FBI Releases File on Insight

By Maier, Timothy W. | Insight on the News, February 5, 2001 | Go to article overview

FBI Releases File on Insight


Maier, Timothy W., Insight on the News


This magazine files a FOIA request with the FBI to discover whether Insight reporters have been under investigation for reporting about sensitive, national-security issues.

Six months ago Insight filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI to determine whether the G-men have been maintaining a dossier on this magazine under lock and key. There was concern that the bureau might be building such a file based on dozens of Insight special investigative reports into criminal and intelligence matters. There also was concern that telephones were being bugged when clicks and tapping noises frequently interrupted interviews with clandestine sources.

It is not irrational to say that words published in this magazine sometimes have made life difficult for a lot of official someones: Under the Clinton administration, U.S. Secret Service agents have made unannounced visits to interrogate Managing Editor Paul M. Rodriguez concerning his statements about upcoming news stories. Other federal law-enforcement agents have demanded that this writer and other Insight reporters back off from key stories in preparation. And sometimes federal agents have called asking for a heads-up on what Insight was planning to reveal in future issues. As a matter of journalistic principle, such requests always have been denied.

Conversations with the FBI sometimes hinted that Insight had become a matter of official interest. But is there a paper trail on the interest? After some careful thought, we decided to reverse the tables and find out what, if anything, those pesky G-men have collected about this magazine and its reporters. Given the clear protections of the First Amendment, there couldn't be an FBI file on Insight even under the Clinton administration -- or could there?

Indeed there could -- and there is: File No. 263-0-3095. And we have obtained at least part of it through a standard FOIA request. This file is astonishing in some respects because it shows that stories published here often have prompted officials to request inquiries and reports w investigations we never were told about during standard follow-ups to the original stories. It also is evident from this file that some Insight stories have touched nerves so sensitive that the FBI has refused to release additional memos that may have been triggered by those stories, protecting this paper trail by dead-ending it at the FBI's National Security Division.

FBI Freedom of Information chief John M. Kelso Jr. released 11 of 11 pages dealing with what the bureau described as a "cross-reference" report on the magazine. Some of the information was redacted because of "internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." Most of the redacted material appears to have dealt with names, other agencies and details of specific comments.

Did the relatively small size of the file seem disappointing? Only to those who expected something like the FBI's 4,500-page "Walshot" file. Readers may recall that Insight obtained that one from the bureau for an inside look at the assassination attempt on the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace (see "New Chapters in Assassin's Diary" Dec. 14, 1998). That Insight story prompted Court TV to produce a documentary on the mid-election attack that is expected to be aired this year.

Still, only 11 pages? It is hard to believe considering that this magazine has been breaking national-security stories and annoying some of the most powerful politicians and bureaucrats in the world for 16 years. Of course, our initial reaction was there just had to be more than 11 pages. Perhaps we had stymied ourselves by requesting a file on the magazine rather than files on the reporters and editors. So, recently, several of us waived our privacy rights to let Insight find out what the FBI had or imagined about our staff.

In the meantime, we still had those 11 pages of G-men's snooping on this magazine. What did the file on Insight say? …

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