By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin editor
Joel Mowbray, a reporter for the National Review, was held for half an hour at the conclusion of a briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on July 12, 2002. Mowbray had written an article critical of the U.S. visa policy in Saudi Arabia, which he speculated may have allowed three of the September 11 terrorists to enter the country. According to a report in the Washington Post, Mowbray also testified before a House Government Reform Subcommittee in June 2002. Those authorities are currently investigating Saudi visa fraud.
Mowbray has published various articles in the National Review and on the magazine's Web site (see http://www.nationalreview.com). He relied on a classified cable that was reportedly sent to the State Department by U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan calling for an end to the Saudi visa program. The July 12 briefing concerned the visa policy, and Mowbray brought the cable with him in order to compare its contents to what the State Department claims the cable contained. According to a story posted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (http://www.rcfp.org/news/2002/071usoffi.html), Mowbray was confronted while trying to leave the briefing.
"It was surreal," Mowbray is quoted as saying by the Reporters Committee, "It started out rather benignly. But then they asked me how I got the cable and where I got it from, and I realized they were looking for my source."
Mowbray denied having the cable with him and he was not searched. He used his cellular phone to call his editors and an attorney, although initially a security guard told him that he was not being detained. But moments later when Mowbray tried to walk away, another guard stopped him and told him that "Now you are being detained." Fifteen minutes later, he was released without explanation.
When questioned about the incident, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher replied, "Every reporter in this room at one time or another has written a story purportedly based on classified documents. But nobody has ever said in here, on camera, on-the-record until last week, "I have it - I have a classified cable with me right now, right here,' and gotten up to leave the building. What the guards did was entirely appropriate." (See full story at Federation of American Scientist's Project on Government Secrecy Web site at http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/2002/07/071902.html)
National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote to the State Department defending Mowbray's articles and saying that the cable was not secret, as the National Review and the Washington Post had both published articles about it. Mowbray, Lowry wrote, was not a security threat. Lowry's letter was published in the July 15 issue of the magazine.