FBI AGENT GRAYDEN RIDD had a confidential message for his informant. An FBI team had been given the green light by the Justice Department to ambush and derail a planned meeting between a reporter and a source, and the informant’s job was to let the FBI know when and where the meeting would take place.
The reporter whose meeting they planned to target was me.
It was January 2014, and I was an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times focusing on national security. The FBI wanted to stop me from obtaining documents that I’d been told would reveal the details of massive spying operations by the National Security Agency. The FBI was convinced that I was in contact with someone they had secretly nicknamed the “second Snowden,” who was about to give me an archive that they feared could go far beyond what former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had leaked about the agency’s spying operations the year before.
The FBI’s plan to grab my source at our scheduled meeting was approved by top officials at the FBI and the Justice Department during the Obama administration, according to audio recordings I obtained of several phone conversations between Ridd and his informant. At the time, Eric Holder was U.S. attorney general and James Comey was FBI director.
“Right now, they are on board,” Ridd said in one phone conversation to plan the ambush operation, referring to top Justice Department and FBI officials. “I have to periodically go up to the throne room and recommit them. … We actually have a lot of buy-in and a lot of support, but I do need to feed the beast.”
The FBI declined to comment and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment. Holder did not answer a request for comment left with his office; Comey did not respond to a request for comment conveyed through his lawyer. Ridd did not respond to a request for comment placed with a relative or to a knock at the door of his home in Washington, D.C.