Columnist Jack Anderson Files Probed by FBI
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006; A08
FBI agents last month sought the identities of pro-Israel reporters who had worked for columnist Jack Anderson or were close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they asked to look through the late journalist's files, according to Mark Feldstein, director of the journalism program at George Washington University.
The agents asked Feldstein, a former journalist who is writing a book about Anderson, for the material as part of the criminal prosecution of Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former AIPAC lobbyists who were indicted last August on charges of violating the 1917 Espionage Act by receiving and transmitting national defense information.
Feldstein said he was called on March 2 by an FBI agent who asked for a meeting to talk about something "too sensitive" to discuss on an open telephone line. Feldstein already knew that the FBI had been unsuccessful in getting access to Anderson's files from the Anderson family after the columnist's death in December.
Feldstein, a former intern of Anderson's who is writing about the columnist's major exposés during the Nixon years, has had access to the roughly 200 boxes of material since they were delivered to the university by the Anderson family.
When the FBI interview took place at his home on March 3, Feldstein said, he was surprised that the agents mentioned that they were looking into the Rosen-Weissman case and possible espionage "going back to the early 1980s." They wanted to know whether "we had seen classified documents" in the Anderson files, particularly about Israel and Iran -- areas of leaked information in the lobbyists' case.
At some point during the questioning, Feldstein said, one of the agents, Leslie Martell, "began asking questions about pro-Israel reporters who had worked for Anderson" or "had ties to AIPAC." He said she "ran names by me," saying that "I only had to give them an initial." He said he "tried to wave them off," referring to several former Anderson reporters whom they named.
Asked last week about Martell's questioning, FBI spokesman Michael P. Kortan said that "the bureau would decline to comment on the event."
A senior FBI agent, who spoke about colleagues on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that it would not be unusual to try to narrow down the field of potential sources by using this approach. "It might have been a way to get to an area of interest," the agent said, "or it may have been a way of testing information they had gotten in the past or were getting from this source."
An FBI spokesman, William Carter, said yesterday that the bureau will continue to try to gain access to Anderson's files before they are made public because it is concerned about classified documents that could hurt U.S. interests. Carter said "an informant had told us he had seen classified U.S. government documents among Anderson's papers." The bureau wants to review them "to make sure they are not still detrimental to U.S. interests before foreign agents see them," he added.
Feldstein said he told the FBI agents that Anderson had not been actively writing his columns since 1986, when he was struck with both Parkinson's disease and cancer. After that time, he depended upon associates to write the columns and a revolving corps of reporters and interns to help gather information. Feldstein also said that no classified documents had turned up in his review of Anderson's Nixon-era files nor in a preliminary search by his graduate students of subsequent years through 2004.
About a week later, the FBI told Anderson's son, Kevin, a lawyer in Utah, that a bureau informant had said that the columnist or his reporters had met with one of the AIPAC lobbyists and that there had been an exchange of classified documents. According to the FBI, the informant had also told the bureau that Anderson or his reporters had met with an agent of a foreign power and had discussed classified U.S. information, Kevin Anderson said in a telephone interview.
In a court filing last week, attorneys for Rosen and Weissman described these and several FBI's actions as "outrageous government conduct." They contended that agents used a subterfuge to get Anderson's widow to sign a paper consenting to a bureau review of the files.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied on Friday a motion to dismiss the AIPAC case based on the alleged outrageous conduct, saying only that the FBI actions with regard to Anderson have little to do with the case.
One of the names Martell mentioned, according to Feldstein, was that of Dale Van Atta, a former Anderson associate who helped write the column in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Van Atta, who has left the New York Times to help write a book about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), said yesterday that he had not been contacted by the FBI. Van Atta has, however, kept in contact with the Anderson family and is puzzled by the attempts to search the columnist's files for material that could help in the Rosen-Weissman case.
As for the FBI seeking to review classified documents in the files, Van Atta
said Anderson "really didn't deal with classified documents. He had a great
memory and hardly took any notes." Van Atta said he had looked through many of
the files when they were stored at Brigham Young University in Utah, and he
noted that "there really was not that much there."