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State Department detains journalist

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent   |   July 12, 2002 at 6:03 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, July 12 (UPI) -- The State Department's diplomatic security Friday detained and questioned journalist Joel Mowbray for 30 minutes in an attempt to find out the source of a leaked classified document on immigration, notifying the armed guards at the 23rd Street entrance not to let him leave.

"They were trying to get my source," Mowbray -- who writes for the National Review Online -- told United Press International Friday. "A plain clothed diplomatic security guy kept asking me, how did you get the cable? He was asking for my source, I looked at him turned around and walked away."

Two diplomatic security officials told UPI later that instructions were issued to guards at the 23rd Street entrance to the building not to allow Mowbray to leave without responding to questions.

According to Mowbray he asked his interrogator whether or not he was being detained. When the agent said, "no," he then asked if he could leave. At this point, according to Mowbray, the man questioning him stepped in front of him and said, "Now you are being detained."

All told, Mowbray was detained for 30 minutes.

State Department officials would not respond to questions about the incident on the record, however one senior State Department official explained that the incident was sparked by the fact that during the department's briefing for reporters -- which is televised live -- Mowbray admitted to having in his possession a copy of a classified cable from U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan pertaining to the status of the "visa express" program in that country.

That memo says the ambassador has recommended ending the practice of issuing visa applications through travel agencies, a program known as "Visa Express," and begin to interview all adult males who apply for visas inside Saudi Arabia.

"I do understand he was stopped and he was questioned because he had announced on a microphone that he was in possession of a classified cable," a senior State Department official said Friday. "None of us are allowed to take classified information out of the building." This official added, "Announcing to all the cameras that you have a classified cable on the assumption you are not authorized to have it certainly invites the guards to do their duty."

Indeed, the signs at the entrance of the building announce that guards may search individuals before entering or leaving.

Mowbray has been one of the fiercest critics of the State Department's consular affairs program, testifying before Congress and writing for the National Review Online on the subject of how embassies issue visas.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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