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Forbes journo warns against trusting DoJ

Bad precedent being set

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A letter of resignation from Forbes journalist Adam Pennenberg to publisher Tim Forbes has been reproduced on the BME Web site. Pennenberg, who has been threatened with a grand jury subpoena by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to testify in connection with a story he wrote on the crew which defaced the New York Times Web site in 1998, has rejected a 'compromise' with the Department that the Forbes legal department had reached on his behalf.

The compromise, hashed out by Forbes attorney Tennyson Schad, supposedly would limit prosecutors to establishing the accuracy of Pennenberg's 1998 story on the exploits of Times defacers Slut Puppy and Master Pimp, "We Were Long Gone When He Pulled the Plug".

Pennenberg says that attorney Schad pressured him to accept the deal with DoJ, but that he refused in order to preserve his news sources. "I explained [to Schad that] it would ruin my credibility, since I'd never get another scoop if I cooperated with DoJ. How could a source ever trust me again? I also told him this would make Forbes look bad, since we would be caving in to the government."

Following consultations with several criminal defence lawyers, Pennenberg became convinced that Schad was unwittingly selling him down the river. "None of [the lawyers] agreed with Tenn," he says.

"They warned me that no pre-arranged compromise with DoJ would be enforceable on the stand. Once there, if I refused to answer a question, I could be held in contempt and go to jail anyway, and there'd be nothing I could do about it. One appeals lawyer told me his caseload is rife with cases in which the FBI and DOJ had been accused of reneging on pre-arranged deals.

Schad, Pennenberg notes, is a fish out of water -- an experienced civil lawyer being asked to handle a criminal case. "Would you hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you in a civil case," Pennenberg asks rhetorically. "I would hope not. And I would argue you shouldn't hire a civil lawyer to handle a criminal case -- and whenever DoJ gets involved, it's a criminal case."

For Pennenberg, the question is not so much claiming publicly that his story was accurate, but doing so from the dock. "For the record, every single word in my story is true. But, as I have said to Tenn repeatedly, there's a huge difference between confirming that my story is factually correct....and taking the stand."

To Forbes he offered a sobering personal thought. "The real victims here are the great journalists who work for you. They must be thinking, 'If it could happen to [him], it could happen to [me]'. Will they write that hard-hitting expose, or will they pull their punches because they know that, when push comes to shove, they can't trust Forbes to back them to the hilt?"

A very fair question, we must allow; and we look forward to learning how Forbes will choose to answer it. ®

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