When Maryland police and federal agents raided Washington Times investigative reporter Audrey Hudson’s home, they were supposed to be looking for guns but wound up taking her personal notes and papers she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Hudson had previously written stories exposing problems in Homeland Security’s Federal Air Marshal Service.
Some of the papers that were taken in the predawn raid by agents in full body armor pertained to Hudson’s sources and research in the air marshals stories.
The warrant used by the police and federal agents said they were at Hudson’s house to look for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” allegedly owned by her husband, Paul Flanagan, who is a Coast Guard employee. The warrant made no mention of any notes or documents to be seized.
A Coast Guard agent was present during the raid, but Flanagan has not been charged with any crime since the Aug. 6 raid. Flanagan has a criminal record from the mid-1980s relating to the illegal possession of firearms.
Times Editor John Solomon said Friday the Times is preparing legal action over the unlawful seizure of Hudson’s notes and documents.
“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns,” Solomon said, “there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter. 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.”
Maryland police declined comment except to say the documents were under review. The Coast Guard issued a statement admitting the documents were seized but denying that anything was done improperly.
Hudson said that during the raid, Coast Guard investigator Miguel Bosch, who formerly worked for the air marshal service, asked her if she was the same Audrey Hudson who had written “the air marshal stories” for the Times.
The agents seized several small arms during the raid. Hudson said she didn’t even realize until almost a month later that the agents had seized five file folders with her notes and documents.
Attorney David Fischer, who has been retained by Hudson and her husband, said, “Obviously, the warrant is about a gun, nothing about reporters notes. It would be a blatant constitutional violation to take that stuff if the search warrant didn’t specifically say so. … This is a situation where they picked very specifically through her stuff and took documents that the Coast Guard, or the Department of Homeland Security, would be very interested in.”
Hudson said that while her husband has a record from more than two decades ago relating to firearms, she believes her notes may have been the real target of the raid.
“They tore my office apart more than any other room in my house,” she said, adding that the agents didn’t take any non-TSA-related documents.
“I had a box full of [Department of Defense] notes. They didn’t touch those,” she said.
Eventually, the documents were returned to Hudson, but only after Bosch said he had distributed copies to officials in the TSA for “clearance.”
“Essentially, the files that included the identities of numerous government whistleblowers were turned over to the same government agency and officials who they were exposing for wrongdoing,” Hudson said.
The stories Hudson wrote about the air marshals date back to 2005, under the Bush Administration, so this is a bureaucratic vendetta that has been simmering for eight years.
As they say, revenge is a dish that is best served cold. It’s difficult ever to say who’s really behind activities like this that are so blatantly illegal and so clearly targeted because the culprits are protected behind an opaque wall of bureaucracy and government.
Is it possible Bosch transferred from the air marshals to the Coast Guard, spied the name of Hudson’s husband on a list somewhere and seized an opportunity? A one-man vendetta seems unlikely.
Rather, this seems like the product of the Obama Administration’s culture of paranoia, revenge and official intimidation of Americans who cross the bureaucracy. It fits seamlessly into the pattern of accessing reporters’ phone records, shunning certain news organizations and using the IRS to investigate people and groups who rub the Administration the wrong way.
The government that thinks it rules its citizens and not vice versa is by definition a tyranny. That increasingly seems to be the case with our federal government.