Who Was The FBI Mole At ABC?

There is an alarming report the FBI had a senior ABC news journalist as a confidential informant in the 1990s — a report who was actually given a confidential source designation with other snitches. The reporter appears to have passed along confidential information to the FBI including the identification of a confidential source. The reporter is identified only as informant number NY290000-SI-DT and the description as “a senior official employed by ABC News for over 15 years.”

The reporter was clearly involved the early coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing. However, ABC is quoted as dismissing the matter by saying that it does not know who the reporter was but curiously stated its confidence that the reporter was no longer working for the network.

The report raised highly disturbing questions. The first and most important question is who was aware of the running of a mole or snitch at ABC, including the agent contact with the report and that agent’s supervisors. This should be a matter for investigation within both the legislative and executive branches. It is a direct threat to a free press and is a common practice in authoritarian countries.

The second question is what ABC is doing about the story. The network owes its sources and its staff a thorough investigation.

One person who has been the subject of speculation, Washington bureau chief for CBS News Christopher Isham, has now denied being informant number NY290000-SI-DT.

The FBI has refused to identify the reporter. Worse yet, the FBI indicated that it may have had other reporters in the past who were used as confidential sources. I am not sure why this report has not caused a firestorm of controversy. The FBI just admitted to penetrating a leading news organization with an informant and the silence is deafening.

The recently released memo shows that “several high-ranking FBI officials were involved in approving the approach to the ABC reporter, including Supervisory Special Agent Thomas Nicoletti and Thomas Pickard, then a special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York office who eventually would rise to the No. 2 job in the bureau.” Nicoletti was later hired by ABC as a consultant.

Nicoletti and Pickard may no longer be subject to discipline within the FBI but they are worthy of public condemnation if this story is true. Their lack of judgment should be the cause for legislation barring such misconduct in the future.

Source: Public Integrity

Jonathan Turley

31 thoughts on “Who Was The FBI Mole At ABC?”

  1. horus wrote:

    “That will simply distract attention from the real issue which is that the FBI has no business spying on Americans who are not engaged in criminal activity whether it’s ABC or the local peace activists or civil right organizations.”

    Hear, hear.

  2. I have to ask why anyone considers this at all surprising or disturbing? The FBI has had informants spying on the US population for the past 80 years! I am in no way surprised at this news. I am disgusted and think it should be absolutely illegal for the FBI to have informants within news organizations, community groups or anywhere else that is obviously not an organization engaged in criminal activity. Who cares really if ABC was compromised? That will simply distract attention from the real issue which is that the FBI has no business spying on Americans who are not engaged in criminal activity whether it’s ABC or the local peace activists or civil right organizations.

  3. Outrage?

    I for one thought I was engaging in frivolous mockery, Bruce.

  4. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Dial down the outrage. Check the full report at Public Integrity. There you’ll find that the unnamed journalist reached out to the FBI “in the hours just after the 1995 terrorist attack by Timothy McVeigh.

    “The journalist “advised that a source within the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service advised that the Oklahoma City bombing was sponsored by the Iraqi Special Services who contracted seven (7) former Afghani Freedom Fighters out of Pakistan,” an April 17, 1996 FBI memo states, recounting the then-ABC journalist’s interview with FBI agents a year earlier on the evening of the April 19, 1995 bombing. (The Iraqi connection, of course, never materialized.)” This was at a time when it was feared the Oklahoma City bombers were preparing to strike other locations in the U.S.

    There may have been a breach of journalistic ethics, but the FBI accepting volunteered tips is very different from “running a mole.” And the circumstances – there was perceived danger of further attacks – put the reporter’s actions into a gray area.

    Also, the headline on this story misuses the term “mole.” Commonly the term refers to an agent, a spy, planted inside an enemy agency or competing company in order to gain intelligence about that agency’s or company’s secrets. If CBS had a plant inside ABC News in order to scoop their rival on stories, that would be a “mole.” A reporter passing on tips about a crime may be violating his employer’s rules or journalistic ethics, but that doesn’t make him a “mole.” (Different story if he’s on the FBI payroll and skewing what his news organization covers or reports, but that’s not what’s alleged here.)

  5. pete,

    It’s always the ones you never suspect!




    FBI? Feisty Broads of Intimidation? Funky Babes of Ideation?

    I did it for fun–not profit! 🙂


    anon nurse,

    You found me out! I own a restaurant that specializes in chicken with mole sauce.

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