Former ABC Journalist Outed ABC News Anonymous Source to FBI?

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Chris Isham denies being an FBI informant. (Credit: CBSNews)

Christopher Isham, currently a vice president at CBS News and a former ABC News employee, has been accused of being a government informant after the Center for Public Integrity reported on a secret FBI memo.

The CPI, a nonprofit investigative journalism site, reported that in the 1990s, an unnamed “senior official employed at ABC News for over 15 years” gave a tip to the FBI and turned over the identity of a confidential source to the bureau.  The memo further reveals that the journalist had given the FBI “highly accurate and reliable information in the past.”

Gawker took the description reported by the CPI, matched it with former ABC News personnel and named Isham, who is also CBS News’ Washington. D.C. bureau chief, as the government informant.

According to the CPI, the confidential source was an ABC News tipster who provided  “a sensational but uncorroborated tip” about the Oklahoma City bombing.   That source is Vincent Cannistraro, who told the CPI that he independently went to the FBI with the information but never gave ABC News permission to “release the information.”

Cannistraro’s tip was that the Oklahoma City bombing was “sponsored by the Iraqi Special Services who contracted seven (7) former Afghani Freedom Fighters out of Pakistan.”

However, CPI doesn’t report if the informant was paid by the FBI to be a source or if he volunteered the information.  We are writing to CPI to ask if that information is cited in the memo, as the memo is not published on the CPI’s website.

The secret FBI memo was found by Utah lawyer Jesse Trentadue.

Isham has denied being the informant.  In a CBS-released statement, Isham said: “The suggestion that I was an informant for the FBI is outrageous and untrue.

“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.

“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. Mr. Cannistraro was not a confidential source, but rather a colleague – a paid consultant to ABC News who had already spoken to the FBI about information he had received.”

Cannistraro said he didn’t “know if it was Chris or not” and that he also told the FBI himself.

An ABC spokesperson, Jeffrey Schneider commented that the “FBI description of its interactions with the reporter raises serious concerns about intrusions on the First Amendment.”

“If true, it would certainly be of grave concern to us that the FBI would have created an informant file based on information gleaned from a reporter,” Schneider is quoted as saying. “It certainly would be very troubling for the FBI to recruit a news employee as a confidential source.”

Journalists Comment

Arizona State University journalism professor Tim McGuire told CPI that the government informant/journalist is “not only a rat, he’s a really huge rat.  He’s obviously decided that helping the government on an ongoing basis is more important than being a journalist.”

McGuire further commented that journalists working with the government is “putting your fellow journalists in harm’s way.”

American University journalism ethics professorJill Olmsted likewise called journalists acting with the government as a “conflict of interest” and “very disturbing.”

Read the CPI’s full report here.

Fox News Anchor an Informant Too?

The Smoking Gun reported April 6 that a “Fox Network News Anchor” also was a government informant in the 1990s, the Smoking Gun reported based on “bureau memos.”  The FBI reportedly called on that journalist in “mid-1992” for the identity of a Fox confidential source related to the Jimmy Hoffa murder case.

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Former ABC Journalist Christopher Isham Outed ABC News Anonymous Source to FBI?

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