A former Vail Daily reporter’s Maryland home was raided by federal agents who rifled through boxes of notes, but only took the files from stories she wrote about federal air marshals lying to Congress.
Audrey Hudson, a freelance journalist and the Washington correspondent for the Colorado Observer, said that during the predawn raid, federal agents from Homeland Security, federal marshals and the Maryland state police spent three hours in her home rifling through boxes and boxes of notes, some going back to her days with the Vail Daily.
During the three-hour search, Hudson said investigator Miguel Bosch with the Coast Guard Investigative Service asked her if she was the same Audrey Hudson who had written a series of critical stories about air marshals for The Washington Times. Bosch then identified himself as a former air marshal.
“I reported extensively on Homeland Security and the ATF, and my stories weren’t always flattering. I do my job,” Hudson said.
When she later asked Bosch why they took the files, he told her they needed to run them by TSA to make sure it was “legitimate” for her to have them, she said.
“‘Legitimate’ for me to have my own notes?” she said.
The raid happened in early August and Hudson said she didn’t learn until September that the government had her notes, because officials had them listed in their inventory under “miscellaneous documents.” Those notes contained the names of some of her anonymous sources in the federal government. Bosch turned her anonymous sources over to the TSA, the agency they’d blown the whistle on, Hudson said.
She said that’s why she decided this week to go public.
“’I’m scared to contact them and I have to let them know somehow,” she said.
The search warrant said officials were looking for firearms, specifically a potato launcher her husband, Paul Flanagan, bought online five years ago from a Swedish company. She said the officials claimed “potato launcher” is code for “silencer.”
The potato launcher didn’t work and she threw it away, she said.
The raid started about 4:30 a.m., minutes after Flanagan left for his job as an ordinance technician with the Coast Guard. Her barking dogs woke her up, she said.
“I woke up, looked out the window and the house was surrounded by federal agents and SWAT personnel in full body armor,” Hudson said.
During the search, agents confiscated Hudson’s two handguns and one long gun, all legally obtained. She said an agent told her she should have had the guns locked up.
“They were locked up. The handguns were in a safe and the long gun was in a locked case,” Hudson said she told the agent.
She said she’s “a Kentucky girl, kitchen trained and firearm ready,” trying to keep some perspective about the raid and her job.
“They took my pink handgun. It matches my pink Kate Spade handbag,” she said. “The only problem with being a freelancer and working from home is that I don’t have anyone to talk to except my dog and the NSA,” Hudson said.
Hudson and Flanagan live in Shady Side, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay.
Hudson has been a reporter in Washington, D.C. for a decade and a half and was nominated twice by the Washington Times for the Pulitzer Prize.
Among her Times stories were several that caught Homeland Security officials lying to Congress, claiming they were protecting more flights than they actually were.
The confiscated files included notes outlining how the Federal Air Marshal Service had lied to Congress about the number of airline flights the were actually protecting against another terrorist attack, Hudson wrote in a summary about the raid provided to the Daily Caller, which broke the story Friday morning.
So far, Bosch has not commented to the media.
Carlos Díaz, media relations chief with the Coast Guard, told the Daily Caller that the Coast Guard Investigative Service was asked to participate in the raid because Flanagan is with the Coast Guard in Baltimore. During the raid they found government documents that Hudson had obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Daily Caller reported.
Maryland state police spokesman Greg Shipley told the Daily Caller said the case remains under investigation and had no comment.
Hudson said Flanagan’s suspicions were aroused in February when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wanted to talk about buying “possible machine gun parts from a Swedish national.”
It turned out to be the potato launcher that was thrown out because it didn’t work, Hudson said.
“They’ve dragged my husband into the middle of this, which is reprehensible,” Hudson said.
No charges have been filed in any part of this, not Hudson or her husband, or federal agents who were reported to have lied to Congress.
It happened one month after Attorney General Eric Holder toughened the Justice Department’s own rules for seizing reporters’ phone records, notes or emails using federal subpoenas or search warrants.
Holder revised the government’s rules for seizing reporters’ records after criticism over the Justice Department’s seizure earlier this year of phone records from 20 phone lines used by the AP covering parts of two months as part a federal leaks investigation.
Diaz said the records seized were labeled “For Official Use Only” and “Law Enforcement Sensitive” - which does not mean they were classified - and appeared out of place. He said the investigator properly documented the seized records, and the documents were returned after concluding Hudson obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act. The search warrant authorized police to search the family’s home for guns, ammunition, records of gun purchases, gun cleaning kits and other gun-related documents.
A former U.S. prosecutor, Mark Rasch, told the Associated Press that the U.S. Privacy Protection Act generally prohibits the search or seizure of files of journalists without approval by the deputy attorney general.
“On balance they were wrong in taking the documents,” Rasch said. “It may very well be an honest mistake, but it’s a mistake they shouldn’t repeat.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.