Defense

Foreign reporter’s phone seized while on flight with Pentagon official

A foreign reporter on Monday said that his phone was seized during a flight to Europe with Deputy Secretary of State Kathleen Hicks.

Idrees Ali, a foreign policy reporter for Reuters who covers the Pentagon, said on Twitter that he was also “stopped from using electronics” due to a policy barring non-U.S. reporters from using devices on government planes.

“This policy was the first time I had experienced this after covering dozens of Pentagon trips across three administrations. It means that we can’t do the very thing I’m supposed to on these trips, which is write stories,” Ali said.

“It would mean that any non-US reporter traveling with the Pentagon, State Department or even POTUS (depending on the plane being used) would have no access to electronics to file on the plane, a totally incomprehensible policy,” he added.

The Air Force told The Hill in a statement that aircrews are responsible for ensuring that classified information is protected in their planes. The crew on this flight took a “more restrictive approach,” which led to a “miscommunication” about the use of electronic devices.

“Subsequently, the reporter’s electronic devices were returned to him and will not be affected during the remainder of the trip he is covering,” the service said. “We respect the role of a free press and welcome them aboard our flights. We regret the inconvenience we caused this reporter, and we will be reviewing the policy going forward.”

A spokesperson for Reuters told The Hill in a statement that the outlet “expressed our concern about the rule change regarding members of the press who are non-U.S. citizens being able to access electronic devices during travel with the U.S. Department of Defense,” and that the matter is now resolved.

Hicks departed the U.S. on Sunday for a trip to Europe, during which she will meet with leaders in Norway and the United Kingdom. She will also meet with U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa command leaders in Germany.

According to Politico, which first reported the incident without identifying the reporter, the Air Force told Ali before boarding that foreigners flying on Air Force planes with top secret classification would not be allowed to use electronics.

Ali was instructed to hand over his phone ten minutes into the flight to Norway, and received it after landing in Norway eight hours later, the outlet reported. He was told multiple times that he couldn’t use his phone because Hicks needed the ability to take a classified call.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement to The Hill that the agency is “pleased” that Ali had his phone returned to him and that the Air Force is reviewing its policy.

“We consider it an obligation — and an honor, quite frankly — to travel with reporters on official trips. Their coverage of the work we do informs audiences around the world about the policies and operations we pursue on behalf of the American people. We consider that coverage vital to the democracy we defend, and we respect the value of its independence,” Kirby said.

“We apologize to Idrees and to Reuters for this incident and thank them for continuing to cover the Deputy Secretary’s trip to Europe,” he continued.

Updated: 11:57 a.m.

Tags cell phone John Kirby Kathleen Hicks media Pentagon phone seizure reporter Reuters

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