UPDATE 2/1/23: Federal prosecutors have charged ABC News’ James Gordon Meek with transportation of child pornography, eight months after the initial raid on his home. According to the Department of Justice, “several of Meek’s devices allegedly contained images depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and multiple chat conversations with users engaged in sexually explicit conversations where the participants expressed enthusiasm for the sexual abuse of children.”
At a minute before 5 a.m. on April 27, Meek fired off a tweet with a single word: “FACTS.”
The network’s national-security investigative producer was responding to former CIA agent Marc Polymeropoulos’ take that the Ukrainian military — with assistance from the U.S. — was thriving against Russian forces. Polymeropoulos’ tweet — filled with acronyms indecipherable to the layperson, like “TTPs,” “UW,” and “EW” — was itself a reply to a missive from Washington Post Pentagon reporter Dan Lamothe, who noted the wealth of information the U.S. military had gathered about Russian ops by observing their combat strategy in real time. The interchange illustrated the interplay between the national-security community and those who cover it. And no one straddled both worlds quite like Meek, an Emmy-winning deep-dive journalist who also was a former senior counterterrorism adviser and investigator for the House Homeland Security Committee. To his detractors within ABC, Meek was something of a “military fanboy.” But his track record of exclusives was undeniable, breaking the news of foiled terrorist plots in New York City and the Army’s coverup of the fratricidal death of Pfc. Dave Sharrett II in Iraq, a bombshell that earned Meek a face-to-face meeting with President Obama. With nine years at ABC under his belt, a buzzy Hulu documentary poised for Emmy attention, and an upcoming book on the military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the 52-year-old bear of a man seemed to be at the height of his powers and the pinnacle of his profession.
Outside his Arlington, Virginia, apartment, a surreal scene was unfolding, and his storied career was about to come crashing down. Meek’s tweet marked the last time he’s posted on the social media platform.
The first thing Meek’s neighbor John Antonelli noticed that morning was the black utility vehicle with blacked out windows blocking traffic in both directions on Columbia Pike. It was just before dawn on that brisk April day, and self-described police-vehicle historian Antonelli was about to grab a coffee at a Starbucks before embarking on his daily three-mile walk. He inched closer to get a better vantage, when he saw an olive-green Lenco BearCat G2, an armored tactical vehicle often employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among other law-enforcement agencies. A few Arlington County cruisers surrounded the jaw-dropping scene, but all of the other vehicles were unmarked, including the BearCat. Antonelli counted at least 10 heavily armed personnel in the group. None bore anything identifying which agency was conducting the raid. After just 10 minutes, the operation inside the Siena Park apartment complex — a six-story, upscale building for D.C. professionals, with rents fetching about $2,000 to $3,000 a month — was over.
“They didn’t stick around. They took off pretty quickly and headed west on Columbia Pike towards Fairfax County,” Antonelli recalls. “Most people seeing that green vehicle would think it’s some kind of tank. But I knew it was the Lenco BearCat. That vehicle is designed to be jumped out of so they can do a raid in that kind of time. It can return fire if they’re being fired upon.”
Multiple sources familiar with the matter say Meek was the target of an FBI raid at the Siena Park apartments, where he had been living on the top floor for more than a decade. An FBI representative told Rolling Stone its agents were present on the morning of April 27 “at the 2300 block of Columbia Pike, Arlington, Virginia, conducting court-authorized law-enforcement activity. The FBI cannot comment further due to an ongoing investigation.”
Though the FBI declined to comment in the midst of the investigation, the Department of Justice provided a statement. “While the department cannot speak to any specific case or activity, the Department strictly adheres to the Attorney General’s July 2021 memorandum prohibiting the use of compulsory process with regards to members of the news media acting within the scope of newsgathering activities,” the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs Dana Iverson said in a statement to Daily Beast’s Confider on Monday, Oct. 24.
Meek has been charged with no crime. But independent observers believe the raid is among the first — and quite possibly, the first — to be carried out on a journalist by the Biden administration. A federal magistrate judge in the Virginia Eastern District Court signed off on the search warrant the day before the raid. If the raid was for Meek’s records, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco would have had to give her blessing; a new policy enacted last year prohibits federal prosecutors from seizing journalists’ documents. Any exception requires the deputy AG’s approval. (Gabe Rottman at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says, “To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a case [since January 2021].”)
