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Questions raised about FBI-journalist link after OKC bombing

By Carol Cratty, CNN
  • An ABC journalist gave a tip to the FBI, a law enforcement source says
  • The contact followed the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the source says
  • A 1996 FBI memo details the incident, the Center for Public Integrity says
  • The tip did not pan out

Washington (CNN) -- In the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the FBI received a tip from an ABC journalist the FBI viewed as a potential informant, according to a law enforcement official.

But the source denied the FBI actively tried to recruit the journalist as an informant and engaged in "pumping the reporter" to reveal the source behind the information, which dealt with who might have orchestrated the attack. That information did not turn out to be correct.

The story about the ABC newsperson first came to light in a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

The report said the ABC journalist passed along information that Iraqi Special Services was behind the bombing and "contracted seven former Afghani freedom fighters out of Pakistan" for the operation.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, that information and the role of the reporter are contained in a 1996 FBI memo labeled as secret.

Timothy McVeigh was convicted of placing the truck bomb and executed.

The Center for Public Integrity said the reporter's name is not disclosed in the FBI memo, but it described the person as "a senior official employed by ABC News for over 15 years." The memo reportedly says the ABC journalist had "multiple contacts" with the FBI from 1995 to 1996 and had been assigned an informant number.

The law enforcement official said it's correct the journalist had an informant number but that was done in part to provide a means for the FBI to record the tip information. The official insisted the FBI followed proper procedures. According to the source, the journalist had acted out of a concern for public safety.

According to the report by the Center for Public Integrity, the FBI memo suggests the ABC journalist contacted the FBI because the network's information indicated two other bombings were planned at federal offices in Los Angeles and Houston.

The report from the center included a statement from FBI Assistant Director Michael Kortan saying at the time of the incident there were "strict rules in place to govern the handling of reporters and people in other sensitive professions as sources of information." Kortan told the center the FBI had no information to suggest those procedures were not followed.

Jeffrey Schneider, a spokesman for ABC News, told CNN he does not believe the journalist still works at the network, but would not identify who the network thinks was involved.

Chris Isham, former investigative reporter for ABC News and now vice president and Washington bureau chief for CBS News, issued a denial Tuesday after media reports linked him to the incident.

"The suggestion that I was an informant for the FBI is outrageous and untrue," Isham said. "Like every investigative reporter, my job for 25 years has been to check out information and tips from sources.

"In the heat of the Oklahoma City bombing, it would not be unusual for me or any journalist to run information by a source within the FBI for confirmation or to notify authorities about a pending terrorist attack," Isham's statement said. "This is consistent with the policies at every news organization. But at no time did I compromise a confidential source with the FBI or anyone else."

CBS News said in a statement it "has strict standards regarding the handling of source material and we are discussing the facts of the allegations with Chris. The events in question are a matter between the FBI and ABC News."

Schneider said the FBI might have viewed the person as an informant but the journalist may not have felt he or she was acting in that capacity. He said it's possible a reporter might have told the FBI some information in order to check it out.

If a reporter has important safety-related information, Schneider said, the network's policy is the company president should be informed, and the president would then have contacted federal authorities.

Schneider said if the FBI was in fact trying to recruit a journalist it would be "absolutely wrong" and could endanger journalists.

"The danger is people might begin to believe we are in league with the government and that could be deadly," he said.