A little over a year ago, right after I emailed the first draft of a sensitive military story
to my editor at The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, I got a strange telephone call.
"We know who you are, and we are going to take you down," the caller said, then hung up. It was a blocked number, so I couldn't trace it.
Just another nut, I thought. I get a lot of them in this line of work.
Only rarely, however, do they bother to make a telephone call. So I made note of the date and time, called a reporter friend to document the incident and tried to forget about it.
But over the next several weeks and then months, strange things began happening to my computer ' again and again and again--constant freezes, file corruption and loss of data--things that don't ordinarily happen to a six-months-old MacBook Pro. Apple Support kept supplying "fixes" that would last only several days, at most.
All this, of course, made it very difficult to sustain any work. I began to dread turning on my computer. After two hard disk crashes and wobbling toward a third, Apple finally threw in the towel and sent me a new machine.
Booting it up, we discovered that the security settings in my wireless router had been unlocked.
I never did find out -- or maybe I should say, I haven't found out yet -- if somebody hacked into my emails and files or who it was. Maybe I'll get a call from a New York Times reporter one of these days telling me that a just-unsealed indictment shows the FBI hacked my emails for three months back in 2009.
Just like Fox News Channel's James Rosen, who learned
from The Washington Post last weekend that he had been tapped three years ago by the FBI.
I don't know if the FBI's been tracking me (although I suppose I've given them some reason
). But there's plenty of other possible culprits, from the Chinese, who've been rampaging through all kinds of computers in the Washington, DC. area, to the FBI, to military snoopers, to freelance and outsourced hackers.
And this new outlaw world has a toll: fear.
When Fox News called the FBI's electronic spying on its reporter "downright chilling," they weren't exaggerating. Not future-chilling, as in making reporters back off stories--that's highly unlikely. But chilling now, chilling your mind.
Most of us who cover national security have come to understand that we're roadkill if the government takes an interest in us.
In fact, The Washington Post's lawyers give an orientation speech to new hires advising them to "go back to Watergate methods" on sensitive national security stories -- meeting sources in underground garages and the like, changing cabs or buses en route to meetings, disguising the names of sources in notebooks and emails. In fact, avoid emails and substantive land line telephone calls, they counsel, with confidential sources.
"Don't write down anything you don't want the government to have," they say. When it comes to national security stories, the government can pretty much get anything they want, they warn.
Which the events of recent days confirms.
Rosen made it easy for them, concocting nicknames for himself and his State Department source and setting up outdoor meetings -- via email, not to mention traipsing in and out of Foggy Bottom with his security badge recording every exit and entry.
As Reuters media columnist Jack Shafer put it
: "He would have been less conspicuous had he walked into the State Department wearing a sandwich board lettered with his intentions to obtain classified information and then blasted an air horn to further alert authorities to his business."
None of which excuses the FBI's ham-handed effort to characterize Rosen's m.o., which included -- gee whiz -- flattering his source into thinking his leak could change history, as criminal. That's
The Justice Department's goons have been overreaching in virtually every leak case they've handled. And what have they sown with each new revelation (with many more surely to come)?
Dismay and fear. But there's got to be fear inside The White House now, too -- fear that there's much more yet to bubble up and take them all down.