Audrey Hudson is a journalist for conservative news outlets like the Colorado Observer, NewsMax and The Washington Times. This August, while authorities executed a search warrant on her home on an unrelated matter, they confiscated some of her reporting notes. Now Hudson and The Washington Timesare preparing a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security. Brooke talks to Hudson about the raid and the documents confiscated.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lately, we’ve put our focus on the issue of opacity at the Department of Homeland Security and the agencies it controls, specifically its impact on speech, privacy and civil rights. So we offer now another case, where a search and seizure go unexplained. In August, the Coast Guard, a DHS agency, along with the Maryland State Police, arrived at a reporter’s home with a search warrant authorizing a weapons search. They left with a heap of the reporter’s work documents and notes. Now, search warrants are narrowly tailored so that the authorities may only look for evidence or contraband specifically outlined in the warrant, or items that are explicitly illegal. None of that appears to have applied in this case. Here’s the reporter, Audrey Hudson, who has written for conservative news outlets like the Washington Times and Newsmax.
AUDREY HUDSON: The search warrant at 4:30 in the morning that they presented was to locate a potato launcher or a potato gun. It sounds more nefarious than it really is.
Basically, it’s a novelty item.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You fire potatoes?
AUDREY HUDSON: Correct.
It was junk, and my husband had thrown it out like a week after he bought it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He had had some kind of scuffle before with authorities, right?
AUDREY HUDSON: Twenty-seven years ago, my husband had been charged with resisting arrest. Basically the police say that because of something that happened 27 years ago, that I can’t have guns. I’m registered in Maryland. I own guns for my protection –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
AUDREY HUDSON: - as well as my amusement. I, I like guns. You know, I’m a Kentucky girl. I come kitchen-trained and firearm-ready.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the warrant merely specified looking for the potato gun that had been discarded five years earlier.
AUDREY HUDSON: Yeah. The purpose of the warrant was to search our premises for this potato gun.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Describe the event itself.
AUDREY HUDSON: Well, it was about 4:30 in the morning. My husband, he’s already left for work. And my dog starts barking like crazy, and I look out the window and we’re literally surrounded with all of these SUVs. And I could see the men advancing towards the house were wearing full body armor. It was clear they were the police.
A moment later, the phone rang, and it was my husband on his cell phone and he said, the police are here, put the dog away and open the door. He was already out of the driveway and down the street, and they pulled him over and brought him home. I know it's crazy but our first thought was, please God, don’t let them shoot our little schnauzer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you put the dog in a room and you opened the door when they rang, and?
AUDREY HUDSON: And in they came. They presented us with a search warrant. The officer who works at the Coast Guard asked me if I was the same Audrey Hudson, who had written all those Air Marshal stories for the Washington Times.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That was about 10 years ago, and the stories were critical of the US Air Marshal Program.
AUDREY HUDSON: That is correct.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right.
AUDREY HUDSON: And he identified himself as a former Air Marshal official. He mentioned a couple of stories I had written. When they left, they did take my guns and had us sign an inventory sheet. They said on the inventory that they had taken miscellaneous papers from the upstairs office.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
AUDREY HUDSON: Now, I was told by the state trooper, and the search warrant allows it, that they were going to take a piece of mail, for proof that we resided at this property. I just presumed that that’s what it was. A month later, we got a phone call from the same officer that asked me if I was the writer, and he said that I could pick up my files. That’s the first I learned that files have been taken, and they pertain to the Federal Air Marshal Service. One document was marked “SSI,” sensitive security information. That document was an Inspector General report that I had obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
AUDREY HUDSON: - and the letter releasing that report to me was still stapled to the top of that report. There was another document I had in there, which had “Official Use Only,” I believe the terminology was. That was actually part of a document released by the House Judiciary Committee that had investigated the Air Marshal Service, based on my stories. And they had released the document to me. The Homeland Security, in their statement, says that it was legal for me to have these documents. Well, I could have told them, you know, if they asked.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And the law says that they can’t seize any documents, unless they are explicitly illegal. Taking your notebooks was beyond the purview of the law.
AUDREY HUDSON: They took five files of note, all of them clearly Federal Air Marshal files. I've used a lot of whistleblowers in these Air Marshal stories, and I’m really scared for my anonymous sources.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The Washington Times, for whom you reported Air Marshal pieces, is filing a lawsuit on your behalf. The editor wrote, “While we appreciate the law enforcement's right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment-protected materials of a reporter.” Where does that case stand?
AUDREY HUDSON: I met with the lawyers this week. I am joining with the Washington Times. We’re pursuing legal action. Obviously, I, I can't go into our legal strategy. That is the next step.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. One thing we haven't said is that the implication here is that this search was less about getting your husband's potato gun and more about getting at your reporting notes.
AUDREY HUDSON: What I can say is that during this search, they got my reporting notes. They didn’t get a potato launcher.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Audrey, thank you very much.
AUDREY HUDSON: Thank you so much, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Audrey Hudson is a freelance journalist and the Washington correspondent for the Colorado Observer.
We asked the Coast Guard for comment. Carlos Diaz, chief of media relations for the Coast Guard, said that according to evidence logs, the documents they took were never shared with TSA, so Audrey's sources needn't worry. An agent reached the TSA to confirm that Hudson legally obtained the documents in question, but their content was never discussed.