U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney blasts Johnny Sutton in letter to Attorney General and Homeland Security Czar:
July 5, 2005
Please Distribute Widely
June 29, 2005
The Honorable Michael Chertoff, Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Secretary Chertoff and General Gonzales:
Recent behavior by agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security / Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Division - acting in the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton - constituted a violation of the U.S. Constitutional right of a free press.
I write you to plead that you put a stop to this kind of outrageous activity in each of your departments and to take measures to prevent such actions from occurring in the future.
On May 24, 2005, Agents Carlos Salazar and Steve White of ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility unit visited the San Antonio, Texas, workplace of journalist Bill Conroy in a very unprofessional attempt to intimidate Mr. Conroy into revealing sources of non-classified information and documents embarrassing to the Department and to the U.S. Attorney's office for the San Antonio, Texas, region. Agent Salazar, with another agent, additionally went to the home of Mr. Conroy and behaved in an intimidating manner toward the journalist's wife and children.
More troubling, still, is that the agents attempted to intimidate his employer at a business newspaper that had nothing to do with Mr. Conroy's reports for the Internet newspaper Narco News.
I attach, for your information, printouts of reports from the San Antonio Current and Narco News about those incidents: "Unwelcome Guests," by Lisa Sorg (San Antonio Current, June 9), and "Customs Cops Visit Journalist Bill Conroy in an Attack on Press Freedom," by Al Giordano (Narco News, May 24). Also included in the attachment are additional news stories on the incidents published by the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and a June 3 letter from the Federal Hispanic Law Enforcement Officers Association to Secretary Chertoff protesting these activities.
In particular, General Gonzales, I address this letter to you because many eyebrows have been raised here in Congress by the confluence of facts that demonstrate that Mr. Conroy, as a journalist, has reported a series of stories involving the "House of Death" case in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in which an undercover informant in the process of seeking to make a drug case for U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton's office, allegedly committed numerous homicides while under the protection of that office.
Since it is well known throughout Washington that federal agents do not, as a rule, visit journalists in attempts to discover sources without authorization from the U.S. Attorney with jurisdiction, the behavior of the agents is seen as an attempt by U.S. Attorney Sutton to intimidate a journalist who has reported facts that are embarrassing to him.
According to Mr. Conroy's publisher at the San Antonio Business Journal, agents Salazar and White told him that a document published by Mr. Conroy on Narco News, embarrassing to the Department of Homeland Security, was not classified but that the agents were seeking to find out the identity of the source out of a purely speculative fear that Mr. Conroy's source "might leak classified documents in the future."
This kind of speculative fishing expedition on the part of federal agents would be troubling under most circumstances. When it involves a transparent attempt to pressure an employer to fire his reporter for what the journalist reported for any publication (much more for a distinct publication) the threat to the First Amendment, which I know that both of you gentlemen have sworn to uphold, is clear, and it makes a mockery of the important work that both of your offices are doing in law enforcement.
The Internet publication for which Mr. Conroy reports, The Narco News Bulletin (www.narconews.com) is one of the most widely respected international news sources reporting on U.S. policy on the Mexican border and throughout Latin America. In December 2001, the New York Supreme Court ruled that: "Narco News, its website, and the writers who post information, are entitled to all the First Amendment protections accorded a newspaper-magazine or journalist."
Thus, if U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton or the ICE agents were under a misimpression that Internet journalists do not enjoy the same First Amendment protections as commercial newspapers, I hope you will educate them to this new reality under law.
Thank you for your attention to this matter of deep concern.
U.S. Representative, Fourth District - Georgia
CC: Michael J. Garcia
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
425 I St., NW
Washington, D.C., 20536
Johnny Sutton, U.S. Attorney
United States Attorney's Office
601 NW Loop 410, Suite 600
San Antonio,Texas 78216
Agents Carlos Salazar and Steve White
Office of Professional Responsibility
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
45 NE Loop 410, Suite 600
San Antonio, TX 78216
Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee
Members of the News Media