FBI wants look at reporter's papers

Family of longtime columnist Anderson who died in Dec. resists complying

April 19, 2006|By NICK TIMIRAOS | NICK TIMIRAOS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Jack Anderson turned up plenty of government secrets during his half-century career as an investigative reporter, and his family hoped to make his papers available to the public after his death in December -- but the government wants to see and possibly confiscate them first.

The FBI believes the columnist's files might contain national security secrets, including documents that would aid in the prosecution of two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who have been charged with disclosing classified information.

Lawyers for the family are preparing a letter refusing to comply with the FBI, said the columnist's son, Kevin N. Anderson.

"He would absolutely oppose the FBI rifling through his papers at will," Anderson said.

While some of the documents might be classified, he said, they do not contain national security secrets, only "embarrassing top secrets -- hammers that cost a thousand dollars and things like that."

Anderson said it was unlikely that his father had papers relevant to the AIPAC case because he had done little original reporting after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1990.

The FBI contends that the classified documents belong to the government and cannot be retained as part of a private estate.

"The U.S. government has reasonable concern over the prospect that these documents will be made available to the public at the risk of national security and in violation of the law," FBI spokesman Bill Carter said yesterday.

Anderson said the FBI would remove anything that was classified from the papers, which have not been catalogued. Confiscated documents would be reviewed by the originating federal agency before being declassified and returned to the family, which has promised the papers to the George Washington University.

The FBI's attempt to seize papers of the Washington muckraker, first reported yesterday by the Chronicle of Higher Education, comes as civil libertarians have decried growing limits on freedom of information since the Sept. 11 attacks. It also follows Monday's announcement by the National Archives that it would end agreements with federal agencies that want to withdraw records from public shelves.

"It's disturbing to us in higher education because it has a chilling effect on the research process," said Duane E. Webster, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries. "If you've got someone looking over your shoulder, it creates an anxiety."

At its height, Anderson's "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column appeared in nearly 1,000 newspapers with more than 40 million daily readers.

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 Cuban President Fidel Castro, Iran's role in the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut, and investigations into the Iran-contra scandal.

He was also at the top of President Richard M. Nixon's famous "enemies" list.

Nick Timiraos writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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