Maryland state police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Air Marshal Service.
Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland’s Coast Guard service, took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act during a predawn raid of her family home on Aug. 6.The documents, some which chronicled her sources and her work at the Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.
The warrant, obtained by the Times, offered no specific permission to seize reporting notes or files.
The Washington Times said Friday it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.
“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter,” Times Editor John Solomon said. “This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work.
“Homeland’s conduct in seizing privileged reporters notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response,” he said.
Maryland State Police declined comment, except to say that “evidence and information developed during this investigation is currently under review by both the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office and the United State’s Attorney’s Office,” and that a determination has yet to be made on any charges.
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed it seized and reviewed Ms. Hudson’s documents but insisted it did nothing wrong.
Capt. Tony Hahn, a spokesman at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, said the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) was involved in the case because Mrs. Hudson’s husband, Mr. Flanagan, is a Coast Guard employee.
During the search of the home, said Capt. Hahn, “the CGIS agent discovered government documents labeled ‘FOUO’ — For Official Use Only and ‘LES’ — Law Enforcement Sensitive.”
“The files that contained these documents were cataloged on the search warrant inventory and taken from the premises,” he said. “The documents were reviewed with the source agency and determined to be obtained properly through the Freedom of Information Act.”
Ms. Hudson described a harrowing ordeal the morning her family home was raided.
The agents, who had arrived a 4:30 a.m. in full body armor, collected several small arms during the raid, although no charges have been filed against Mr. Flanagan, 54, during the nearly three months since.
Mrs. Hudson, 50, says that while the authorities were raiding her house, Coast Guard investigator Miguel Bosch — who formerly worked at the marshal service — began asking questions about whether she was the same “Audrey Hudson” who had written “the air marshal stories” for The Washington Times. Mrs. Hudson says she responded that she was.
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