In the raid’s aftermath, Meek has made himself scarce. None of his Siena Park neighbors with whom Rolling Stone spoke have seen him since, with his apartment appearing to be vacant. Siena Park management declined to confirm that their longtime tenant was gone, citing “privacy policies.” Similarly, several ABC News colleagues — who are accustomed to unraveling mysteries and cracking investigative stories — tell Rolling Stone that they have no idea what happened to Meek.
“He fell off the face of the Earth,” says one. “And people asked, but no one knew the answer.”
An ABC representative tells Rolling Stone, “He resigned very abruptly and hasn’t worked for us for months.”
ABC News has not investigated the raid on their own ex-colleague even though network boss Kim Godwin had been briefed on the matter, according to Confider, and the network subsequently declined to answer several questions from Confider, instead saying via a statement: “He resigned very abruptly for personal reasons and hasn’t worked for us for months, and we don’t comment or report on speculation.”
Sources familiar with the matter say federal agents allegedly found classified information on Meek’s laptop during their raid. One investigative journalist who worked with Meek says it would be highly unusual for a reporter or producer to keep any classified information on a computer.
“Mr. Meek is unaware of what allegations anonymous sources are making about his possession of classified documents,” his lawyer, Eugene Gorokhov, said in a statement. “If such documents exist, as claimed, this would be within the scope of his long career as an investigative journalist covering government wrongdoing. The allegations in your inquiry are troubling for a different reason: they appear to come from a source inside the government. It is highly inappropriate, and illegal, for individuals in the government to leak information about an ongoing investigation. We hope that the DOJ [Department of Justice] promptly investigates the source of this leak.”
It is unclear what story, if any, would have put Meek in the FBI’s crosshairs. Meek worked on extremely sensitive topics — from high-profile terrorists to Americans held abroad to the exploits of Erik Prince, the founder of the infamous military contractor Blackwater. In recent years, some of Meek’s highest-profile reporting delved into a 2017 ambush by ISIS in Niger that left four American Green Berets dead. Meek and ABC then adapted the story into the feature-length documentary 3212 Un-Redacted, which debuted last year on Veteran’s Day on ABC’s sister company Hulu.
A robust Emmy campaign began prior to Meek’s disappearance, with events like a screening and Q&A at the Motion Picture Association in D.C. that the journalist attended with one of his daughters. The story was particularly incendiary because it undermined the Pentagon’s official narrative of what happened on the ground in the African nation, and presented “evidence of a cover-up at the highest levels of the Army,” according to the film’s logline. Adding intrigue, sources say another ABC News investigative journalist, Brian Epstein, also abruptly and inexplicably left the network a few months before Meek. Epstein also worked as a director, producer, and cinematographer on 3212 Un-Redacted (Hulu stopped Emmy campaigning after Meek apparently went AWOL, and the documentary ultimately failed to receive a win). Epstein told Rolling Stone, “I’m not commenting on this story,” before abruptly hanging up.
Even stranger, in the months before he vanished, Meek was finishing up work on a book for Simon & Schuster titled Operation Pineapple Express: The Incredible Story of a Group of Americans Who Undertook One Last Mission and Honored a Promise in Afghanistan, which he co-authored with Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret. Meek even featured a picture of the soon-to-publish book in his bio on social media and frequently tweeted about his involvement. But post-April 27, the book-jacket photo disappeared from his bio, and Simon & Schuster has scrubbed his name from all press materials. The first sentence of the jacket previously read: “In April, ABC News correspondent James Gordon Meek got an urgent call from a Special Forces operator serving overseas.” Now it says: “In April, an urgent call was placed from a Special Forces operator serving overseas.”
Early press materials, available on the Wayback Machine, gushed about Meek’s credentials: “He has covered the rise of Al Qaeda since 1998, from the Millennium Plot to reporting from the ground outside the Pentagon after a hijacked plane hit it on September 11, 2001, to combat embeds with US and Afghan Special Forces in Afghanistan. James has looked terrorists in the eye including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed at Guantánamo, ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid and ‘dirty bomber’ Jose Padilla inside the Supermax federal prison, and Zacarias Moussaoui at his trial.”
