Washington. Customs has said it was a routine inspection at a port of entry in Indianapolis, and its agents turned the contents of the package over to local FBI agents upon finding the 8-year-old lab report.

Kelley insisted it was Customs' responsibility to notify FedEx that it had confiscated the package, which was clearly marked from one AP bureau to another. He said, however, "there should have been more internal FBI consultation" once the package arrived at headquarters in Washington. Once there, the lab report was turned over to the FBI lab and an international operations office, where Kelley said "it sat on the shelf" and FBI legal advisers were not consulted. Lab officials noted that a page was missing that included the document's classification status.

"The report is not classified, but it is still law enforcement sensitive," said Kelley.

The FBI subsequently opened a leaks investigation, which is how the AP discovered the FBI had custody of the report.

The FBI had 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" and had referred the episode to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility. Grassley's committee is investigating the seizure.

Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, praised the FBI's latest action. "I appreciate that the FBI has apparently admitted its mistake," he said. "Mistakes can happen, but the most important thing is to own up to them, especially for the federal government. ... The FBI needs to make sure something like this does not happen again."

The package was going from AP reporter Jimmy Gomez to a Washington colleague, John Solomon. They were working on terrorism-related stories and obtained the report from a source who insisted upon anonymity.

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.

"I understand how you might think this is more than a coincidence," Kelley said. "We have no reason to believe it is anything other than a coincidence."

2003 The Associated Press

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