The day after CBS News' Washington Bureau chief was revealed as an FBI informant, the Smoking Gun has published another account of a TV news personality snitching for the FBI. This time, it was a local Fox television anchor.
The Smoking Gun's story is truly astonishing: They didn't uncover a case of a journalist casually passing information to the feds. They found a news anchor described in bureau documents as a "friend of the FBI" who basically went on a (failed) covert mission to identify another reporter's confidential source. Records detailing the plot were contained in the bureau's file on Jimmy Hoffa.
In 1992, according to the Smoking Gun, the FBI was eager to find out the identity of an anonymous source who claimed to the syndicated news show A Current Affair that he had helped murder Hoffa in 1975. A Current Affair's producers were "antagonistic" to the bureau and weren't likely to give up a source, the records show, so the FBI's New York agent in charge of public relations hatched a plan to send his "friend," who happened to be a "Fox Network News Anchor" and worked in offices next door to A Current Affair, to see if he could find out:
So after an agent (who worked in the bureau's New York press office) described the male news anchor as a "friend of the FBI" who worked in "adjoining office space to the ‘Current Affair' productions," a high-ranking official in the New York field office authorized contact with the anchor "in an attempt to identify the secret informant" being used for the Hoffa report.
The day after Donald North, an FBI assistant special agent in charge of organized crime cases, gave permission to contact the news anchor, the TV journalist reported back that staffers with "A Current Affair" had refused to identify their source. However, the Fox mole "did learn that the man resides in New Orleans, Louisiana and is dying of cancer," according to a teletype sent by New York agents to the FBI Director.
The Smoking Gun speculates that the "Fox Network News anchor" in question was John Roland, who anchored the local nightly newscast on WNYW, Fox's New York station, for 25 years before retiring in 2004 (Fox News Channel didn't exist yet in 1992). They put the question to Roland, and he didn't offer a convincing denial: "I might have been asked, but I can't imagine I would have done it." They also identified the New York PR man who came up with the scheme as Joe Valiquette, the New York office's only spokesman in 1992. "I'm sure that I'm the guy," Valiquette told the site. "I can't contradict what's in those reports, but I just can't recall that."
Yesterday an FBI official told the Center for Public Integrity, which broke the story of CBS News Washington bureau chief Christopher Isham's collaboration with the FBI on its investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing, that any contacts between journalists and agents are governed by "strict rules."
Bureau officials said it was possible that over the years other reporters and members of other sensitive professions have been treated in FBI files as potential informers - even if those people did not intend to act as bureau sources - but such contacts are governed by "strict rules."
"There have been, and at the time of this memo there were, strict rules in place to govern the handling of reporters and people in other sensitive professions as sources of information," Assistant FBI Director Michael Kortan said Monday. "There is no reason to think, regardless of what we gleaned from the memo, that those rules were not followed at the time of this memo."
Evidently those rules permit sending reporters on covert fishing expeditions to out their neighbors' sources. Incidentally, the FBI eventually did identify the A Current Affair source. He told agents that he lied, and was paid $15,000 for his story.
[Image of FBI headquarters via tracenmatt/Flickr]