Simon & Schuster did not respond to a request for comment. Mann, who is solely promoting the book, which published in August and became a New York Times bestseller, says he is unsure of what exactly happened to Meek.
“He contacted me in the spring, and was really distraught, and told me that he had some serious personal issues going on and that he needed to withdraw from the project,” Mann tells Rolling Stone. “As a guy who’s a combat veteran who has seen that kind of strain — I don’t know what it was — I honored it. And he went on his way, and I continued on the project.”
Mann says he hasn’t heard from Meek since.
Both the Obama and Trump administrations were criticized for targeting journalists and their sources. Obama’s Justice Department brought charges under the Espionage Act against a record number of people, from top generals like David Petraeus and James Cartwright to document leakers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Yahoo News reported last year that in 2017, under Trump, as many as 20 U.S.-based journalists, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter, were being tracked by a special Customs and Border Protection unit. But the Biden administration set out to reverse that trend. Biden called the practice of obtaining journalists’ phone records and emails “wrong,” and in July 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland enacted a new policy that bars federal prosecutors from seizing journalists’ records in leak investigations, with some exceptions, including if reporters are suspected of working for agents of a foreign power or terrorist organizations, as well as situations involving imminent risks such as kidnappings or crimes against children. A Department of Justice press release at the time added, “To further protect members of the news media in a manner that will be enduring, [Garland] asked the Deputy Attorney General to undertake a review process to further explain, develop, and codify the policy announced today into Department regulations.” Given the new policy, the question looms on what grounds the feds would have had room to act on Meek.
No one is more mystified by the strange saga than the people who lived in and around the Siena Park complex. The raid became the talk of the building and the neighborhood businesses, but details remain elusive.
“Obviously, I was trying to figure it out because, ‘Oh, my God, what was happening on my floor?’” says Krystin Poitra, who lived in an apartment adjacent to Meek’s for more than a decade, but has since moved out. “He was often with his two daughters. And he was always really nice. I know he had lived in the building for a significant amount of time because I remember when those daughters were really young; my dog accidentally picked up something in the hallway and it was a Barbie boot. And I knew it’s got to be theirs because they were the only kids on the floor. I went over, and one of the girls answered, and I was like, ‘Does this belong to you guys?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah.’ And then they just kind of shut the door.”
Despite seeing Meek in the elevator and in the parking garage frequently, neighbors didn’t know much about him. He kept to himself, often hanging out on the rooftop alone. The only thing that really stood out was his hulking frame. He was hard to miss at six feet seven. “I couldn’t even tell you what his occupation was,” Poitra adds.
Another resident, who works in law enforcement, says the muscle behind the raid was highly unusual. “The last time I heard about a SWAT team going into an apartment building was the crazy stuff in Navy Yard, and they had weapons and stuff,” the resident says of an operation three days after the Siena Park raid, in which two men were apprehended inside a luxury Navy Yard apartment building and charged with impersonating federal law enforcement. Unlike the Meek case, the Navy Yard raid was well-reported, and authorities said they seized a stockpile of weapons.
An employee at the Citgo station across from Meek’s building, who declined to give his name, witnessed the raid: “I remember coming to work that morning and seeing a lot of police cars out there. Nobody said anything. I didn’t know what was going on.”
At ABC News, Meek’s sudden absence has left many of his colleagues perplexed, given that he still had time remaining on his contract. But his background was often shrouded in mystery. Some contemporaries were under the impression that he previously served in the military. One described a picture in his office that was taken in a desert, in which all of the others posing with Meek had their faces blacked out. One co-worker described him as sometimes gruff, but otherwise collaborative. Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News at the time, once lauded his accomplishments in a staff memo, noting Meek’s “vast knowledge of national security issues and skills as a deep-diving reporter.”
Now, Meek appears to be on the wrong side of the national-security apparatus. And no one can say for certain if law-enforcement officers actually removed him from the building. And thus, a riddle was born. Documents pertaining to the case remain sealed.
“I just want to know what happened,” says a person who worked on 3212 Un-Redacted. “[Meek’s situation] is making me nervous. I’m just gonna deadbolt my door.”
This story has been updated on Monday, Oct. 24 at 5:45 p.m. ET to reflect statements obtained by Confider.
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