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FBI Seeks to Edit Journalist Anderson's Documents

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some law enforcement officials want to know what memories might be refreshed by the files of muckraking newspaper columnist Jack Anderson. For decades, his name struck fear in the hearts of the corrupt, the incompetent, and the secretive who held power in Washington. He died late last year at the age of 83. Now the FBI says it wants a look at Jack Anderson's professional papers--all 188 boxes of them. NPR's David Folkenflik has the story.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

About six weeks ago, George Washington University professor Mark Feldstein received unwelcome visitors.

Mr. MARK FELDSTEIN (Associate Professor, Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University): Two FBI agents came by my house, flashed their badges and said they wanted--demanded really--access to the papers that Jack Anderson, the late Jack Anderson, donated to my university.

FOLKENFLIK: Feldstein was an intern for Anderson in the 1970s, and now he's writing Anderson's biography.

Mr. FELDSTEIN: And they made it clear they were after Jack Anderson's sources--going back to the early 1980s--trying to figure out who might have leaked classified documents, government documents--to him.

FOLKENFLIK: The agents said they wanted to take fingerprints from a document to help the prosecution of pro-Israel lobbyists who allegedly received classified information from government officials. The Chronicle of Higher Education broke the story yesterday. FBI spokesman Bill Carter won't confirm prosecutors want the documents for the spying case, but Carter says the university's plans to make the Anderson archive public, could harm the country.

Mr. BILL CARTER (Spokesman, Federal Bureau of Investigation): The U.S. government has reasonable concern over the prospect that these classified documents will be made available to the public at the risk of national security, and in violation of the law.

FOLKENFLIK: And Carter says the FBI will confiscate any classified government material, agents find in Anderson's papers.

Mr. CARTER: If we have information that anyone, that any private person--whether it be a reporter, or whoever it might be--is in possession of classified U.S. government documents that were illegally provided to them, we would want those back.

Mr. KEVIN ANDERSON (Son of Jack Anderson): Jack Anderson would not have tolerated the FBI going through his files on this pretext.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Kevin Anderson, the columnist's son. He says his father respected true national security concerns but felt the press should serve as a watchdog over the government.

Mr. ANDERSON: If government officials were caught doing something wrong or inappropriate, oftentimes they would stamp those documents confidential or Classified or Top-secret, in order to hide their wrongdoing from the people.

FOLKENFLIK: The university currently holds the archives, but the Andersons haven't made the gift official. Kevin Anderson says the family rejected the FBI's request for access, yesterday.

Mr. ANDERSON: I think that it is somewhat suspicious that they would wait until after Jack Anderson passed away and essentially, you know, come after his widow--his 79-year-old widow, my mother--to try to get these documents.

FOLKENFLIK: But FBI spokesman Bill Carter says prosecutors only recently got a tip about the Anderson papers, and leak inquiries aren't unusual. The Justice Department is investigating how the New York Times learned the government is secretly wiretapping Americans at home and how the Washington Post got evidence terror suspects were being shipped abroad for interrogations. Both stories won Pulitzer Prizes for their papers earlier this week.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.