FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has apologized to the Washington Post and New York Times for a breach of their reporters’ phone records in the course of a national security investigation nearly four years ago. The Post quoted Mueller as saying agents had not followed proper procedures when they sought telephone records under a process that allowed them to bypass grand jury review in emergency cases. The Justice Department’s inspector general uncovered lapses that allowed FBI agents in 2004 to obtain telephone records of two then-members of the Post’s Jakarta, Indonesia, office. Records of New York Times reporters Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez, who worked in Jakarta in 2004, also were compromised.
The FBI refused to disclose the nature of the investigation that prompted the request for the phone records. At the time, the reporters were writing articles about Islamic terrorism in Southeast Asia. Efforts to obtain phone records for reporters are subject to special rules at the Justice Department, generally requiring approval by the attorney general or another top official. But such procedures were not followed in the two incidents found by the inspector general. The FBI says that in this case, no investigative use was made of the records, and they have been removed from FBI databases.